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(The following is a series of post on the Denver Post comment board for a recent tangentially related column by Tina Griego. The column, and the entire exchange of comments, can be found at This column brings to mind SB 126, Colorado ASSET. The students that Tina profiles here are similar to many that I encountered as an ELA (English Language Acquisition) social studies teacher in Denver Public Schools several years ago, most of whom were undocumented immigrants.

SB 126 has no fiscal note (it costs taxpayers nothing; in fact, it brings in revenue for our state universities). We offer kids a path to productivity rather than to desperation and criminality, the latter choice having a much different fiscal and social note for us to pay.

To highlight the inhumanity of our current attitudes toward undocumented immigrants (people whose only crime, like humans throughout history, was to migrate from destitution toward opportunity), I could go into the horror stories I encountered while doing a legal internship with Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network and, briefly, with a private immigration lawyer, stories like that of a detainee in Park County who lost limbs due to a staff infection and inadequate conditions and treatment, or of a young diabetic deprived of his insulin by clueless guards while his mother was frantic and helpless over the fact that they were in effect killing her child just for having been taken across the border as a baby. There are others, as bad or worse, and it’s tempting to tell them, but my experience as an ELA teacher is more directly relevant.

Teaching ELA is an unbelievable experience. These are great kids. Most good teachers love their students, but there’s an extra innocence and sweetness about so many ELA students, that connection is really amplified, in both directions. I felt ready to do anything I could to help my ELA kids over the hurdles they’re facing. A few of them were among the very best students anywhere, in every way, the kinds of kids that excel both in terms of commitment and in terms of just plain good nature. Several of my ELA students, whose faces I can still see as I type this, were kids who I felt then, and feel now, simply deserved a chance to succeed in life. And, given that chance, they would pay back the society that provided it a thousand fold.

Tina Griego is right: These children, many of whom are the product of people who found there way here to give their children greater opportunities in life, offer us hope for the future. We, in turn, need to refrain from depriving them, and us, of that hope.

dlprobert wrote: It costs the taxpayers the money that is discounted giving illegals in-state tuition. It costs the schools those funds!! Don’t say it costs us nothing, how dare you!!
No, it brings revenue into the schools. In-state tuition, minus the public subsidy that other state residents receive (which is how the bill is drafted), brings in more revenue to the schools than is spent on the students who are paying it. Since in almost all cases they wouldn’t have been able to pay out-of-state tuition, there is no “opportunity cost” of not having charged them the higher amount. This is simply an economic fact.
dlprobert wrote: All of those horror stories you mention could be avoided, had they stayed in their home country an applied to come here legally, waited their turn, like real LEGAL immigrants do. We, the TAX-PAYING AMERICAN CITIZENS, are tired of the coddling of illegals. We want current immigration laws enforced!! We don’t need any new rules!
1) The waiting list for current citizens of Latin American countries is upward of 20 years, even with a close relative. There is no “turn” to be waited. The real alternaitve is between migrating toward opportunity, or not migrating toward opportunity. Humans, all through history, have migrated toward opportunity, the lines drawn in the sand by past conquests and wars notwithstanding.

2) Illegal immigrants pay more in taxes for fewer pay-backs than citizens and legal residents, on average. This is another economic fact.

dlprobert wrote:That is what this TAX-PAYING AMERICAN CITIZEN would like to see, not the same old blather your keep throwing at us about how unjust America treats illegals (it’s obviously not bad enough, they keep coming).
My “blather” about a commitment to humanity rather than a mere self-serving antagonism to it is “blather” more of us should be “throwing” at each other, far more often and consistently.
dlprobert wrote: Then let them wait 20 years…their other countrymen did!
Really? Do you know the history of North American migration and demographics, not to mention American immigration law? First of all, Texas and most of the American West and Southwest belonged to Mexico before it belonged to the United States, until the latter prosecuted a series of opportunistic wars and anexations in order to acquire it. A large portion of the Hispanic population of this part of the country is descended from those who resided here before it became a part of the United States; in other words, the border crossed them. The words “colorado, arizona, california, nevada, los angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, las vegas…” are all Spanish for a reason. (And the iconic American Cowboy is actually of Latin American derivation.)

