Monday, April 10, 2006

Thoughts on the Current Immigration Discussion

Today, over 1 million immigrants and their supporters rallied across the country, in cities from Atlanta to New York (the photo at left is from the Washington rally, Evan Vucci/AP). My own thoughts on the immigration issue are simple and may be naïve, but here they are:

1) All of the immigrants who are already here should be offered a simple and clear path to naturalization. The INS (or whatever it's called now) should address the problem of anyone who has serious criminal convictions (and I don't mean traffic violations or marijuana possession) here or in their native country, but in general, everyone else should be given a clear and realizable opportunity to become a citizen. All. Of. Them. The last I looked, all of the nativist Republicans in the House or Senate who were pushing for draconian penalties against the immigrants (Sensenbrenner, Tancredo, etc.) were descended from European immigrants, some of whom arrived no more than a century ago (and in many cases were given all kinds of opportunities at the expense of Native Americans and African-Americans), and some of whose ancestors were the objects of harsh anti-immigration sentiment and actions. How quickly and completely they forget.

2) If most Americans are concerned with the economic impact of uncontrolled immigration, and studies on the issue are mixed, though it does appear that adult American citizens who did not graduate from high school are most negatively affected (and this would include white, black American natives, and latinos), then the criticism and penalties should be laid at the doorstep of US businesses that flout the laws and continue to employ undocumented workers, which does depress wages in specific industries while increasing profits. On almost every other measure, immigrants benefit the economy. So long as the US economy keeps growing and businesses keep employing undocumented workers in large numbers without penalty, immigrants seeking jobs will try to get here. The economics seem clear to me, though I could be quite wrong in this.

3) The guest-worker program is a long-term mess waiting to happen. The guest workers will be counted for voting purposes, like Native Americans, African-American enslaved people and women once were, without voting rights and few other civil rights. This is already happening with undocumented workers, and the guest-worker program would write it into law. Again. Employers will continue to employ undocumented workers despite the numerical limits (of 400,000--is this supposed to be a cruel joke?). None of the guest workers will want to go home unless things improve in their home countries or they earn enough to create a viable life back there. Their children, if they have any on US soil, will be American citizens, further tying them to the US. Nothing will be solved. The German and other European models for this sort of program should give everyone pause, though the president, with his negative capital, was hoping that his lackeys in Congress would pass it, though they had another plan altogether in mind.

4) Since the US government, both the White House and Congress, claims to to take national and border security seriously, it needs to show that this is more than rhetoric and shadowplay. I'm not sure what's going on with the multimillion-dollar boondoggle that we call the Department of Homeland Security, but four years after 9/11, it doesn't appear that there's any real or concerted effort to control the flow of people into the country, unless they are baseball players from Cuba or a European Islamic scholar against whom the current administration has a particular ideological animus. If people can enter the country freely, legally or otherwise, they will, especially if there are available jobs here. For those immigrants who are looking for work, this is a no-brainer.

5) The US needs to revisit the NAFTA agreements and any other pro-free market international trade programs that have devastated particular sectors of treaty members' economies. Mexico's agricultural sector suffered terribly after NAFTA went into effect, and continues to suffer. Neither "free trade" nor the "free market" are "free," despite the neoconservative and neoliberal orthodoxies that the Republican party and much of the Democratic party, especially the DLC wing, subscribe to. Planned, closed economies cannot be the countermeasure, but every US "free-trade," "free market" program needs to be revisited and reworked carefully, particularly if it's only benefitting corporations and shareholders, while millions of working-age people no longer have any realistic employment options. Citizens across Latin America have woken up to the failures of neoliberalism, and Americans need to open our eyes as well.

6) Much of the hysteria involving the immigration issue is focused on Latinos, and in particular, on Mexicans. I'm sure there's no one out there who doesn't already know this, but almost the entire Southwest was under Spanish control, and then was part of Mexico, before it became US territory. Mexicans and people of Mexican heritage have lived in parts of the West and Southwest for centuries. As I pointed out about a month or two ago, Herbert Hoover oversaw the mass deportation of Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans, i.e., US citizens, during the Depression, and only recently was there any apology or acknowledgment of this. This is not to imply that the current Mexican immigration is a kind of karmic payback, but I do want to note that Mexicans in particular have longstanding historical, cultural and social ties to the US. Mexicans, like Canadians and the citizens of other countries that are geographically or historically linked to the US are going to come to the US for job opportunities if they're here, as will people from elsewhere in the world. How many undocumented Canadian citizens are there in the US? I don't see any outcry against Canadians, because most Canadian immigrants to the US are, I would imagine, white.

