I t is a poor comparison, surely, to put plastic bags in the same category as illegal aliens. But I find the comparison useful not because opponents of illegal immigration see the illegals as trash but because its supporters do.
Let us proceed one step at a time. Any day now Governor Jerry Brown will sign a bill passed last week by the California legislature to ban so-called “single-use” plastic bags in stores, beginning July 1 of next year. At that time, pharmacies and grocery stores will be prohibited from providing them free for customers, with liquor and convenience stores following six months later.
Instead, customers will have to pay 10 cents for paper or reusable bags, for which retailers are being subsidized and from which low-income shoppers will be exempt. Of course, many Californians will find ways to cope with this silly law, for which the ancient lament, “The law is an ass!” is particularly apt.
In the promotions for the bill, disguised as news reporting, people are interviewed who say it’s no big deal, they can just bring bags from home. But must they be “reusable” (meaning cloth) bags or can they be paper or plastic? Will government sleuths be stationed in parking lots to catch anyone bringing inside the “wrong” kind of bags?
Prohibitions on things that are harmless or long in use are always problematic. But we know that the reason for the ban is because so many of the detestable bags wind up in landfills and waterways. But so do many other items. Why are plastic bags singled out?
Because they are not biodegradable, of course. But that, too, applies to many other things. This fixation seems somehow to have missed the other plastic bags that are provided for fruits, vegetables and meats, which help preserve freshness or contain moisture and even blood. Are they next?
Cities that have banned plastic bags already have been told by merchants that shoplifting has increased with the cloth bags, not to mention infection from food particles left in them.
Is there any doubt that there will be a “black market” in plastic bags as shoppers avoid paying fees or buying bags they don’t want? In fact, “single use” plastic bags have been recycled to thrift stores, who might not get any in the future.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has decided to wait until after the November mid-term elections to deal with the illegal immigration crisis largely of his own making with executive orders. He did so because Democrat nominees for Senate seats in red (Republican) states rightly fear voter backlash.
Could there be anything more cynical, or contemptuous of voter intelligence, than Obama saying he will wait to avoid antagonizing Americans until they are silenced for a couple of more years?
But I have said that supporters of illegal immigration, largely Democrats, regard the objects of their professed concern as so much litter. So I ask, how compassionate is it to encourage thousands of Central American citizens to endure the dangerous 1,500-mile journey to the Rio Grande through Mexico and walking through the Texas desert?
How about the hollow promise of due process to mostly women and children who, for the most part, will never show up in court? How about the indifference to whether our resources are sufficient to support those who cannot support themselves? And how about the virtual waiving of immigration laws’ requirement that new citizens learn English and the rudiments of civic responsibility?
The United States of America is the only country in the world that does not insist on immigrants’ employability, indeed, their specific placement in an actual job, as a condition of citizenship. Mexico and Canada have those requirements, but not us. All it takes is a family relation or a bogus claim to persecution in their country of origin.
Illegal immigrants permitted here become part of a strange world in which deportation is always a possibility, but more so intimidation by employers or landlords who have no like power to abuse their fellow citizens. And what about all those who can’t or won’t find work who will be on the public dole for much, if not most, of their lives?
This is not citizenship. It is not liberty under law. It is akin to slavery, giving us yet another example of how liberal “compassion” actually means being subjected to a regime that has nothing to do with constitutional government but rather government by whim.
Surely, these unfortunates need better treatment than plastic bags. But they continue to “pile up” in communities across America, burdening citizens and providing fodder for demagogic politicians. The ban on this abuse is surely more defensible than a ban on plastic bags.
Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of “Taking Journalism Seriously: ‘Objectivity’ as a Partisan Cause” (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at email@example.com