More recently, we have utilized various immigration policies to bring in cheap labor when it served our purposes, and try to remove it when it didn’t, frequently dividing and disrupting families in the process. We created the flow of people from south of the border, cultivated it, trying to turn it on and off like a spigot at our convenience, another source of chattel for our exploitation.

Most of that population is predominantly indigenous in its ancestry, descendents of the Indians belonging to that larger population we conquered and displaced, and to a large extent simply massacred, to acquire the wealth we now enjoy (a fact that Hitler cited with admiration, as a justification for his own policy of “lebensraum”). That wealth, produced on stolen land, was produced for centuries with the assistance of imported and abused human chattel from Africa.

You’ll notice, also, that I had said that even those with close relatives have waiting times of over 20 years; those without close relatives can’t immigrate, period. And for those who are lucky enough to have a 20-some year waiting period, their main purpose, that of providing their children with better opportunities, is undermined by the wait, since those children will be adults, and will have to get in line themselves at that point!

America has many admirable qualities, and has, at times, strived to be a gift to humanity. But we are also burdened with our fair share of horrible acts of violence against others, and those you disparage now are both descended from our earlier victims, and are in many ways just the latest incarnation of the disposable labor we have so long cultivated and exploited.

dlprobert wrote: We have no more room in our budget for any more! I’m sorry, but the US can only handle so many immigrants. That is why we have immigration in the first place!
Actual economic analyses, rather than arbitrary claims in service to blind inhumanity, tells a different story. Most analyses hover around the conclusion that illegal immigration is an economic wash nationally, though the geographical distribution of costs and benefits is uneven. Undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and are denied some of the services they pay for. They solve a fundamental demographic problem in America (the worker-to-retiree ratio), perform some jobs that there really are not American workers willing or able to do (primarily in the agricultural sector), keep consumer prices low and perform a vital function in our overall economy. This debate, which we have had throughout our history, has never been about our capacity to absorb newcomers; it has always been about the bigotry and xenophobia of those who are already here.
dlprobert wrote:Illegals cost the state of Colorado over $1.5B annually….that’s a fact.
No, it’s not a fact. Those who have ever done any honest work in the field acknowledge first that we have no firm numbers, for a variety of reasons. Second, the range of conclusions tends toward zero. Third, you’ve obviously cherry picked a number that some propagandist generated for your convenience. It has absolutely no basis in reality.
dlprobert wrote: The money they earn is sent to their real home countries! In fact, the reason El Presidente came here cryin to Obama was, if we started enforcing our immigration laws, the loss of billions to the Mexican economy!
They send a significant portion of their earnings to their home countries, where their wives and children and parents are struggling to survive, while they live spartan lives working long hours here generating wealth in our economy. Improving those foreign economies is also good for our own, in a variety of ways, but, more importantly, it is good for humanity, which is the responsibility of all human beings, even the exceedingly fortunate ones who live in the world’s wealthiest nations.

In your orgy of belligerence, you’re anxious to impose a lose-lose scenario on all of us, hurting ourselves in order to punish others for daring to do what humans have done throughout human history. Let’s focus on what my original post was all about: Providing undocumented teenagers with a chance to succeed in our society. The alternative is not, as you imagine, deporting them: The costs of doing so, even ignoring the astonishing inhumanity of it, are far, far greater than any estimation of the costs of not doing so.

The real question is how to manage the costs of a 12 million strong undocumented population in America. You have a choice between pushing them into destitution, even those who are most capable and dedicated to success, breeding predators rather than contributing members of society, or, more intelligently, offering roads for success, by which we all benefit.

There are those in America, as in many other times and places, that are lost in a fog of ignorance and belligerence, viewing the world through a lens of neatly separate nations and races, of “us” and “them” defined along a variety of dimensions. Such people are the authors of genocides, of enslavements, of brutal conquests and exploitations and oppressions. Then there are others, also in many times and places, who recognize that humanity is undivided except by the lines in our own imaginations, that we share a fate, an on-going endeavor, and fare better when we face it with reason and mutual goodwill rather than with irrational belligerence and hatred.

