Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Welfare for the Rich: Criminalized Migrants

I'm interested in this birth right issue: the anti-immigrant folks want to change the interpretation of the 14th amendment to keep children of undocumented immigrants from becoming citizens.  There are some interesting parallels and overlaps with the rallying cries around overpopulation and welfare abuse.  Much attention is put on immigrants' reproduction and the "jackpot" they would receive.  (While reading Russell Pearce's website, I learned that another derogatory name for those called "anchor babies" is "jackpot babies").

While I don't believe that as many people are taking advantage of welfare as many claim are, I believe it is currently necessary to people's survival.  That said, I don't believe it is the answer to the root problems (and was designed to avoid dealing with root problems), and so I look to other answers other than to fight for access to welfare, especially since, if I understand correctly, welfare isn't intended for or available to undocumented immigrants even if the democrats had more sway.

In the course of my reading and thinking about this issue- the counter-argument to the anti-immigrant folks' that welfare is an incentive for migrants to have children in this country, I realized that the criminalization of migrants (which costs money in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches) is, in effect, welfare, hand-outs, or subsidization for the wealthier classes so they can make even more money.  Criminalized migrants (those who automatically break the law by not being in the country through the mostly unattainable official/legal channels) are immensely exploitable.  Because of the threat of arrest and/or deportation, they can be coerced into working in dangerous, low-paying jobs, with long hours and limited breaks, no overtime pay, kept from organizing for better conditions and wages, and in many cases, even held against their will to labor.

While racists are crying that too many women of color are having babies and living off welfare, many mostly-white upper middle class and rich women have undocumented women taking care of their kids for them, at very low costs.  In the book Disposable Domestics, Grace Chang discusses how white women have been unwilling to organize with others for fair wages for household workers (maids, nannies, etc.), because if they did, they and their constituents would have a harder time being able to afford their own help so they can continue to be liberated working women.  Such are the limitations of mainstream feminism.

In effect, the government subsidizes reproductive labor (other than actual childbirth) for the wealthier classes, while withholding it from many women of color (despite what many say, in reality even citizens have a hard time getting adequate welfare), especially undocumented women.  This subsidy, which could be called welfare, applies to nearly any situation in which an undocumented migrant is working, since they are rarely paid and treated adequately.  It is a little silly to call it "welfare" because these folks don't have to worry about their personal welfare, but because of the rhetoric surrounding welfare as hand-outs, as socialism in some ways, the rich certainly get welfare in different forms.  For example, the book Take the Rich Off Welfare, sites a number of subsidies, tax breaks, and more.  As far as I recall, the book does not discuss criminalized migrants as welfare, although I think it covers prison labor, which is very much related, as is the slave labor of the past.

Criminalizing migrants is tricky, since the consequence to the migrants is supposed to be that they would be arrested, deported, and/or they would choose to leave- thereby leaving no exploitable labor for the businesses.  The businesses (as well as private entities) don't like that!  This is an interesting clash between the racists and those who employ migrants (not that the two are mutually exclusive).  I believe that SB1070, although motivated by racism, is not totally meant to render Arizona free of undocumented workers.  Overall, criminalization functions to render them exploitable, not absent.  Remember the Sensenbrenner bill?  I don't know where Sensenbrenner stood as far as his personal dislike for undocumented immigrants, but he was behind a very harsh federal immigration reform and it turns out he profits off the criminalization of migrants.  Russell Pearce, the legislator who pushed the bill, and Kris Kobach, the lawyer who actually wrote the bill, seem to mostly be motivated by racism.

I believe that racism is spread in the interest of keeping workers divided so that businesses can continue to exploit them all (some more so).  I don't think racists like Pearce are conscious actors in this scheme, so he probably won't give up until Arizona is truly free of undocumented immigrants (and their kids).  Nevertheless, in the meantime (and hopefully he won't be successful), the criminalization of migrants continues to benefit businesses overall.  Let's keep in mind here too, that we as average people also benefit from the cheap labor that keeps the cost down on most of the items we buy.  If those items are imported, it's usually cheaper again because the labor has somehow been coerced through criminalization or threat of criminalization.

Billions of dollars are being spent on immigration enforcement.  The border wall alone will cost billions.  Locally SB1070 will cost so much money, yet somehow it is justified too keep down the cost that immigrants supposedly have on society.  While many of us understand that this is just a way to maintain the US as a mostly white country that can exploit the labor of all workers (white or not) by dividing and criminalizing many of them, it does not occur even to most of us that this criminalization is not just an act of hate or politics, but is subsidizing US business.

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