Illegal immigrants “are all over my house”

Colin Powell appeared on “Meet the Press” (9/19/10) and spoke about a Republican party he described as “waiting to emerge once again,” a party of moderates who are more balanced in their approach to several issues, including immigration.

Here is the section of his interview where he responds to the opportunistic xenophobia that is currently the preferred stance on immigration within the GOP:

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Meet The Press, posted with vodpod.

In his varied defense of reforming this position, he presents an assortment of analytical assumptions, some aspects of which I find more than a little problematic or incomplete. For example, he bases part of his defense of “illegal immigration” on what we might label a utilitarian approach, arguing (in essence) that “we” need “them” to do the work that “we” need done. Powell also presents another fairly opportunistic analysis when he speaks directly to the concerns of an aging “baby boomer” population. He suggests that immigrants are the “lifeblood” of this nation, but he describes that lifeblood as an economic transfusion—the maintaining of a workforce (and implied tax base) to support an aging and retiring population of natives.

Such ways of interpreting the immigration issue are a form of progress on purely policy-oriented terms, since they can lead to a more “moderate” and more realistic immigration system, one that spends less time on criminalizing migrants than on finding pathways for their legal stability. However, they also further a mode of analysis which deprives immigrants of their right to be seen as something more than inanimate workers.

Immigrants have the right—the human right—to be seen and treated as people with desires, concerns, and needs. When we view them in these “disembodied” ways (that is, disconnecting their human selves from the values we derive from their physical selves) we create a context like we have today—where immigration policies promote inhumane forms of detention and removal and, in many cases, outright death.

Viewing immigrants as humans means acting in responsible ways. We all have a responsibility—and I would argue, this is both a moral and a legal responsibility—to recognize and safeguard everyone’s ability to fulfill their basic human needs.

I recognize this is a distinct way of understanding the “immigration issue.” It says the issue is bigger than whether or not it “benefits us” to allow them into “our” nation. It says the issue is, fundamentally, about viewing this nation as part of a larger whole, with an accompanying responsibility to act in deliberate humanistic ways.

Powell flirts with the kinds of understandings I support when he expresses the need for us to spend more effort educating “our minorities” and immigrants. Leaving along the paternalistic tone his choice of words suggests—and not at all discounting the ways his education argument can be interpreted as opportunistic—I view education as a fundamental human right. Education facilitates one’s ability to fulfill their basic human needs. It is intimately connected to a set of opportunities–to achieve meaningful social inclusion, to defend and maintain cultural rights, and to assure true participatory political power.

All this said, I welcome Powell’s stance and hope it gains more traction in our political debate. His vocal support of the Dream Act at this critical hour is the right thing to do. The same can be said for the ways he is promoting a more moderate way of approaching immigration reform. None of this is “perfect,” and it often falls short of true humanism, but who cares?

When we have people dying as a result of our policies there is a moral urgency to creating a policy context that is more just, even if that falls short of perfect.

Obama moves on immigration

President Obama made his first official speech today relating to immigration reform.  His full remarks can be accessed here.

Pundits are already wondering why he would make immigration his next political battle when the Democrats look like they’re in for a major fight in this fall’s midterm elections.  The President has his hands already full with a major environmental catastrophe in the gulf, an economy that is the worst in 70 years, and two wars with no end in sight.  Most Americans seem rather apathetic when it comes to immigration reform; those that don’t are often the most vocally opposed to any kind of real reform.

One of the wedge issues Republicans use to mobilize their disgruntled base is immigration.  Accordingly, solving the issue carries no political benefit for them.  They stand to gain more politically by keeping it an unresolved thorn in the side of American politics.  Furthermore, they stand to lose a lot if there is fair reform, since many in their most extreme base would see this as a form of amnesty or another example of government run amuck.

Let me suggest this…

The President is urging movement on immigration not because it will actually pan out but because it will remind a growing Latino base of Democratic voters (as well as other progressives) which party is on their side.  Recent events in Arizona already do a lot of that.  Now conservative pundits and politicians alike will do more of it in response to the President.  All that rhetoric sounds racist to Latinos, as well as others who are composing the “next base” of the Democrats.