It’s time for people to start choosing which of those groups they wish to belong to with more wisdom and compassion than many here are doing now.

dlprobert wrote: You said…it was war…and to the victor go the spoils!
Thank you for being so transparent about your orientation. You are steeped in the notion of violently despoiling others in service to yourself and your tribe; I am steeped in the notion of thriving, cooperatively, in service to humanity.

dlprobert wrote: I choose to be anti-illegal immigrant, like a majority of TAXPAYING AMERICAN CITIZENS are!

And I choose to be a reasonable person of goodwill, as all of us can and should choose to be.

dlprobert wrote: Look Steve, I am really not trying to be an a__

Fair enough. Then let’s have an informative discussion about all relevant considerations and factors.

First, it’s important to note that this conversation didn’t begin as a blanket defense of “illegal immigration.” My personal view, for a variety of reasons, is that the more open the borders (here and elsewhere), the better. This is beneficial to humanity on several levels: It leads to greater global wealth (by removing barriers to the free flow of the factors of production); it increases global distributional justice (by openning up opportunities to earn a larger piece of the pie for those currently with smaller pieces); it creates more cross-cutting ties among nations and peoples, thus preparing us to better deal with our proliferating global rather than national problems and challenges; it reduces the increasing disparity between the wealthy enclaves in the world and the impoverished mass of humanity, almost entirely by raising up those who are somewhat poorer rather than by bringing down those who are somewhat richer, which is not only more humane, but also helps avert a future that is otherwise guaranteed to be full of horrible violence aimed against those rich enclaves, which will be increasingly unable to stem the tide of humanity demanding global structural changes.

But one doesn’t have to agree with this view to agree that we have a practical problem concerning how to assimilate (or remove) the 12 million or so undocumented residents of this country. Removal, as I’ve already pointed out, is simply too expensive (even ignoring the inhumanity of it). By any calculation, the costs far, far, far exceed the benefits. Fiscally and economically, it is simply completely impractical. Added to that is the fact that you would witness something akin to the Nazi round-up of Jews in 1930s and 40s Germany if that were the path we choose to go down. We would, indeed, become a global villain, and would be historically remembered as such.

That’s what happens when people think primarily in terms of “nations” rather than in terms of “humanity.” The Germans of that epoch, you might recall, justified their actions by recourse to nationalism; they were concerned with the welfare of the German people, and with ridding Germany of a foreign element that they considered a burden on their national welfare. It was irrational of them; they couldn’t have been more wrong. And it is irrational of us; we couldn’t be more wrong today.

The reality is that we have a deep historical link to the people you misidentify as mere invaders. About a third of our contiguous territory was a part of Mexico before it was a part of the United States. Many Hispanic residents of that third are descendents of people whom the border crossed rather than of people who crossed the border. We have purposefully exploited the porous border to the south to our benefit, and have created a population that we consider inferior and disposable. “Legally” or “illegally,” they are a part of our nation and our society, and we have a moral oligation to them.

More importantly, for the purposes of this conversation, our own self-interest depends on assimilating those undocumented people. If we want to improve our control of the flow, so be it. But the notion that we should control it by punishing those who are here in order to make our country less attractive to those who aren’t is sheer folly, both because it turns us into something we should not be striving to be, and because it breeds an angry, rebellious, opportunity deprived shadow population that will only, as a result, impose a real cost and burden on our nation, rather than the imaginary one of today.

dlprobert wrote: America cannot continue with it’s handouts to people that are not in this country legally

The notion that those who come here illegally are greater recipients of “hand-outs” than other members of this society is not only mistaken, it is backwards. Yes, some social services (e.g., public education and emergency room treatment) are not withheld from undocumented residents of this country, but most are. They cannot collect on social welfare and economic security programs (e.g., medicaid, unemployment, welfare, social security, etc.). As a result, unlike American citizens and legal permanent residents, if they’re not working, they simply leave. There’s no point in being here, paying for a higher cost of living while receiving no income. So they are virtually all employed, always paying sales taxes and usually paying income taxes (since they generally need to use fake social security numbers to work) for programs that they can’t collect on. They make a vital contribution to the economy, which is why the labor market places such a strong demand on them.

