Chicago, IL – July 2022

In our earlier conversation Angel had told me he was more of a Libertarian than a full-on Republican, but that he strategically votes with the Republicans to have a chance of getting a president who will implement more market-based policies.

So I asked him whether he felt like getting Trump elected in 2016 had been a successful strategy for achieving his political goals. I expected a complicated response because I knew he cared deeply about immigration reform and the success of his community of Mexican American and Latin American immigrants, and immigration has become an increasingly charged subject. 

Angel responded by recognizing how terribly Trump spoke about Mexican immigrants–but he also dismissed that as superficial. He still prefers the Republican’s policy approach to immigration issues over the Democrat’s. But when he described what he thought a fair immigration policy would look like, to my ears it was more progressive in some ways than any policies Democrats have put forward. When I asked him about that, he smiled and said, “I’m a complex person.”

He said, “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more populist, and I think Trump is perfect for that. I think he’s an idiot when it comes to some of his messaging. You know, like when he said, ‘When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.’ He’s just a buffoon when it comes to stuff like that. But there is a point that we need to secure the border and find out who’s coming in. Look, do I think building a wall is the best way to use our money? No. But when nobody in Congress wants to do anything about immigration, is that one step that should be done? Yes. 

And I think the Stay in Mexico policy is beautiful.” 

He talked about how, as a lawyer who deals with immigration law for his clients, he sees how horribly broken the system is. In his view, the immigration system is  set up so that anyone who comes into the country wanting to work claims asylum status, because that gives them their best odds for success–even if becoming a citizen isn’t their intention. He went on to explain how the courts are so backed up processing all those applications it takes years for anyone to get a court date to determine their legal status. It is such a slow and complicated process that many people can’t figure out when or where their court date is taking place. This leaves huge numbers of people who just want work and send money home to their families stuck in a very vulnerable undefined status for years, making them easy to exploit by employers. 

Angel believes what we really need is a strong work permit system instead of forcing so many people to go through the immigration process. He wants an entry permit that lets people come and work for a set number of years, say 1-3 years. It would be renewable and come with a guaranteed living wage of $15/hr or more and a clear process for getting a job where additional workers are needed. That limited time work permit would be much easier for the government to process, people’s rights would be clearly defined, and they wouldn’t be subject to economic exploitation. In this plan, migrant workers would be paid the same rate as other employees, so they wouldn’t be undercutting any American workers.

In Angel’s perspective the Stay in Mexico policy makes sense as a part of his work permit vision. People would stay in their home country while they applied for permits. Once they get approved they would come into the US with a clear plan and an established job with a fair wage. 

What I heard in Angel’s vision was a deep sense of the injustice that people face coming into the US from Latin America, regardless of whether they try going through our legal immigration process or not. The US economy relies on their labor and benefits from their unstable legal status. It creates a second class system where immigrants can be paid much less than other workers. To me, Angel’s vision sounds based in principles of economic justice: ensuring people get what they need to live and are treated with dignity, which is more aligned with progressive politics than conservative or libertarian politics.

When I questioned him about that he responded:

“I mean, the Democrats aren’t pushing anything like this. The Democrats have been just letting people in and that’s what is creating this two market system. It is creating a market where undocumented people are working for bad wages. Maybe the Democrats would say they have a big heart, but they’re creating a horrible economic system for these people. Democrats may say ‘we support strong unions to make sure workers get paid very well,’ but then they don’t give that same level of respect to the immigrant class. 

So I would say: to you it may sound like this is about economic justice. To me it is about making a fair market.” 

I hadn’t heard this perspective before, that the Democrats’ more welcoming border policies  perpetuate our dependence on maintaining a big pool of immigrant workers without solid legal status who can be paid so much less than other American employees. I know there are other complex reasons why it has been hard to enact a more effective and just immigration system in this country, but I can see how Angel feels that a loose border policy results in more exploited people and his priority is to stop that.

It is confusing for me to think about how acutely he recognizes and wants to address the exploitative conditions and lower status of Latin American immigrants, yet isn’t concerned about how the vilification of immigrants in Right political discourse endangers the communities he cares about. 

At the end of our conversation Angel talked about another thing happening in this country that I am curious about: more than ever before, we seem to be sorting ourselves geographically based on our politics, so conservative people are moving to Red states and liberals and progressives are moving to Blue states. 

Angel doesn’t see this as a bad thing necessarily, because the founders intended for each state to be its own experiment in democracy. He seems to think that the experiments are going better in Florida and Texas than they are in Illinois or California. Family and work keeps him stuck in royal blue Chicago, but he hopes to move to Florida when he retires–or even possibly Mexico.

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