The President knows that even in places like Arizona, the political tide will turn if Democrats think and act in deliberate and calculated ways rather than in just reactionary ones.  The electorate of the Southwest is becoming decidedly brown, not only due to immigration and fertility, but due to history, and a younger demographic of Latinos compared to an aging white one.  As political science professor Stephen Nuño succinctly states in this recent report from the Grand Canyon State, “as the demographics change, this [anti-immigrant] strategy will become less viable.”

Obama is looking to November and beyond with his speech today, setting the groundwork for meaningful reform as much as setting the groundwork for a change in Washington.  Let’s see if anything comes from it.

Are We Heading to a Race War?

Arizona’s state legislature passed “the toughest measure in the country against illegal immigrants” yesterday, requiring police officers to check your immigration status if they have a “reasonable suspicious” you are not “legal.” It also makes it a misdemeanor to not carry your immigration paperwork.

You can read about it at the LA Times or at the Arizona Republic.

I think Annie Lai, an attorney with the ACLU, said it best: “One of the most disturbing aspects is that many innocent U.S. citizens, Native Americans and lawful residents will be swept up in the application of the law because of the requirement that officers detain and investigate the immigration status of people they come across.”

And that’s the long and short of it. Not only has Arizona further criminalized “illegal immigrants,” it has also criminalized “legal immigrants” and all brown-skinned people, anyone who might look like some bigot’s stereotype of what an “illegal” is.

Even if this “collateral damage” of the bill is unintended (and I think there is enough of a record of racism in this nation and this region for one to make the plausible argument that it is not), and even if that damage could be contained and minimized in some way, the fact of the matter is that this state has now seen fit to legalize the policing of the movement and presence of human bodies in ways unheard of since the era of Southern Slavery.

So where will this take us?

We are already seeing an increase in physical acts of violence committed against Latinos, much of it related to bigoted notions of legality and illegality. In extreme, though not unfamiliar instances, this has resulted in death. The US fomented drug war, further given shape and violence by the incompetence of Mexican authorities to do much of anything, is claiming lives and escalating the culture of fear and racism on both sides of the border. And individual states are passing measures that come right out of fantastical satires of 21st century fascism.

I consider myself a reasonable person. I am also one who is very committed to peace. For me, this is a real political and social project, not just empty rhetoric. It comes with a fundamental belief that we can, in fact, create systems of human relations that meet everyone’s basic human needs, including the freedom from needless acts of violence–whether physical, emotional, economic, or political. But even I am scared about the future.

I can’t help thinking that we are heading toward a much darker time. To suggest that wanton violence may be a part of that time is silly. It already is. And we all moved one step closer to further nurturing it yesterday.

The “Border Beat” (January 1, 2010)

2010 will likely be a year filled with immigration news as the US Congress begins debate on some form of immigration-related legislation. Passage of some form of legislation is not assured; although something (at the very minimum) is likely. As with most pressing issues in the present configuration of domestic politics, ideological absolutism and obstructionism will be major forces of contention. So, if something does pass, we can all be confident it will be less than ideal.

So let’s start off the new year right, shall we? The “Border Beat” is back with all the Chicano/Latino/Hispanic news you might have missed the previous week.

• “Eight Things President Obama Can Do To Reform Our Immigration System Without Waiting For Congressional Action ” (Immigration Daily)

Immigration lawyer Harry DeMill breaks it down and reminds us that 2009 could have been an important year in immigration history if Mr. Obama had so willed it.

• “Town Divides Over Law Aimed at Day Laborers” (NY Times)
Oyster Bay, NY, has passed a law meant to be a restrictive measure against “day laborers.” Included in the statute are a host of now-forbidden tactics these hopeful workers employ to get the attention of a possible employer, such as “waving arms or signs.” This article is a powerful glimpse into the divergent ways people see immigrant workers in the US, as well as the sticky result: the prospect of getting arrested for “waving while Latino.”

