Notorious bridge-closer and joke-of-a-presidential-candidate Chris Christie proposed at a campaign stop in New Hampshire yesterday that the government track immigrants “like FedEx packages”. Besides the ignorant dehumanization of immigrants that we’ve come to expect from the Republican party, the ridiculousness of Christie’s new proposal – which sounds like it was developed by a six-year old – shows just how far Republican presidential hopefuls are willing to stretch to make ignorant, insensitive, headline-grabbing statements that compete with those of Donald Trump. To a packed “town hall meeting” in Laconia, NH on Saturday Christie said:
“You go online at any moment, FedEx can tell you where that package is. It’s on the truck. It’s at the station. It’s on the airplane. Yet we let people come to this country with visas, and the minute they come in, we lose track of them. So here’s what I’m going to do as president: I’m going to ask Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, to come work for the government for three months, just come for three months to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and show these people”
There are so many things wrong with this proposal that it’s hard to know where to start. Most concerning, of course, is the casual dehumanization of immigrants in comparing them to FedEx packages. To many Republicans, it’s clear that immigrants striving for the American dream, merely by their status as foreigners, are nothing more than a pestilence to be removed as soon as possible. Up to this point, Christie had been taking a relatively moderate stance on immigration when compared to the zany and inhuman proposals of his fellow candidates, but clearly his campaign managers decided that it was high time for some headline-grabbing racism to compete with Trump.
While it is true that there are a large number of immigrants in the United States who are illegal on account of overstayed visas – about 4.5 million by many estimates – this is but a tiny fraction of the total number of temporary immigrants, given that about 10 million people arrive in the country on non-permanent visas every year. As Republicans so often do, Christie and other candidates are taking a relatively minor problem and blowing it tremendously out of proportion to discredit an entire group in racist and ignorant ways. All of the language about immigration coming from the Republican candidates views them as somehow lesser, as a burden, and yet a large number of the immigrants who overstay visas are on H-1B visas for highly skilled immigrants.
The “overstayer” population is generally very well educated and consists of people who stay in the country because they have found good jobs and are contributing to the economy, not because they are mooching off the system. The real issue here, then, is that these skilled immigrants are not able to obtain permanent resident status, not that they are remaining in the country, which is in fact better off with them here. To realize this, however, one has to have a general empathy and respect for humanity, which Christie clearly lacks.
Another troubling aspect of Christie’s proposal is the idea that government can be run like FedEx or any other business. This is a common idea among Republicans, who are of course dependent on big business for their millions, yet it ignores the incompatibility of a profit-driven system with providing basic services that are desperately needed but often not economical.
Furthermore, Christie envisions creating an Orwellian surveillance state to keep these immigrants, who appear to be second-class citizens in his mind, under constant watch. In his mind, “we need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in and then, when your time is up… however long your visa is we go and tap you on the shoulder and say ‘excuse me, thanks for coming, it’s time to go.’” And of course, given that Chris Christie is involved, the proposal is tainted with good old Jersey corruption: Fred Smith, the FedEx executive whom Christie strangely refers to by name, is the father of his most prominent spokeswoman, Samantha Smith. It just goes to show what absurd lengths that those in the back of the clown car will take to get a little attention.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.