dlprobert wrote: but it’s still ILLEGAL

There is legality, and there is morality, and there is reality. It was once illegal for a slave to escape from his or her master in this country, or for anyone, in any part of the country, to harbor such an escaped slave. In the name of that law, slave owners could send out slave hunters into non-slave states to recapture escaped slaves, and, abusing that law, those slave hunters often captured free African Americans living in free states and sold them into slavery in the south. Legality clearly is not the final word on “right” and “wrong.” So, those of us who recognize moral defects in current laws have a moral obligation to struggle to change those laws in order to cure those defects.

Beyond legality and morality, there is reality. The reality is that humans have always migrated away from destitution and toward opportunity, regardless of the nature or legal status of the invitation they may or may not have received. Jews ended up in Germany as a result of a diaspora, not a German invitation; does that justify the Holocaust?

We create our nations, give them geographic definition, and create laws by which to govern them, but we do not dictate the underlying dynamics of human existence. We live in a world of far greater global interdependence than nationalists would like to admit, in which the plight of others is and will be our own, and violently so tomorrow if we do not recognize it as morally so today.

dlprobert wrote: Those that won’t even try to assimilate…I have a real issue with that. I’m a veteran and when I went to a foreign country, I made it a point to learn the basics of the native language, not only to get along, but to also fit in.

Good for you. You are the exception among Americans, but not among those of other countries. I’ve lived and traveled abroad for over eight years of my adult life (including two stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army, and over two living in Mexico). I’ve known ex-pat Americans, and travelers and tourists, as well as those of other nations, and we are by far the most disrespectful, imperialistic sods out there. Many Americans abroad not only don’t know the language of the country they are in, but are downright offended when citizens of other countries, in their own countries, don’t know English. “The Ugly American” is a term that evolved in light of this dynamic.

As a veteran, I’m sure you recall the phrases “back in the world” and “going back to the world.” That’s how American service members refer to the United States, denegrating other countries (including European allies) by implying that they aren’t even a part of “the world.” America is the whole world in this formulation; other places are unreal, inferior, less worthy of recognition or acknowledgement. So, let’s not decry the imagined cultural insensitivity of those who come to this country and continue to speak their native language (or continue to speak the language established here before we forcefully anexed this region).

And, lets’ be honest: While some first-generation Hispanics who reside here don’t know much English, the impression that that is the  norm is reinforced by selective perception. Most learn more than “the basics” of English. I detect a bit of an attribution and confirmation bias in your above characterization: You didn’t claim fluency; might it be that your “basics” of those other languages, of which you’re so proud, represents a comparable level of language proficiency to the failure to learn English you detect in others?

There are basically two ways to see the world: In terms of “us” v. “them,” or in terms of humanity. We will all benefit in the long run, enormously, the more we gravitate toward the latter orientation and leave the former one on the dust heap of history, where it belongs.

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In a modification of my last post,  The Evolutionary Ecology of Social Institutions, in which I described how memes and paradigms form and spread and combine into social institutions, I added on a few paragraphs describing the fractal geometry of that social institutional landscape, which form the first few paragraphs (following this one) of this post.

The social institutional landscape has a nested and overlapping dynamical fractal structure, with some small subset of memes shared almost universally by global humanity, and the rest by smaller swathes of humanity of every magnitude down to the individual level. Transnational linguistic groups, national or regional cultures, international professional communities, aficionados of theater or a local sports team, local peer groups and families, these and almost unlimited other such groupings can share meme-sets ranging from specialized professional knowledge through games and entertainments to particular opinions or judgments. Rumors, observations, shared jokes, novel insights, technical innovations all swirl and sweep through humanity like gusting breezes through endless grasslands.

