Our ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ Immigration Policy

Lou Dobbs and Meg Whitman

Lou Dobbs and Meg Whitman

Lou Dobbs and Meg Whitman

Politicians tend to treat election season like spring cleaning: they get their brooms and sweep all the skeletons out of their opponents’ closets. Often they come up with dirty socks. And more often than not, they find regular black socks, and call them dirty.

Let’s turn to the recent outrage over California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s nine year employment (and subsequent termination) of an undocumented housekeeper, and the hullabaloo over undocumented workers taking care of Lou Dobbs‘ – yes, Lou Dobbs! – estate grounds and his horses.

Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, and Dobbs, who is known for his anti-undocumented immigrant rhetoric, are certainly not the first public figures to take flack for hiring undocumented immigrants as domestic servants.  But that’s just the point: this is not news, this is the status quo.

A hungry resident of California or New Jersey – or just about anywhere in the country – would find it hard to have a meal where at least part of the work of bringing the food to the table was not done by an undocumented immigrant.  Whether it’s the person who sets the table, chops the vegetables, cleans the restaurant,  or picks the food (not to mention those who built the building the restaurant occupies) –undocumented immigrants have become integral participants in the U.S. economy.

Dobbs’ main counter attack to the reporter at The Nation who wrote ‘Lou Dobbs, American Hypocrite,’ was that he did not directly employ the undocumented workers–they ended up mowing his lawn through subcontractors. Um, so, continuing with the restaurant analogy, that’s like saying if you have your food cooked by undocumented immigrants, but you “don’t know,” it’s all fine and dandy. On the other hand, if you started a restaurant and knowingly hired them (like this guy) it would not be dandy.

Seriously folks, what’s the difference here? Our economy is completely based on indirectness, on subcontracting. We don’t know who picks our food, who drives our food trucks, who cleans our floors and who cuts our lawns. We don’t know, and many people–including Dobbs and Whitman–don’t want to know. If they actually had conversations with their gardeners, cleaning ladies, and horse grooms, and heard their stories, they wouldn’t be able to hide behind the “don’t ask don’t tell” rhetoric.

If these public figures would actually stand up and say, “yes, I do employ undocumented immigrants, directly or indirectly, like everyone else in America, and that’s why we need to face this issue,” we might actually take a step forward.

AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.