In fact, there is almost no outcry against undocumented immigrants from Europe (and it's as if the immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean [except for Cuba] and Asia are not acknowledged at all), even though our major cities, and many industries, are full of them. The men working on the lot next to our home in New Jersey are from Eastern Europe. Are they documented? Before I bought my car, half of the cab-drivers I encountered in Chicago were from Romania. Were they documented? Yes, the majority of immigrants to US come from Mexico, but this shouldn't surprise anyone, because the US and Mexico are historically and economically linked and many Mexicans have long had ties to the US. There are numerous immigrants from other countries--in my neighborhood and throughout Chicago, I regularly come across immigrants and refugees from Nigeria, Sudan, Haiti, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Poland, Romania, Russia, and so on. In fact, from 1990 to now, as I reported before, more immigrants from Africa came to this country than all the Africans brought to the US during the period of the slave trade. The immigration issue is not a Mexican or even Latino issue--even if most of the immigrants are from Latin American countries--but a human rights issue.

6) The nativists fail to look at another issue that we should be talking about, which is that if the ideology of neoliberalism and free market globalization are what they are going to keep pushing, they need to rethink issues of nationalism, national sovereignty, citizenship, and the concept of borders altogether. We are quite far from a situation of Kantian perpetual peace pervading a united, one-nation state, yet economic free-trade ideologues seem to believe that goods and services can and should cross borders at will, but fail to acknowledge the real-world national and local issues and crises that arise when real people do so. What do national sovereignty, nationalism, citizenship, constitutionally guaranteed rights, and borders of all sorts mean in an age of globalization, transnationalization, and global and transnational capital?

7) Criminalizing anyone who assists undocument workers is wrong. Building a 700-mile wall is ridiculous. Changing the law to eliminate birth-citizenship is outrageous. Expelling 12-20 million people is absurd and would be impossible anyway even if it weren't.

8) Finally, African Americans individually and as a whole really ought to be thinking carefully about the current immigration situation and its effects on this country. In most of the largest waves of immigration prior to 1965, immigrants of African descent were in the minority, and in places where there was a sizable African-American population, whether Boston, Philadelphia, Savannah, Charleston, New York, etc., African Americans were usually been pushed to the back of the line in favor of the new, mostly European immigrants. Immigrants of African descent usually blended into the African-American population within a generation or two. With the arrival over the last three decades of millions of Africans and people of African descent from Latin America, as well as millions of other Latinos, Asians, Arabs and European people (of all races), I think that we need to revisit and challenge static views of racial prerogatives, race and racial authenticity as they've has traditionally functioned in the US. I also hope the recent waves of immigration provoke a rethinking among African Americans about how we stage racial and ethnic identities in the economic, political and social spheres. Who is black and how do we speak about blackness, and race in general? What is authentic blackness? What is the black real today? How do we and can we represent it? Must one history or set of historical narratives, or racial, national or ethnic (or any other, for that matter) identity or identification trump or cancel out another, or mustn't we begin to think with complexity about who we are? (And this is the case not only for African Americans, but all Americans.) Barack Obama is us. I also hope it will provoke active coalition building to address a number of crucial issues the country faces, and in particular, that African Americans and black people in general face. White supremacy is not going anywhere anytime soon, so thinking of ways to promote countersocialization and counter-processes of identity formation and identification that do not yet again make and reify African Americans as the absolute negative Other, and that foster dynamic cross-racial alliances and means of identification across and within ontological racial boundaries with replicating the current racialized social hierarchies, are some of our current major challenges.

1 comment:

  1. The whole issue of immigration is one that is complex and involves many issues.

    The simplistic solutions from the extreme right and left will never work; there are enough laws on the books right now to enable effective control of the problem the real issue is the will to enforce the laws already in place.

    As I have stated in other forums one real way to effectively control the problem is to cut off the supply of illegal jobs, this would encourage people to get in line and immigrate legally.

    The scumbags that want a cheap maid or gardener or picker of crops are the ones that perpetuate this inequitable system. They in turn need to be the ones to pay the price. Prosecute those low lifers and most of the problem will go away.

    The heat and fire generated by this issue is, I believe hiding the true tragedy of this issue that is the human toll that the whole thing is generating, from the people who loose their lives crossing the borders, to those that are persecuted once they get here to those that are suffering in sub standard conditions of work. Additionally at the other end the costs to the whole community in providing health care, education and law enforcement, these are cost borne by us all.

    Prosecute the employers first, stop people from risking their lives crossing and make available a workable immigration system that is the way to end this whole mess.

    In My Humble Opinion