Some are highly contagious, articulating well with human psychological predispositions or existing internal cognitive landscapes, or proliferating due to their economic or military utility, spreading far and wide. Some become obsolete, dated by the flow of events or by the duration of attention spans, and contract again into oblivion after “lives” ranging from the very local and fleeting to the very widespread and long enduring.

Individual internal cognitive landscapes are comprised of a unique intersection of these differentially distributed memes, most, though shared in essence, slightly modified in the individual mind by the already existing cognitive landscape of metaphorical frames and narratives into which they fit themselves. And all of this is in constant flux at all levels, new memes emerging, spreading out in branching and expanding tentacles, which themselves are branching and expanding recursively, shrinking back, billions doing so simultaneously, converging into new coherent sets of memes which take on lives of their own.

If we imagine each meme as a color, and each variation as a shade of that color, then we would have innumerable distinct colors and shades flowing in diverse expanding and contracting fractal patterns through the mind of humanity, the hues shifting as the memes evolve, interacting in almost unlimited unique and creative ways as they converge in particular minds and groups of minds, each individual human being defined, in conjunction with its unique set of genes (and subsequent physical affects of variable environmental factors), by its unique set of memes organized into simultaneously shared and individuated metaphorical frames and narratives. This is the graphic of our social institutional landscape: mind-bogglingly complex, flowing and dynamic, throbbing with a life of its own, shot through with the transient borders and categories imposed by our imaginations, borders and categories which themselves are artifacts of the mind in constant flux on varying time scales. (See The Mandelbrot Set: Images of Complexity for a static but in-depth version of the imagery described above.)

But distinct memes themselves are changing as they flow, being modified in individual minds or synthesized with other memes to produce new ones, displacing or disproving others, in a constant dance of creation and destruction interspersed with the flowing patterns of modification, dispersion, expansion, and contraction. Memes are catalysts, interacting with human predispositions, existing cognitive architectures, and the natural environment to produce new forms, new technologies, new social institutions, and to render old ones obsolete or out of favor.

As discussed in The Evolutionary Ecology of Human Technology, some of those memes are intentionally cobbled into purposive systems, or “technologies,” programming or channeling some set of natural or behavioral phenomena in service to desired ends. Those that program natural phenomena are the ones conventionally thought of as “technologies,” enabling us to do things we were once unable to do, and to produce wealth and comfort and opportunity (as well both intentional and unintentional damage to human beings, their physical infrastructure, and the natural environment) far in excess of what we once were able to produce. These technologies and technological domains (e.g., electrical, digital, etc., as well as, as explained below, market, contractual, etc.) interact with the more haphazardly accumulating and evolving meme-clusters of the social institutional landscape. Technologies can be thought of as the engineered architectures carved out of the social institutional “natural environment,” the latter comprised of the wilderness of foundational linguistic and cultural forms as well as the economic, political, and ideological accretions diffusely growing in conjunction with our various purposive systems.

(The distinction between “engineered architectures” and the rest of the social institutional landscape can be a bit hazy, since the rest of the landscape is a function of human purposive action as well. The difference is that the architectures are consciously invented components, such as the airplane or the US Constitution, while the rest is everything that organically grows around and in conjunction with them, such as social norms, cultural motifs, and folk beliefs. In a sense, it might be correct to say that the entire social institutional landscape is composed of microcosmic “architectures,” if examined closely enough, since it is the accretion of individual purposive actions. Indeed, technologies are to the social institutional landscape what the social institutional landscape is to Nature itself, an increased focusing and intentionality -in a sense, a distillation- of diffusely accreting “purposiveness.” This is one more aspect of the fractal recursiveness of The Nature-Mind-Machine Matrix.)

While technologies programming physical phenomena are what we most commonly think of when we think of “technologies,” there are undeniable social institutional technologies as well, such as currency instruments (facilitating multilateral, global, on-going exchange, and the enormous economy based on it), enforceable contracts (allowing people to bind one another to mutually beneficial collective action that would have been difficult or impossible in the absence of such instruments), scientific methodology (allowing a more robust and reliable growth in knowledge of the underlying dynamics of the natural world than had been previously possible, and, in fact, underwriting an explosion in the proliferation and sophistication of new technologies), and legal procedure (allowing a more reliable and vigilant system of determining truth in disputes between individuals or between individuals and the state). The United States Constitution, in fact, is the codification of an intentionally invented social institutional purposive system.

