It’s been a difficult and tumultuous love affair. In good times, newcomers are instrumental to the construction of the New World. They are beckoned, needed, desired. In bad times, they are the cause of all social-economic woes. They are to be ostracized, demonized, deported.
The pendulum swings: we don’t want them here; we can’t live without them.
Sometimes this epic romance plays out on a very human scale. Take the story that involved Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County, Arizona. Running for Congress in 2012, the sheriff was tough on undocumented immigration—but he had a secret: he was conducting a love affair with Jose Orozco, an immigrant whose legal status remains in question.
The romance went sour, alas, and the immigrant lover alleged that the sheriff threatened to deport him if he came out with their story. Babeu came out as gay but vehemently denied the deportation threat. Orozco promptly filed a lawsuit.
What struck me most about this story is the contradictory nature of the relationship and how emblematic it is of the larger American narrative. We seek and benefit from immigrants’ cheap labor, but we don’t want to acknowledge our relationship with them. We need them; we don’t want to be associated with them. In the dark of night we crawl into bed with them, but in the morning we are still in denial.
Meg Whitman, the billionaire who ran for governor in California in 2010, announced that she wanted to “hold employers accountable for hiring only documented workers.” But she apparently didn’t include herself.
The year before Whitman’s campaign, she had fired Nicky Diaz Santillan, who in a spectacular press conference revealed that she was undocumented. She had been taking care of the Whitman’s household for nearly a decade.
Santillan later testified that when she asked Whitman for help finding an immigration attorney after she was fired, Whitman allegedly told her, “You don’t know me, and I don’t know you.”
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