If New Yorkers Wanted To Be Part of America We Would Live There

      Domestic Partner was in an uproar. “Gatemouth should write about immigration. It’s the biggest issue in the country! And it’s a moral issue.”

     Not surprisingly, Domestic Partner has both a heart of gold, and a card of green. Domestic Partner’s Domestic Helper has the former, but lacks the latter. For now, this bothers Domestic Partner far more than the prospect of Domestic Helper’s prices accelerating should she become legal; and, the question of actually paying for Domestic Helper’s Social Security appears to have not yet acquired a moral dimension.

       I demurred. Gatemouth, the character I play in print, is an agent provacatuer. He wants to make people angry, as many as possible from all sides. Immigration may be the hottest issue in the country, but in New York, Kennedy-McCain is the closest one can get to a matter of political consensus.  Gatemouth does not write columns in favor of the prevailing consensus. What’s the point?

      Hmm.  Why is it that New Yorkers are so different from the rest of the country? Now, that’s an interesting topic.

      For once, it’s certainly not elitism. In the heartland, immigration is like trade, an issue where the elites of both parties divide from the general populace. To simplify somewhat, liberal elites and conservative elites alike support relatively free trade and relatively open borders; while non-elites of both the left and right support protectionism and immigration restrictions. On the liberal side, the loss of the presidency,  and the need to please organized labor, has eroded much of the support for free trade, but here’s betting that the election of a Democratic chief exec will end up being the restoration of a Clintonian trade policy. Eight years of economic growth didn’t come out of nowhere. But, however much erosion there has been in the support of liberal elites for free trade, support for relatively open borders remains strong among the elites of both parties (for now).

     The difference between New York and the rest of the country is the difference between our non-elites. In America beyond the Hudson, the working class is largely native born blue collars with necks of red and black. The native born white working class is about as friendly to open borders as they are to gun control; the dirty little secret is that the native born black working class may be even more militant on the issue. New immigrants have been depressing the wages of native born African-Americans since the time in the 1850s when much of the abolitionist movement supported the anti-immigrant Know Nothings. And this has continued through time. In the 70’s, Richard Pryor drew laughs calling Vietnamese immigrants “New Niggers” and portraying them as taking jobs from black people.   

     But, in New York City, the native born white working class is rapidly going the way of the non-Glatt Jewish Deli (RIP, 2nd Avenue and Nosh!). Outside of Staten Island, can anyone name a white working class neighborhood that is not either (1) yuppifying, (2) composed largely of illegal Irish, Poles and assorted other Slavs, (3) rapidly becoming Latino and/or Asian and/or Caribbean , or (4) some combination of the first three? And, is there a single black neighborhood in NYC not full of Caribbeans and/or Africans? There is no base in NYC for the political expression of anti-immigrant sentiment, and without a political base, non-elite sentiment does not find public expression.

            Even among groups with reason to support punitive measures, there is little room for it to get traction. Given their heightened concerns about terrorism, Jews would seem to have a strong motivation to support tightening up immigration, but, in addition to our memories of what closed borders meant during the Holocaust, we also want a safety valve to exist for our Ethiopian, former Soviet and Middle Eastern brethren. Native born New Yorkers of Irish and Polish extraction, to the extent they still exist, may be non-elitist conservatives, but they find it difficult to support a closed border unless it can maintain an opening just large enough for their own brethren, who they are largely supportive of, notwithstanding whatever animosities may exist in their communities.   

              The situation is not too dissimilar in our suburbs. A ride down Jericho Turnpike will tell anyone who’s interested that it’s no longer your daddy’s Mineola. Rockland County is full of Haitians and Sephardic Jews. Staten Island (for these purposes, part of the burbs) has former Soviet Jews and is the headquarters of New York’s Liberian community. The one dissent from the conventional wisdom seems Long Island’s Peter King, but his anti-immigration stance seems a recent by-product of his new leadership position on homeland security issues suddenly and unexpectedly trumping his desire to be “The King of All Things Irish”.

            One of the many ironies is that for every one of the new arrivals seeking merely to get enough money to bring back to the native land for a comfortable retirement, there are probably six others who aspire to the most conventional of middle American dreams: a move to the suburbs, assimilation and a yearly parade down Fifth Avenue from which they can exclude gays. Me, I’d rather be a New Yorker than an American any day.