• “Sotomayor keeps community bonds tight” (USA Today)
Ah! Say what you want about our newest Supreme Court Justice but she is defining the modern-day meaning of what it means to keep it real. If all Latina and Latino officials who won position and influence remained this grounded, then we wouldn’t be doing this blog, now would we?

• “Rose parade float to celebrate Mexico’s bicentennial” (Orange County Register, Calif.)
What would the annual Rose Parade be without controversy? Well, it would be like most years. But this year, because Mexicans and Girl Scouts (and likely Girl Scout Mexicans) are decorating a float to honor Mexico, people in the OC are freaking out. As a historian, let me warn you, when they freak out, we all suffer (Reagan anyone?).

• “White House prepares for immigration overhaul battle” (LA Times)
Rep. Luis Gutierrez introduced immigration legislation to the House last month (H.R. 4321) but the real movement on this legislation will come from the White House and the Senate. This overview is as good as any providing the strategic leaks the White House is making about what the legislation will entail and presenting the subtext beneath everything: how to get Republican votes. Without key Republicans, this whole thing will languish like carrion for the mid-year elections.

• “Outgoing mayor enrolls Morristown into immigration program to deputize officers” (, New Jersey)
Immigration (and Latino profiling) have become issues in nearly every part of this country. Much of the “legitimate” debate at the local level is similar to this: whether or not a town’s law enforcement should participate in the 287(g) program. In case you’re wondering, they should not. Unless you think immigration detention and deportation is more important than actual serious crimes, there is not a local law agency anywhere that can afford to swap out like this. But we’re not talking law enforcement; we’re talking politics.

• “U.S. government moving to deport longtime legal residents with criminal convictions” (San Jose Mercury News)
Things never are as simple and clear as they might seem to the “liberal” mind. Law and order and right and wrong get a little fuzzy in the world of immigration politics. Check it out.

• “The semantic debate over ‘illegal’ immigrants is a waste of time” (Mercury News)
I hate to always pick on Ruben Navarrette Jr. because I always love to see a brown kid get a job. But brother! In his latest opinion piece he spends time using language to defend the use of the term “illegal immigrant” by saying we shouldn’t be wasting our time with the debate over language. Excuse me–???? Well, this little brown beaner should know that words do matter, especially when they are given context and power by usage.

Debates over language are merely avenues into understanding the underlying power dynamics of the “real” issue. In the case of immigration, the wholesale ascription of the term “illegal immigrant” to ANY immigrant who is not a LPR (“legal permanent resident”) is useless legally and politically. It acts as if each case is the same, when the problem at hand is exactly the way the law acts as if each case is the same. And, yes, it borders on racist when it acts as a barrier to any debate and discussion and becomes used as a substitute for “Mexican” or “Latin American.”

But that’s just the humble opinion of a person who works with words for a living.

Deaths along the US-Mexico border

From the Washington Post comes this article on the rise in border deaths.  Human rights organizations on both sides of the border agree on the trend, which they conservatively estimate at the rate of one a day.  This, despite the fact that immigration apprehensions have collapsed.  Less people are crossing the border “illegally” yet more of them are dying.

In the 15 years since the United States began beefing up patrols along the 2,000-mile border, deaths have occurred at a rate of one every 24 hours, the human rights report alleges. Citing Mexico’s foreign ministry and media sources, the rights groups say that at least 5,607 deaths occurred between 1994 and 2008.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the Border Patrol has reported 4,111 deaths in border areas since 1998, not counting those reported first to local authorities.

Meanwhile, the number of people apprehended while crossing the border has dropped steeply. Border Patrol arrests for the year ending Sept. 30 are on track to drop about 23 percent, a precipitous decline that follows a 27 percent drop the year before. Through Aug. 31, the Border Patrol reported 519,394 apprehensions, the lowest number since the early 1970s, and less than half the 2005 level of 1.2 million.

Officials credit the decrease to the economic downturn and increased enforcement. The number of fatalities, however, is on pace to climb slightly this year. Hoffman said Customs and Border Protection is reporting 416 deaths in 2009 so far, compared with 390 last year, 398 in 2007, 454 in 2006 and 492 in 2005, the decade’s peak.