New social institutional technologies are constantly being explored, experimented with, implemented, and either proliferate or languish according to their relative reproductive success. In fact, governments are factories of such technologies, passing laws and regulations, creating administrative agencies, establishing new systems and markets, signing treaties with verification and enforcement provisions, forging new social institutions to deal with emergent or suddenly more salient issues and challenges (such as the creation of the United Nations in the wake of World War II, or of tradable carbon market instruments in the context of the Kyoto Protocol. See, e.g., Political Market Instruments).

But just as new technologies in the conventional sense can be created in people’s garages or in small start-ups formed by highly educated young people, so too can new social institutional technologies emerge in contexts more humble than those of the halls of government or international treaty conferences. Many diffuse technological innovations, of both the conventional and social institutional varieties, have occurred in conjunction with information technologies, which have come to form such a vital framework within our social institutional landscape. The Netroots movement is an excellent example of diffuse social institutional innovation in conjunction with emerging physical technologies, contributing substantially to the success of Obama’s 2008 presidential victory.

A particularly good example of a set of robust social institutional innovations contrived by a very small cadre of political entrepreneurs is described in the book The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado, by (pre-eminent Colorado political broadcast journalist) Adam Schrager and (former Republican Colorado state house representative) Rob Witwer. The book describes a confluence of new state laws (both campaign finance and term-limit limitations), a very small group of highly motivated and capable extremely wealthy individuals (“the gang of four”), and the targeted channeling of huge amounts of money by them into non-campaign organizations such as political 527s, 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, and 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, each with its own advantages and limitations, to affect state legislature races, transforming the Colorado political landscape in the process.

The Tea Party movement, as well, clearly has both some grass roots political entrepreneurial characteristics to it, as well as more centrally orchestrated aspects, both involving some social institutional purposive systems, channeling the deep well of  jingoistic “Political Fundamentalism” in the United States, and the reactionary anger to the combination of the Obama victory in 2008 and the perception of Big Government (“socialist”) actions and policies, tapping into inchoate bigotries and xenophobia, all in service, ultimately, to corporate interests (“small government” meaning non-regulation of corporate behavior, which in turn means foisting costs of production in the forms of externalities onto the public).

The question facing those who want to affect the dynamical fractal geometry of our ever-changing social institutional landscape in purposive and guided ways is how best to do so, where and how to flap the butterfly’s wings in such a way so as to cascade through the system in reverberating, self-amplifying winds of social change. As I put it near the end of The Evolutionary Ecology of Human Technology:

Negotiating this evolving ecosystem of social institutions, technologies, and their interactions with both individuals and the natural environment involves more than hammering together a set of purposive systems. It is a vibrant whole, a metabolism, more organic than mechanistic. Understanding how it flows, how changes ripple through it, how its complexity and interconnectedness form the roiling currents we are riding, is the ultimate art and science of consciously articulating our lives with their context in ways that allow us to fulfil potentials we have only barely begun to imagine. To some extent, these potentials will be realized by technologies, including social institutional technologies. But human consciousness is more than the sum of its parts, and the more our technologies and ideologies flow and undulate with the rhythms of the evolving natural, social institutional, and technological systems within which they are embedded, and with which they articulate, the more fully we will realize the full breadth and depth of our humanity.

I invite and implore all readers to continue to contemplate this question, to consider how best to dance with these complex systems in ways which yield greater human welfare and liberation, greater realization of our humanity and our consciousness. In the meantime, please consider my own evolving “A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill” (or the short version: The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified) as one possible starting point. This social institutional world of ours is both a product and source of our genius, in an articulation of coherence and individuation, of interdependence and liberty, of collective and individual consciousness. It is the collective mind upon which we draw, and which draws upon us. It is a narrative we write and act out together in a sprawling improvisation, more subtle and complex than any that has ever been bound into volumes or performed on a stage. Let’s write it well.

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