click to enlarge The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt

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The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt

It surely has not gone unnoticed that all of the candidates now running for governor of Tennessee are willing to consider punitive or preventive actions against illegal immigrants of the sort lately made famous, or notorious, by recent state legislation in Arizona. Or so each of the four — Republicans Bill Haslam, Zach Wamp, and Ron Ramsey, and Democrat Mike McWherter — indicated in a recent statewide forum televised live.

All four have also been critical of the federal government for filing suit against Arizona's new law, which is scheduled to go into effect at the end of this month and would allow state, county, and local law enforcement officers to inquire into the immigration status of anyone stopped on suspicion of any infraction — whether major crimes or minor traffic violations — and to detain anyone who doesn't have proof of American citizenship or legal residence. The Justice Department regards the Arizona statute as unconstitutional on grounds that it usurps federal oversight of immigration.

To understand the iron hand that this law provides, imagine the last time you coasted to a slow roll, instead of a full stop, at a deserted city intersection and got nailed for it by a policeman. That's intimidating enough. Now go on to imagine that you are the head of a Mexican household, either directly imported here for the value of your labor by an American employer or merely migrated here on your own in search of gainful employment. If indeed you are Mexican, or merely look Hispanic, you are subject to immediate racial profiling, protected under Arizona law, with potentially dire consequences for you and your family.

True enough, the law is the law, and if you're residing in this country without legal authority, there should be some penalty to pay. Never mind that no one was especially worried about the presence of illegal immigrants a few years back when they were visibly at work building most of the homes that were going up under the impetus of a construction boom. It now turns out, of course, that the boom was artificially hyped into being by speculators and big banks that contrived to make real fortunes out of complicated financial schemes and phantom money.

The migrant workers were cogs, as necessary to the maintenance of this dubious machinery as the over-stretched homebuyers who were coaxed into mortgages they could ill afford and which were rapidly turned over, broker to broker, for profitable resale.

We were prompted to think about all this not only by the recent gubernatorial debate but by testimony presented here on Monday to U.S. representative Steve Cohen's judiciary subcommittee, which is looking into the problem of home foreclosures. As the testimony made clear, the home-building bubble was not invented, nor was it made to burst, by the laborers who built the houses or the marks who purchased them.

Nor was an intractable unemployment problem — the proximate cause of the current immigration hysteria — created by such individuals, victims themselves, and we most definitely are not going to solve the problem by scapegoating them and not punishing the real malefactors.

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