The job of most editors, myself included, is to delight, entertain, surprise, and inform their readers. The majority of the time, when it comes to choosing a cover story, we try to keep the emphasis on the first three, since the other job of most editors, myself included, is to sell magazines. Then there are the months like this one. I’m not saying that a cover story on immigration won’t sell—it’s the hottest topic going right now, one that affects each and every one of us, one that instantly triggers strong feelings from all sides—but let’s be honest, the fifty best burgers in Texas it ain’t. Still, certain moments call for us to use our considerable energies—and our most precious real estate—for informative, ambitious, and civic-minded packages like the one that begins this month on page 111.
That the United States is now in the midst of yet another paroxysm of outrage over illegal immigration (and yet another paroxysm of outrage over the outrage) should be obvious to anyone with a television, a radio, or a high-speed Internet connection. Starting back in April, when Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, her state’s controversial immigration bill, into law, we’ve been plunged into the latest round of an ugly debate that’s plagued this nation since, well, the beginning. We’re supposed to be a country of immigrants—huddled masses yearning to breathe free in a melting pot—but the truth is that we’ve always had a shut-the-door-behind-you mentality. No less a prototypical American than Benjamin Franklin was a true hard-liner on the subject of German immigration. “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens,” he wrote in 1751, “who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs.” This distrust and skepticism of newcomers has persisted down through the centuries, and the various federal immigration laws we’ve passed (from 1924 to 1965 to 1986) have all had to wrestle with the deep paradox: We’re a country of immigrants that’s wary of newcomers.
Which may be why our process is so broken. Had we set out to create the most dysfunctional immigration system imaginable, it’s unlikely that we could have done any better. It doesn’t work for anyone (except, crucially, some employers), and it’s created an enormous undocumented population—nearly 11 million people, according to the Department of Homeland Security—who live “in the shadows.” Our basic strategy has been to ignore this situation entirely, even as we depend on the labor force it provides. Or at least that’s our strategy until something disruptive happens, like a reform-minded president or a bad economy or a federal lawsuit challenging a state law, at which point all hell breaks loose. Twenty-two Arizona-style bills have now been introduced in state legislatures around the country. Clearly, avoiding the issue is no longer an option.
The resolution of all this is critically important to Texas, not only because at roughly 1.7 million our undocumented population is one of the highest in the country but because our history is so intertwined with immigration (legal and illegal, from many different countries, including, at one point, the United States). This is not an issue visited upon us from the outside. It’s part of our culture. Yet like everyone else, we’ve too often let the discussion of immigration slide into the shadows too. It’s a topic we’d just as soon avoid, one for which unanswered questions pile up and leave us misinformed about an increasingly fundamental aspect of the world we live in.
Which is why we decided to put together this issue, to surprise and inform (and maybe even entertain and delight here and there). And the discussion doesn’t stop with these pages. On our website this month we’re also launching a page dedicated to fostering discussion about immigration. You can find outtakes from the issue (photos, audio, and more), resources, and a place to post your thoughts. When it comes to fixing our screwed-up system, Texas can, and should, lead the way.
The fifty best Mexican restaurants in Texas, the post-presidency of George W. Bush, how to break a wild mustang, the search for Blind Willie Johnson, a Brownsville Christmas story, and the strange tale of the Amarillo YouTube star.