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Seems that Republicans who support Arizona's recently passed immigration law want to ask local law enforcement to wear just one more hat. They don't just want them to be the police, they want them to be...the fashion police:

MATTHEWS: Like what, like what? Give me a non-ethnic aspect that would tell you to pick up somebody.

BILBRAY: They will look at the kind of dress you wear, there’s different type of attire, there’s different type of...right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes.


Or, as this vid put it:

All joking aside, there is a deeper irony afoot (ahem!) when talking about footwear and economic exploitation of cheap labor. For instance, lack of fashionable footwear goes back to the slave period:

Enslaved African Americans provided this labor source to southern planters at a relatively low cost.  Rather than pay wages for workers, planters instead provided shelter, clothing, and food for their slaves.

The shelter, clothing, and food planters provided varied among plantations, but were always less than desirable.  Housing for slaves consisted primarily of a crudely constructed log house with few furnishings.  Most of these cabins were built to contain two families; some had partitions, while others had none.


The slaves’ clothing was usually very rough and inadequate.  Men commonly had only two trousers and two or three shirts to last the year.  The female slaves had a similar number of dresses in dull colors.


Some slaves were given one pair of shoes per year.  Slaves shoes were often very poorly made, making it easy for them to break open.  When they wore out, they went barefooted.



In terms of shelter, Jacob Riis noticed the same overcrowding among immigrants in New York in the 1880's in his book, How the Other Half Lives:

In a room not thirteen feet either way slept twelve men and women, two or three in bunks set in a sort of alcove, the rest on the floor. A kerosene lamp burned dimly in the fearful atmosphere, probably to guide other and later arrivals to their beds, for it was only just past midnight. A baby’s fretful wail came from an adjoining hall-room, where, in the semi-darkness, three recumbent figures could be made out. The apartment was one of three in two adjoining buildings we had found, within half an hour, similarly crowded. Most of the men were lodgers, who slept there for five cents a spot.


Regarding immigrant fashions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as Studs Terkel put it:

My family came from Ireland and I was born in the slums of Jersey. Went to school up to fourth grade. When I was making my communion, the nuns sent my mother a letter: "This boy is not going to make it unless he has a pair of shoes and a little suit of clothes" My mother said, "If you want him to wear shoes and a little suit of clothes, buy it for him. We haven't enough food to feed him, let alone shoes. He's going to make his communion if I have to bring him up to the altar naked. The Good Lord ran around with a potato sack wrapped around his ass, and if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for anyone else." Two days before communion, they bought the shoes and suit.


So, when grasping at straws regarding what non-ethnic aspect police in Arizona would look for when trying to decide whether or not someone was an undocumented worker, it's no wonder Representative Bilbray cited "shoes". Cheap shoes. Cheap clothes. Whenever you're looking for the bottom of the bottom of the economic ladder, these are the telltale signs of someone's economic status, after all.

That the only reason why these folks wear cheap shoes and cheap clothes is that this is all they can afford obviously isn't something that the likes of Representative Bilbray want to spend too much time thinking about. That these cheap shoes may be a physical link to the poverty that drove these folks to walk across a border - or hire someone to smuggle them across it - is something that's just too inconvenient for some folks to reflect upon when discussing immigration and undocumented workers.

And that's the problem - as long as we stick our fingers in our ears and pretend that somehow the poverty that these folks experience in their home country doesn't concern us, doesn't affect us and will just go away if we slap a big wall across our southern border, we will make no progress on this issue.

The debate on immigration is a debate on the nature of cheap and exploitive labor - the reason for it, who benefits from it and whether or not we want to live in a country that uses it for its economic growth.

Will we have that debate? I doubt it - but you never know.

Originally posted to grannyhelen on Mon Apr 26, 2010 at 12:30 PM PDT.

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