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Immigration Thu Jun 16 2011
by Brian Reilly
"Look how numerous and powerful the Israelite people are growing, more so than we ourselves! Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase..." Exodus 1:9-10
Rosanna Pulido is stabbing at me with her finger. After talking about illegal immigration for almost an hour now, she is both more comfortable and more agitated. Pulido says everything with some kind of emphasis.
What is it about illegal immigration that makes someone, a latina no less, an activist? Pulido answers by singing, not just quoting, America, the Beautiful. "You know the song, America? America, America God shed His grace on thee...o.k., there is a line in that song...in liberty in law. That's how you and I have so much freedom and liberty and prosperity."
Freedom, liberty, and prosperity are pretty much universal aspirations. They have moved people to action since Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt up until the protests in Tahrir Square. America has, throughout its history, been a place where people have fled in order to live their aspirations. That history is filled with the brutal struggle over who belongs and who decides.
"You put laws down and if you don't obey them, you know what? You're going to pay for it," Pulido says. But who decides crime and punishment?
American immigration law has always been tied closely to race and ethnicity. The nation's first immigration law, the Naturalization Act of 1790, was passed only a year after the constitution and allowed for the immigration and naturalization of "free white persons" of "good moral character."
Prior to the Civil War, the Know-Nothing party gained seats in Congress by seeking to restrict the rising immigration of Irish Catholics. The Immigration Act of 1882 restricted all Chinese immigration to the United States for a period of ten years and would be renewed in 1892 and 1902. In 1921, Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act which severely limited immigration from southern and eastern Europe.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 replaced the national quota system with hemispheric caps: 170,000 persons for the Eastern Hemisphere, and 120,000 for the Western, with a limit of 20,000 annually from any nation.
The system prioritizes family reunification, needed skills and refugee status when granting individual visas. The result has been the current shift to greater numbers of immigrants coming from latin America and Asia.
So, the law is what we say it is. Meanwhile, current immigration limits fail to meet those aspirational demands of people from many nations, including Mexico. It is the Mexican experience which Pulido best relates.
Pulido was born in Chicago 54 years ago. She is combative when questioned about her own heritage. Pulido takes issue with, without denying, a Wikipedia biography claiming her father was an anchor baby, son of a Mexican migrant worker, who was born in Texas and raised in Mexico before moving to Chicago.
Was her grandfather a legal immigrant to the United States? "No he wasn't, end of story," Pulido says while hanging up.
Rosanna Pulido would go to Mexico for a year to work as a missionary. "I went down there," Pulido recalls. "I lived next to a garbage dump and worked with people and it was one of the best experiences of my life...because when you learn to live with nothing, that's really livin'."
The missionary experience would be followed in 2005 by a visit to the Arizona-Mexico border with the Minuteman Project. "When I first heard about the Minuteman Project on the border I thought it was crazy." Pulido recalls. "Who is going to take their vacation, go down there and sit on the border with binoculars; who'd do that? But when the time came around I said, 'I'm going because I thought it was going to be a historic event."
Inspired by her fellow Minutemen's stories of lost jobs, Pulido founded the Illinois Minuteman Project. She would later become a regional field coordinator for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and a spokesperson for a FAIR associated group called You Don't Speak for Me! which organized Hispanic-Americans against illegal immigration.
Pulido's early efforts in politics would start off well. In 2007, advocates were able to defeat a bill in the Illinois State Senate that would have allowed illegal immigrants to obtain driver's certificates.
In 2009 Pulido won the Republican nomination for the special election to replace Rahm Emanuel in the Fifth Congressional District. But the win would be a high water mark for Pulido.
Already facing overwhelming odds against Democrat Mike Quigley, Pulido's campaign received a death blow when she was exposed as the person behind racist, homophobic, and vulgar comments posted under the internet screen name "Chicagolady" on the right-wing message board Free Republic.
"According to the African Americans in L.A. The Mexicans are the NEW KU KLUX KLAN with the TAN!! Sounds right to me!!, " Pulido writes in one post. In another post, mocking a picture of muslim men kneeling on rug in prayer, Pulido opines, "It reminds me of my dog, smelling buts,." (sic).
Pulido would continue to speak before Tea Party and other conservative groups after her defeat and would run again for the congressional seat in 2010. But by the time of the Republican primary, Pulido was out on the fringe, losing that nomination to attorney David Ratowitz.
No longer a candidate, Pulido increasingly confronted Republicans whom she opposed on immigration such as Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady.
"Bill Brady? I got up and publicly slapped him around and it made the Huffington Post," Pulido brags. "I was giving people his record on illegal immigration."
"The Minutemen, we got him at the Lincoln Restaurant, he was practically crying. We were relentless. We were beating the shit out of him, saying what about this, what about this? He was nuts. He couldn't wait 'til he left there. I could care less. He needed that to happen to him.
"Most of us are hard core."
Today, Pulido no longer considers herself a Republican but works with a few conservative legislators who are interested in supporting the Minuteman agenda. "Yeah, laws on the books enforced...No matter what the ethnicity. That's it, that's all; we just want laws enforced."
Ten bills were introduced into the Illinois General Assembly during the current session that would speed deportations, deny services without documentation, or require stricter identification for aliens. All ten bills were killed in committee.
State Representatives Randy Ramey (R-West Chicago) and Bill Mitchell (R- Decatur) each sponsored two bills apiece. Ramey's bill, HB 1969 is a copy-cat of the controversial Arizona immigration law SB 1070 that would, in part, require law enforcement officials to establish the immigration status of persons, "where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien unlawfully present in the U.S."
FAIR estimates that illegal immigration costs Illinois taxpayers approximately $4.6 billion per year for expenses related to education, health care, public assistance, incarceration, justice administration, and general government expenditures. By contrast, the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), estimates that illegal immigrants in Illinois pay $499 million per year in income, property and sales taxes.
The underground nature of illegal immigration itself makes any cost/benefit of illegal immigrants hard to verify. The strategy is to deport and defund illegal immigrants out of the state, and hopefully, the country.
"It's very, very, very simple because it's happened over and over and over again; we know the proof is in the pudding. When Oklahoma passed their law what happened," Pullido asks rhetorically. "They were the first state that had the guts to say if you're not a citizen, you're not getting services...Guess what happened, guess what happened in Oklahoma. There was a mass exodus. To what, probably to Illinois because we hand out everything.
"O.K, so that was the first. Then other places did little things. Lou Barletta, the mayor in Pennsylvania. I can't remember the town...passing something."
Republican congressman and former Hazelton, Pennsylvania Mayor Barletta passed a series of ordinances designed to crack down on illegal immigration that were later struck down by a federal judge. Barletta was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010.
"What happened? A mass exodus," Pulido checks off on her mental list.
"Arizona, SB1070, what happened? A mass exodus. Guess what.
"Oklahoma...they saw their revenues...they were in the hole...they recovered at such a rate that they understood that what they did worked. I know personally the woman and the group who helped with the legislators to get that passed; that was a grassroots movement.
"So, we know it works. You get it passed: they leave. Because, you know what, they may be illegal, they don't want trouble; they don't want to be arrested; they leave."
The latina Minuteman in a twisted version of Exodus, both Moses and Pharoh. Make my people go. "We honestly believe that illegal immigration is destroying America. So you know what, there is no compromise. There isn't."