Immigration marches make noise, but who's listening?

The immigration marches culminating in last week's one-day boycott have been nothing if not polarizing, galvanizing Latinos, but having perhaps little impact on the so-called "general population" meant to receive the message that immigration, illegal or otherwise, should not be a crime.

The immigration marches culminating in last week's one-day boycott have been nothing if not polarizing, galvanizing Latinos, but having perhaps little impact on the so-called "general population" meant to receive the message that immigration, illegal or otherwise, should not be a crime.

Despite demonstrations filling streets from LA to New York with millions marching in what has been, arguably, the largest grassroots effort since the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Congress hasn't been swayed, and the stalemate on the issue prevails.

Actually, this shouldn't be a surprise. The issue is as confusing as the President's amnesty solution, which dangles a dizzying array of fines, document gatherings, and a long application process. It's not sexy. The more right-leaning proposals definitely have more PR potential, as do the border posses of Rambo-phile "minutemen" protecting us from the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. It's better press because it's simpler to digest: Make illegal immigration a felony.

It makes better PR both for US consumption and for those thinking of risking their lives to come here. Proponents are probably not terribly serious, though, about sending more, maybe way more, than 10 million people to jail. Conservatively, that's how many illegal immigrants there are in the US. Meanwhile, our jails are bursting with the more than 2 million current occupants. And deporting even half of the current illegal population would be a gargantuan and largely inconceivable operation.

So, it's also a huge PR gamble because, well, what if it fails? Unless punishment is deportation only. But that's what we have now. The real solution is to get people to stop jeopardizing their health, life, and limbs to cross the border. But to do that, we'd have to think about working with other governments to find more ingenious ways of making places like Mexico better places to live. Try selling that to the public.

Meanwhile, while the one-day boycott last week was inconvenient, it presages even more difficulties, and not just those caused by roadblocks. Broadly, and in spite of the President's contrary position on the current immigration brouhaha, American business and academia are finding it difficult to bring talented students and professionals into the US, consequent to the government's efforts that really began in earnest after 9/11, to create a sieve to block potential terrorists. Muslim Americans, many of whom have not been charged yet, are being held still, five years after 9/11.

For all anyone knows, extraordinary renditions are still au currant. On Monday, my mother-in-law, a 73-year-old woman from the Philippines, arrived in Detroit bound for New York to visit her family. To her horror, they pulled her aside, held, and interrogated her for hours. Her interrogator toyed with her, offering responses like, "You didn't say please," when she explained she just wanted to see her family, and repeatedly referred to her as an "Illegal." Many of us - citizens, I mean - have had experiences re-entering the country that aren't terribly dissimilar.

Business, including PR, should be paying close attention to Congress as it hashes out a new order.

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