Human rights groups say that U.S. agencies typically undercount deaths because of inconsistent classification standards. The CNDH and ACLU report faults governments in both countries, with report author Maria Jiminez saying they lack standards and centralized means to identify, recover and prepare the dead for burial, determine cause of death, and notify next of kin.

This is a direct consequence of the US strategy to apply military strategies to border security, a practice which has reigned supreme since 1996.  By fortifying sections of high-traffic, they seek to create what officials call “low-intensity” zones–places where nature makes migration deadly due to heat exposure, lack of water, and rough terrain.  The result is more dead people.

This is a tragic reminder that immigration reform is an international human rights problem, not a regional or national issue of economics or politics.

Border Blow Back

The Immigration Policy Center recently published the findings of their current study of illegal immigration at the border.


On the heels of the Department of Homeland Security’s release of figures showing “apprehensions of undocumented immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border are at their lowest level since 1973,” the IPC findings suggest the scope of the impact the current economic depression is having on immigration.

Most powerfully, they document a “reduced circularity in migration,” that is, a reduction in the return migration of unauthorized immigrants already in the US.  They explain this phenomenon as an “unintended consequence” to present-day border enforcement tactics and strategies.

You can read the full IPC “Fact Check”–“Keeping Migrants Here: The Unintended Consequences of U.S. Border Enforcement”–by clicking here.


“Still we turn a blind eye to immigration”

From the Minnesota Star comes this must-read, a thoughtful analysis of the human tragedy that is US immigration policy. Abigail Ramirez, the guest columnist, writes:

One hundred years from now, our great-great-great-grandchildren will look back at this period and wonder why we stood silent while millions of people in our country who were contributing to our economy, fixing our food, cleaning our offices and raising our children were allowed to be treated as indentured servants — as a subclass of people we allowed to be exploited — and were forced into the shadows of society. We reap the benefits of their labor, the economic stimulus they create, the way in which they transform our neighborhoods, and their rich culture. In return, we give nothing.

If you should read the comments, one of the SIGNIFICANT realities they miss is that “illegals” are not, technically, law breakers. They violate immigration rules and regulations, but are not charged with any “law” being broken because it is neither a misdemeanor or felony to do what they have done. But that is all a technicality, right? Because what we are talking about here is so much bigger than people keeping their imaginary worlds neatly organized.

The “Border Beat” (June 10, 2009)

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?  I’ve been meaning to call, but, well, you know, things got busy.  But I’m back.  You got the time?  Nice.  Well then, let’s get our nice clothes on, and our fancy shoes, because baby, THE BORDER BEAT IS BACK!!

• “State of Shame” (NY Times)
For those who thought agricultural workers faced deplorable conditions only in the West or South, this Times editorial teaches us about the ways the lack of legal protections for ag workers is exploited for, in this case, feeding ducks until they die.

• “How an immigration raid changed a town” (Christian Science Monitor)
The CSM provides this sad update on the town of Potsville, Iowa. About a year ago, Potsville found itself in the national headlines as ICE agents raided the town’s primary employer, their largest raid to date. Agriprocessors, once the largest kosher meat plant in the nation, is now bankrupt; the town has been abandoned by most of the immigrant workers rounded up on that day; and the future is very uncertain. You could say they got what they deserved, but you’d be wrong, trapped in your own limited visions of what is “right” and “wrong.” The question blowing in this breeze is, why?

• “Bill Proposes Immigration Rights for Gay Couples” (NY Times)
It’s called the Uniting American Families Act. It allows gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their long-term partners for a green card, the same way the law allows this for married, straight couples. It is fair, sane, and long-overdue. Now let’s hope it doesn’t get scuttled by reactionary homophobes who are calling it everything from an attack on “traditional” marriage to a continuing dismantling of our borders.

