Longform

Jingo All the Way

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She's asked, however, whether it isn't a liability for someone concerned with immigration's effects on the environment to join forces with groups which have accepted money from questionable sources and tend to attract restrictionists with less desirable motivations. Is it worth it to consort with bigots to change immigration policy?

"I'm very concerned about what's going to be happening in my lifetime," she answers. "Whatever's going to happen with a population boom and an environmental crisis will happen in my lifetime." She worries about the impact it will have on her family and her young daughter, and she has to pause to wipe away tears, apologizing for becoming emotional.

Others are equally passionate. Wes Bramhall attended the November 10 press conference on behalf of the Tucson-based Arizonans for Immigration Reform, a group he says has a membership near 100. Bramhall says he was asked to participate in the press conference by Rick Oltman of FAIR. "A lot of us are members of FAIR, and I've been working with FAIR for a long time," he says.

The present target of Bramhall's ire is Attorney General Grant Woods, who recently criticized the Chandler Police Department and the Border Patrol for a late-July roundup of illegal immigrants. According to the AG's report, in the process of arresting 432 illegals, the Chandler police subjected Mexican-American citizens to traffic stops for no other reason than to ask for proof of their citizenship. Woods also included accounts by citizens and legal residents who claimed that police raided their homes at night, in at least one occasion on the advice of a landlord.

Bramhall acknowledges that the law prevents police from using a person's color of skin as a sole criterion for probable cause, but personally, he's perplexed. "What's wrong with using color of skin? You don't look for blonds," he says.

"They don't want to assimilate," Bramhall says of the immigrants he wants to limit. "They just want to stay in their own neighborhoods. There's a lot of them that don't want to learn our language."

Like many, Bramhall believes immigrants can refuse to assimilate. Assimilation--the pressure to learn to negotiate American institutions and obtain employment and financial stability--is an overwhelming force which so transforms newcomers that within a generation they earn wages equal to the native-born population and, often to the immigrant generation's own consternation, may lose the language of their parents.

Immigrants can control their rate of acculturation, a separate process by which immigrants choose to exchange traditions of family and gender politics, dress and other customs for American models. Not every immigrant clan, however, chooses to become entirely like the Osmond family and will retain, even after several generations, old traditions. Such is the source of American diversity that seems to worry people like Wes Bramhall.

"They're brainwashing the younger people," he says, referring to such organizations as MECHa (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan), which he admits terrify him.

Bramhall takes seriously the threats of MECHa activists--radicalized students who get to college and discover they're Chicanos--who talk breathlessly about reverting the Southwest to Mexican ownership, which was lost in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. (Mexico, meanwhile, appears indifferent to the idea.)

Bramhall is also convinced that apocalyptic waves of illegals are washing over the border. When Census Bureau estimates of Arizona migration are mentioned, Bramhall calls them crazy and claims that hundreds of thousands of illegals move to the Tucson area every year.

Perhaps confused by Border Patrol reports of 272,000 apprehensions in 1996 (which include multiple arrests of the same persons and don't count the net gain in people who stay in the state rather than go elsewhere), Bramhall is convinced that a population that would nearly double Tucson's population is settling around him every two years.

The reality is less alarming. Tom Rex, research manager at Arizona State University's Center for Business Research, citing census data, says that in the year ending in the middle of 1996, Arizona gained 13,000 people in net international migrations. In other words, 13,000 more people moved to Arizona from out of the country in that year than moved from Arizona to foreign countries. (Not surprisingly, all but a small percentage came from Mexico.)

That figure, Rex adds, includes an estimate of illegal migration, which the Census Bureau is accused of historically undercounting. But even with as large as a 20 percent error, which would raise that estimate to 15,600, such numbers are dwarfed by another: the masses of people moving to Arizona from other U.S. states, which the census put at 73,000 for the same time period.

In Arizona's current booming economy, Rex says, that combined number of new Arizonans is still being outpaced by the number of new jobs being created.

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega