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Thu, Oct 13 2005

Are We Creating Communities Ripe for Gangs?

FrontPage Magazine published online a series of transcripts from a late-August conference on immigration in Beverly Hills, California. The focus was actually more on the problems of illegal immigration. This isn't a new issue, of course. But the way these individual speakers present the American reaction to it is interesting, particularly from a law enforcement point-of-view.

I can remember when illegal immigrant crime in a small town was usually someone taking food for themeselves or their family. Gangs as criminal groups were almost unheard of in farm areas or small towns. They were usually a problem in larger cities.

I live in an area that draws a lot of seasonal farm workers and all the related issues that go with that sort of local economy. But now we have less and less farmland as fields are increasingly sold to developers and built up for housing. Much of this push seems to come from the state level, and the blame goes up the line from there, even to all sorts of talk about the United Nation and how it's changing the face of America. I've written before of the ongoing battles over the increasing housing density of outside areas nearby that the city of Watsonville, California is attempting to annex.

Many of the newer jobs in this area are low-to-medium income jobs at places like Home Depot, but the jobs are still considered a big step up from the back-breaking work of agricultural fields, and when retail jobs do come open there are usually many, many applicants who hope to fill the few dozen positions actually available. There aren't many new companies with highly technical or highly skilled jobs being brought in as the new housing areas are being developed. So we aren't moving from a highly rural to a highly technical local population, but we are moving from highly rural jobs to jobs that require some degree of training and orientation.

My guess, which I present without any research to back it up, is that it's tougher for an illegal immigrant to get work at a place like Home Depot than it would be for that person in a field somewhere. Housekeeping jobs probably don't activate the same level of background check that a bank teller might go through. As our local population shifts toward more unskilled-worker immigrants, the original ease with which such immigrants could once obtain work is disappearing. This would hold especially true for illegal immigrants, and maybe doubly true for illegal Mexican immigrants who speak no English. Again, this is just a general observation on my part and does not reflect particular statistics.

As the area becomes less rural and more urban, unskilled immigrants (both legal and illegal) will find it tougher to find a job. Unskilled illegal immigrants may be pushed out of the regular job market altogether. So far, this hasn't stopped illegal immigrants from coming to the area so they must still have hope of making the best of things in the future.

What's left for them to do if they can't get work legally and can't afford training to prepare them for more skilled positions? Maybe they can't even apply for training because they're here illegally. If the people in these kinds of situations are determined to stay, no matter what it takes, some will end up turning to crime. Some young people will be tempted to turn to gangs for a source of comfort and a sense of perceived superior status among their peers.

Let's not forget that some immigrants come here from a culture where corrupt officials and correspondingly corrupt citizens have become an everyday way of life. Just because they come here doesn't mean they will all suddenly adapt to some standard that American citizens consider to be more moral and more socially correct. Some will. Some won't.

I understand that crime isn't only an illegal immigrant issue. Crime isn't only an urban issue. Gangs are not only an urban issue. But in our attempt to provide housing--particularly affordable housing--for everybody who wants to live in areas that were once heavily rural we may be inadvertently creating a kind of social vacuum. That vacuum will ultimately fill itself with people who are willing to take what they can get from either end of the social, and economic, spectrums. We may, in effect, be fertilizing the perfect neighborhoods for gangs in the same way we once fertilized strawberry fields and apple orchards.

posted at: 10:33 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

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