Accepting a shoddy “solution” to the “immigration problem” is akin to fighting to get Sheriff Arpaio to stop his sweeps, but allowing everything else: the exploitation of labor, the poverty, the discrimination, along with all the other problems that people face. I have seen what appears to be some uncritical support for comprehensive immigration reform, despite the uproar about Sensenbrenner’s proposed ideas a few years back.
Looking closely at what is being proposed by democratic senator Charles Schumer, you can see that it is highly shaped by the rhetoric and attitudes that have become popularized by the Minutemen and other such people. “…illegal immigration is wrong—plain and simple. When we use phrases like ‘undocumented workers,’ we convey a message to the American people that their Government is not serious about combating illegal immigration, which the American people overwhelmingly oppose.”
Examining the wording describing proposed reform so far, it might as well be called Compromise-with-the-racists Immigration Reform. As a matter of fact, the ideas I’ve seen so far seem to be a good compromise between business interests, the rule of law, and white supremacists (not that these are mutually exclusive).
The position on “illegal” immigration being wrong is far too often left uncontested. Comprehend this: Illegal immigration is not wrong. What is wrong is the criminalization of people because of their class and countries of origin, and of the actions they have taken as a result of the decimation of economies and human rights by US business interests. What is wrong is that American businesses in and outside of the US have benefited from the cheap labor of Mexicans in particular, and others as well.
Business interests, in the form of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the North American Free Trade Agreement, with the cooperation of the rich and powerful in their respective countries, have contributed to reducing or maintaining low wages, keeping countries in worse and worse debt, lowering environmental protections, diminishing labor safety protections, and taking land and other resources out of communal or national hands and into the private possession of the rich. This got far worse with the implementation of NAFTA, which has since caused a major drop in wages even with an increase in productivity. Let us not forget that Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution was changed to appease the authors of NAFTA, which allowed the land to be sold off to the highest bidder, causing loss of land, work, and sustenance for millions of Mexicans. These impacts that American citizens benefit from are ignored, buried, denied, or shrugged off. The primary goal of any real solution to the “immigration problem” must be to dramatically change the economic and legal impact neo-liberal projects (and capitalism in general) make on other countries.
Did the authors of NAFTA really believe that employment issues would be improved on the whole North American continent? Is it a coincidence that Operation Gatekeeper, the construction of the wall on the California/Mexico border, was begun right around the implementation of NAFTA? Obviously the ruling class does not care about the consequences of its actions, except to maintain its power by turning its citizens against the scape-goated immigrants. Instead of being accountable for the results of their pillaging and profiting, they turn around and criminalize those who are trying to escape.
Keep in mind too, that here, we’re only talking about the last few decades. It goes without saying that there’s a long history of colonization and imperialism that must also be addressed.
Being proposed by the folks who think they have their finger on the pulse of the public are more border security and tighter controls on employment. Operational control of the borders costs more money, further divides the native communities whose land spans area on both sides of the border, adds to a militarized climate that endangers human and animal life, and causes environmental damage. A biometric-based employer verification system and enforcement is costly and flawed, an invasion of privacy, and a pain in the ass for everyone. A guest worker program, or anything like it, is meant to benefit businesses only. It leads to increases in regulation and control of workers so that they remain vulnerable to exploitation. This also only allows opportunities for some, not the many who are currently in this country.
Schumer wants us to believe that “the American people want their Government to be serious about protecting the public, enforcing the rule of law,” when in fact their means of doing so up until now has resulted in the largest prison population in the world, a majority of people of color behind bars, police brutality, racial profiling, the poisoning of people who have no choice but to live by waste dumps or other toxic materials, exploitation in the workplace, poor education, lack of health care, losing housing, and on and on. This is the government we expect to protect us, and to provide a reasonable approach to immigration?
The main reason the government would seek to create reform that appears to value migrants’ lives and dignity (which this one hardly even attempts) is to avoid an uprising by the many who value these principles and who showed our massive numbers in the giant marches a few years ago.
Beyond this, there is also a demand by businesses to have access to cheap labor, not to have everyone deported or detained. But what makes the labor cheap (besides often being considered unskilled) other than it is still vulnerable? We are therefore suspect of any reform that is influenced largely by business.
What must be understood is that no matter how many people are offered a path to legal status, there will always be undocumented immigrants. Especially as long as the root causes are not addressed—uprooted in fact—the violence (economic or otherwise) will continue that is faced by Mexicans, Haitians, Guatamalens, all of those impacted by neoliberalism to the point where they would be drawn to where survival is more likely. If we settle for whatever bone we’re tossed now, what about those who haven’t yet crossed the line in the sand? In fact, what was gotten from the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act that granted amnesty to over 2 million migrants? What happened was that some things got worse for migrants, some got better, but in the end, the root problems were not settled, and here we are again.
We must also understand that even if many become legalized, they will still face the increasing measures to criminalize people. This problem is described in The Criminal Alien Problem of Secure Communities (http://borderlinesblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/criminal-alien-problem-of-secure.html):
Secure Communities follows ICE’s broad definition of criminal alien to include any noncitizen convicted of an offense. Falling within Secure Communities’ priorities are “individuals who have been convicted of other offenses,” so broad to presumably include all misdemeanor violations or immigration violations. While this broad sweep approach to securing communities will certainly capture immigrants who do represent a threat to public safety, it extends the immigrant crackdown far deeper into the immigrant community, legal and illegal, and will likely result in widespread personal, family, and community insecurity.Secure Communities involves an extensive consolidation in communication between various law enforcement agencies: local, state, FBI, ICE, etc... The private prison industry’s business has also been booming due to all the detention facilities that they run. With there Do you think they’re going to give this up easily?
Clearly no reform can be acceptable that the US Government, the perpetrator of violence against the people, will allow. That doesn’t mean we give up- it means we must fight harder for that which we envision for the world’s citizens.