Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 26, 2007

Getting Real about Immigration

Many of the commenters on my earlier post ¡Viva la Inmigración! take me to task for not distinguishing between legal and illegal immigration. The former is commendable, they suggest; the latter, despicable. This antipathy toward lawbreaking is understandable, if sometimes overly zealous. I mean, c’mon: among all the problems we face—from paying for the baby boomers’ retirement to defeating al Qaeda—how high a priority should we assign to the “problem” of millions of people wanting to move here to take jobs that few if any Americans are willing or able to perform? Even if you do think this is a major problem—and I admit that a small portion of the immigrant population consists of criminals and freeloaders—the question is, what do you do about it?

The immigration restrictionists want to erect ever more formidable defenses along our border to keep immigrants out and to send the authorities out to round up and ship home all the illegal immigrants already here. I don’t think either of these approaches is a very realistic solution to the immigration “problem.”

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Many of the commenters on my earlier post ¡Viva la Inmigración! take me to task for not distinguishing between legal and illegal immigration. The former is commendable, they suggest; the latter, despicable. This antipathy toward lawbreaking is understandable, if sometimes overly zealous. I mean, c’mon: among all the problems we face—from paying for the baby boomers’ retirement to defeating al Qaeda—how high a priority should we assign to the “problem” of millions of people wanting to move here to take jobs that few if any Americans are willing or able to perform? Even if you do think this is a major problem—and I admit that a small portion of the immigrant population consists of criminals and freeloaders—the question is, what do you do about it?

The immigration restrictionists want to erect ever more formidable defenses along our border to keep immigrants out and to send the authorities out to round up and ship home all the illegal immigrants already here. I don’t think either of these approaches is a very realistic solution to the immigration “problem.”

No matter how much more we spend on the Border Patrol or what kind of fences we erect, immigrants will continue to show up in the U.S. as long as the economic opportunities here are so much greater than in the countries south of us. The U.S.-Mexico border is the longest land frontier between a first-world and a third-world country, and it is inevitable that workers will continue to come here in search of opportunity. Since we are not about to authorize a shoot-on-sight policy, nor turn our southern frontier into a Berlin Wall, it seems unlikely that security measures alone will appreciably stem the inflow. Nor is it terribly realistic to expect that we will divert the attention of overstretched police departments to round up millions of illegals already here—most of them gainfully employed.

The obvious solution would seem to be twofold. First, provide more slots for foreigners to move here legally, whether to work in the fields of the Central Valley or the high-tech labs of Silicon Valley. This alone has the potential to reduce dramatically the number of illegal immigrants, allowing law-enforcement agencies to concentrate their resources on that tiny number of wrong-doers—drug smugglers, terrorists, and the like—trying to cross our frontiers illegally. Second, provide a path to citizenship for those who have already come here and are working hard. I have previously suggested one such avenue—service in the military. But there should be others as well.

I suppose this will get me branded as “soft” on illegal immigration. I prefer to think I’m realistic. All the sound and fury from the nativist Right about “illegals” only alienates—much to the political detriment of the Republican party—honest, hard-working Hispanics who are already here, without solving the problem of illegal immigration.

 

 

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What Human-Rights Violations?

On Friday, March 23, Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, gave a speech before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. He took the Council stingingly to task:

Six decades ago, in the aftermath of the Nazi horrors, Eleanor Roosevelt, Réné Cassin, and other eminent figures gathered here, on the banks of Lake Geneva, to reaffirm the principle of human dignity. They created the Commission on Human Rights. Today, we ask: What has become of their noble dream?

In this session we see the answer. Faced with compelling reports, from around the world, of torture, persecution, and violence against women, what has the Council pronounced, and what has it decided?

Nothing. Its response has been silence. Its response has been indifference. Its response has been criminal.

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On Friday, March 23, Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, gave a speech before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. He took the Council stingingly to task:

Six decades ago, in the aftermath of the Nazi horrors, Eleanor Roosevelt, Réné Cassin, and other eminent figures gathered here, on the banks of Lake Geneva, to reaffirm the principle of human dignity. They created the Commission on Human Rights. Today, we ask: What has become of their noble dream?

In this session we see the answer. Faced with compelling reports, from around the world, of torture, persecution, and violence against women, what has the Council pronounced, and what has it decided?

Nothing. Its response has been silence. Its response has been indifference. Its response has been criminal.

Neuer went on to note the strange fact that the Council, in the face of flagrant abuses of human rights, ranging from the murder by Hamas gunmen of three Palestinian children in Gaza City to the mass rapes and genocide in Darfur, has enacted numerous resolutions condemning Israel—and none condemning any other state. (Joshua Muravchik made a similar observation in this post.)

