I don't want to pick crab either
A colleague told me that he got a call the other day from a reader complaining about The Sun’s use of the term illegal immigrant, preferring instead undocumented worker, and we went over the discussion of choices once again.
Undocumented worker is objectionable, in part, because not all illegal immigrants are workers. Besides, it’s a euphemism. Illegal alien I think we would want to restrict to beings from Betelgeuse who can’t produce proper papers. Illegal immigrant is as neutral a term as we have available.
I don’t much care for it, because the people who carry on about illegal immigrants seem to be unaware that the illegality is not precisely criminal — people get deported in civil proceedings, not in the criminal courts. The current New Yorker, though, points out that despite the carrying-on about crime by the governor of Arizona and its senior senator and many in the general population, law enforcement statistics show that crime on the border has actually diminished. People who ignore facts are unlikely to heed nuances of meaning.
With the Republic in the midst of one of its recurring bouts of nativist hysteria,* we’re going to have tricky points of usage to negotiate for a while.
So let’s talk about crabmeat instead.
Marylanders love blue crabs. In restaurants and backyard parties they crack the shells with mallets (or beer bottles) and wipe the Old Bay seasoning from their lips. They argue about recipes for crab cakes and their proper preparation. They serve either tomato-based crab soup or the cream version. Except for the squeamish, they eat soft-shell crabs, appendages and all. Visitors to the Free State believe that they are required by statute to consume crab in some form.
The only thing Marylanders are reluctant to do with crab is to prepare it commercially. Every year a federal program permits a group of Mexican women to come, legally and temporarily, to the Eastern Shore to work in the packing houses picking crabmeat. What may be pleasant out in the back yard with friends and family on a summer afternoon is a tedious and unpleasant job that pays low wages, and Marylanders are unwilling to do it. The packing houses plead for renewal of the program because, they say, without the Mexican women coming up to pick crabmeat, they would have to shut down.
There you have an epitome of the larger situation and its issues. There is work that Americans will not do, even in a time of high unemployment, and there are many Mexicans willing to do these jobs for low wages — effectively subsidizing the standard of living that better-off middle-class American citizens enjoy.
It’s not quite clear to me why the proponents of free-market capitalism have not been explaining this patiently to us during the back-and-forth over immigration law and enforcement.
Anyhow, illegal immigrant stands.
*You remember, first we didn’t much like all those Germans, and then all that Irish trash came over the water, and after that the Italians and the Poles and all those Jews, and Chinese on the West Coast, and locking up the Japanese-Americans in camps after Pearl Harbor, and now all those Latinos creeping across the border to pick our fruit and cut our grass and make the beds in our hotel rooms.