I was watching Nezua’s video yesterday and totally digging all the Nezuas in the audience and nodding along as you do when you already agree with what you think someone is going to say, when he said something that caught my ear, about bringing the “intensity of the border guard situation and the borderlands to every city.”
As you know it would, my mind immediately jumped to the Channel 4 I-Team “investigation” into the “disappearance” of 1,200 illegal immigrants who were caught and then didn’t go to court and Sheriff Hall’s righteous indignation that the Feds would ask him to release people who were arrested for very minor crimes.
I have been thinking a bunch of things–about how the way we think about illegal immigration now puts the person who came here the wrong way (or stayed here too long) into an ongoing state of criminality (at least in the public mind; a paperwork issue turns into a crime against country), as if failure to jump through the hoops of government bureaucracy proves that you are a permanent member of a criminal class; about why it would be a problem if the 1,200 people who were identified as illegal immigrants disappeared, after all, isn’t that what we want, for them to, for all practical purposes, be gone from our city, and hasn’t this, then, been achieved?; and lastly, doesn’t it seem like Hall is most upset that he doesn’t know where these people are? Is it really the Sheriff’s job to monitor everyone who lives in his city and know where they are at all times?
We know Hall gets money for housing illegal immigrants for the Feds. He complains in the I-Team story about them not being willing to pony up money to pay to hold every illegal immigrant who comes through his jail.
We know that Hall is upset at the Feds for telling him to let those of their prisoners who were arrested for minor crimes go because they then, sometimes, don’t show up for court in Memphis. (Though how people who aren’t allowed to get drivers’ licenses are supposed to get to Memphis is a whole other story).
We know that Hall is very proud of his ability to reduced the population of Nashville by one percent over the course of two years.
And we know that he has no compunction about speaking to rabid anti-immigration groups (yes, all immigration, not just coming here illegally).
And yet it still felt like one part of the picture was missing. In all other aspects, Hall seems to be a great sheriff. He’s well respected by his peers. I’ve heard nothing but good things from the people who work for him. I’ve never heard people accuse him of treating inmates differently based on race.
So, what, exactly is tripping his trigger, so to speak?
If I think about it in terms of border-guarding, it makes sense to me. It’s weird to think about because people are like water in this regard. They flow around obstacles. They find the cracks and slip through, eventually*. And we are way downstream from the border, from what some want to imagine as a dam, and we are all water, too, you know?
It’s like Hall is standing in a high spot in the river at Tiptonville, trying to scoop out the blue water from the brown, in order to keep the Mississippi undiluted by the Ohio. Even if it could be done, you couldn’t do it that far downstream.
But if you are hung up on the idea that the Mississippi is a muddy river that flows from Minnesota down to the Gulf, only, regardless of history or observable fact, it starts to make sense how you would feel yourself and your “river” compromised by the water from the Ohio.
It makes foolish sense, but it makes sense. You can imagine how a person starts to think about a series of mini-dams that would catch and filter out the water from the Ohio, how maybe fishing only from the west side of the river would encourage the water on the east side to just go back to Pennsylvania where it came from. You might even scoop out water you’ve identified as being more Ohio than Mississippi and boil it off to make sure that it can never come back to the Mississippi again. Shoot, you might take every opportunity to demand that the Feds continue to give you money for your great Mississippi/Ohio separation project.
But you’re not at the confluence of the rivers.
Even if what you wanted to do could be done, you can’t do it from Tennessee.
And there’s always going to be something that sits strange about insisting you be given all the resources you want in order to try.
*I’m just going to say that I like and hate this metaphor for the same reason. I like it because, for a second, it focuses not on individual experience, but on the whole phenomenon, and lets us see the shape and actions of the large movement. I also hate it because it lets us focus on the whole large movement–immigration, border crossing, as a thing–and lets us too easily lose sight of the real human suffering every step of the way. But can we all just read the metaphor as a terribly imperfect metaphor and remember that, at every instance, how we do things now is not just foolish, but causes real and terrible suffering for everyone involved?