As shocking as this is, the response of Council president Luis Alfonso de Alba shocks still further:

For the first time in this session I will not express thanks for that statement. I shall point out to the distinguished representative of the organization that just spoke, the distinguished representative of United Nations Watch, if you’d kindly listen to me. I am sorry that I’m not in a position to thank you for your statement. I should mention that I will not tolerate any similar statements in the Council. The way in which members of this Council were referred to, and indeed the way in which the Council itself was referred to, all of this is inadmissible. In the memory of the persons that you referred to, founders of the Human Rights Commission, and for the good of human rights, I would urge you in any future statements to observe some minimum proper conduct and language. Otherwise, any statement you make in similar tones to those used today will be taken out of the records.

This is the first speech ever to be rejected in this way by the Council. Proof, one might argue, of the speech’s truth and value. Read the whole text of Neuer’s speech (and watch it on video) here.

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Discovering Nemirovsky

Until 2005, the French novelist Irène Nemirovsky, author of the much-lauded Suite Française, had been more or less completely forgotten, even by specialists in French literature between the wars. Her name did not feature in critical surveys or in the memoirs of contemporaries. Pure chance has led to the discovery of this gifted woman and her work.

She was born in Kiev in 1903, the child of Léon Nemirovsky, a rich Jewish banker, and Faiga (or Fanny, as she called herself), a self-regarding and unfeeling mother. Fleeing the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the family settled in Paris, where Léon rebuilt his fortune. Outwardly Irène seems to have been something of a Jazz-age, party-going flapper, but in fact she was observing the human behavior around her with penetrating originality.

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Until 2005, the French novelist Irène Nemirovsky, author of the much-lauded Suite Française, had been more or less completely forgotten, even by specialists in French literature between the wars. Her name did not feature in critical surveys or in the memoirs of contemporaries. Pure chance has led to the discovery of this gifted woman and her work.

She was born in Kiev in 1903, the child of Léon Nemirovsky, a rich Jewish banker, and Faiga (or Fanny, as she called herself), a self-regarding and unfeeling mother. Fleeing the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the family settled in Paris, where Léon rebuilt his fortune. Outwardly Irène seems to have been something of a Jazz-age, party-going flapper, but in fact she was observing the human behavior around her with penetrating originality.

She was only twenty-three when she married Michel Epstein, whose origins were Russian and Jewish like hers. Three years later, in 1929, she published her first novel, David Golder. No doubt it is painfully autobiographical: Golder, like her father, has risen from poverty by taking huge financial risks. His name “evoked an old, hardened Jew, who all his life had been hated and feared.” Golder’s friend Soifer, a miser, leaves thirty million francs, “thus fulfilling to the end the incomprehensible destiny of every good Jew on this earth.” (Nemirovsky drops summary sentences of the kind with terrible simplicity.)

The superficial shame in her depictions of nouveaux-riches Jews might be considered a type of self-hatred, except that Nemirovsky evidently felt pity for them, along with an underlying pride in the way that they dealt with so much contempt from everyone else. Old and hardened Jews do what they have to: they are not allowed a choice. In another early novella, The Ball, she describes Kampf, “a dry small Jew, whose eyes have fire in them,” and the pretentious Madame Kampf, no doubt modelled closely on her own mother. Their daughter wreaks a frightful revenge on them for the sin of social-climbing. And yet, under the savagery of the fiction is a redeeming quality—these people really do love, but don’t know how to show it. In her understanding of the waywardness of the heart, Irène Nemirovsky is the equal of Katherine Mansfield.

After the collapse of France in June 1940, and the installation of the Vichy regime, Irène and Michel were in mortal danger as foreign-born Jews. They hid their small daughters Denise and Elisabeth, but did not themselves try to escape. Instead, Irène’s artistry rose to the drama of the moment, and she wrote Suite Française, a full-length novel that describes the German occupation and the disintegration of France and its society. The novel is so detailed and vivid that it becomes, more or less, a historical document.

The French police came for her in July 1942, and she was murdered in Auschwitz the following month. That November, her husband Michel was also deported and murdered there. The manuscript remained in a suitcase in the possession of the two daughters who for more than sixty years found it too painful to deal with. Its survival and eventual publication was quite outside the bounds of probability.

The role of the artist ultimately is to bear witness. Irène Nemirovsky is in the select company of those who were able to do so in the face of death, thus bringing some hope to others. And how many of those murdered like her, one cannot help wondering, would also have been in that company if only they had been allowed the chance?

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