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Brooklyn, New York (VBS.TV) -- The debate over illegal immigration in the United States has always been dominated by hotheads and sloganeering loudmouths on either side of the fence drawn together by their shared love of yelling crap on radio call-in shows and steering the dialogue away from anything approaching a solution. And since the September 11, 2001, attacks -- carried out by 16 legal immigrants; three on expired visas -- the discussion has basically devolved into an incomprehensible jumble.
Like did you ever see those supposedly pro-immigrant "A Day With No Mexicans" ads where everyone's sad that there's nobody to mow lawns or sell tacos? Who'd they get to write those, the KKK? Seriously, the whole thing just makes us want to shut off our brains and watch "Reba" or something. But then we remember the lives of some 12 million people hang in the balance -- as well as the American economy, welfare and national security -- and it's like,"[exaggerated sigh] OK, [rolling up sleeves] looks like we'll have to wrestle this away from the [expletive] after all."
Back in 2008, VBS headed to Los Angeles, California, a center for Latin American migrants and a flash point for recent anti-immigrant tensions, in an attempt to suss out the full nature of la reconquista. We thought this would be a nice alternative to simply yelling: "[expletive] all immigrants! Speak English!" until it looks like we're about to hemorrhage from our eyeballs.
One of the first people we talked to in Los Angeles was Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minutemen Project -- a private group, often in the news, that tracks and hunts people crossing from Mexico into the United States in the middle of the night or the middle of the scorching hot day.
We certainly expected to find someone like Jim at the center of this debate, but we never expected to find someone like Walter Wheeler. Walter is one of the original members of the Crips gang, but he's now become quite an outspoken activist against illegal immigration.
We also hung out with a group of teenagers from South Central Los Angeles over the course of a week, and really learned what it's like to be undocumented from the point of view of some kids caught in the middle. Finally we sat down with Dov Charney, the CEO and founder of American Apparel. Dov is a Canadian who lives in Los Angeles and, as the owner of a business that employs thousands of people in Los Angeles, is concerned and vocal about immigration issues. He was sure to tell us exactly what he thought.
Last week President Obama pushed immigration reform right to the front of the national debate, and the drug war raging on the Mexican side of this border could not be any more terrifying. And yet somehow we're still hearing the same old ranting -- and from the looks of things, we are nowhere near a solution.