• “GOP risks losing Latino vote for decades” (SF Chronicle)
Ruben Navarrette is, perhaps, the most read Latino journalist in the U.S. His column is syndicated in papers across the nation. He is a paragon of neutrality and moderation, while consistently representing a “Hispanic voice.” I don’t often agree with him to the letter, but I can appreciate where he is coming from. Here, he opines on the tricky game Republicans are playing in trying to smear Sotomayor. The long-term consequence, says Navarrette, may be the loss of the Latino vote for the foreseeable future. You know what? He’s right.

• “US vows crackdown on illegal immigrant worker abuse” (Reuters)
While in Mexico City, John Morton–the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)–vowed to enforce the U.S. laws “responsibly, humanely and thoughtfully.” What does that mean? Well, one element, says Morton, is cracking down on employers who “abuse” illegal immigrants. “I intend to try to identify and prosecute those people much more vigorously than in the past,” he said. His elaboration of the nature of employers’ abusing practices (as distinct from their mere employment of them) is a welcome sign for those of us working for a more humane immigration policy.

• “Boy Scouts make big push to get Latinos to join” (Chicago Tribune)
[(Ding-dong!) What’s that? Somebody’s at the door? Finally! Looks like we have a social call!! (Ding-dong!) We just might have a date tonight! Yes! Somebody wants us. Hello? Who? Awww. It’s just the Boy Scouts.] Well, the Boy Scouts are trying to double the number of Latinos earning badges for canoeing. . . and all that other stuff, too. Seems they’re having some problems, though. Some are wondering if the problem is a lack of cultural familiarity, some fear and mistrust. As a former Boy Scout, let me suggest it is more a case of not wanting your child to look like he’s joined a youth paramilitary troop.

• “UFW Alums Battle Over Labor’s Future” (Beyond Chron)
There is an ugly fight happening out West in the labor movement. It is pitting some UFW legends against each other (again) and perhaps tearing apart some organizations that once had a tremendous amount of potential.

Obama may ease ICE raids

A story by Josh Meyer and Anna Gorman titled “Homeland Security shifts focus to employers” appeared in the Los Angeles Times.  The story reads, in part:

Stepping into the political minefield of immigration reform, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano soon will direct federal agents to focus more on arresting and prosecuting American employers than the illegal laborers who sneak into the country to work for them…

The policy is in line with comments that President Obama made during last year’s campaign, when he said enforcement efforts had failed because they focused on illegal immigrants rather than on the companies that hired them…

Homeland Security officials emphasized that the department would not stop conducting sweeps of businesses while more structural changes to U.S. immigration law and policy were being contemplated.

Agents, however, will be held to a higher standard of probable cause for conducting raids, the officials said, out of concern that at least one recent raid in Washington state and another planned sweep in Chicago were based on speculative information that illegal workers were employed…

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said the Obama administration also needed to target employers who did not pay minimum wage and who exposed workers to unsafe conditions. But she said she hoped the new guidelines would mark a good first step by halting mass raids.

“What happened during the Bush administration is unconscionable,” she said. “At the end of the day, it really targeted a group of vulnerable workers who just were trying to bring the food to the table.”

For the full story, click here.

The “Border Beat” (March 24, 2006)

There has been flurry of immigration news this past week, most of it related to slow movements on the part of the federal government to find some alternative to workplace raids.  Here is the latest news from the borders that run deep into the heartland of this nation, and over a few of us along the way.

The “Border Beat” is at your service!

• “Pelosi Tells Illegal Immigrants That Work Site Raids are Un-American” (FOX News)
I know she looks crazy, but there’s a reasona bunch of smart people in San Francisco keep supporting Nancy Pelosi. It’s because, for a politician, she’s pretty smart, good, and principled. Well, she’s smart and good. Just look at what she told a bunch of Latinos in the beautiful city by the bay. And BTW, why do you think FOX was the only outlet to report this widely? Right! Because it the words “San Francisco,” “Pelosi,” and “legal and illegal immigrants” make them squeal like little, round…oh, sorry. I forgot this was on.

• “President Barack Obama to visit Mexico: Drug war, immigration to be discussed” (El Paso Times)
President O has scheduled his first trip to Mexico. Even though it will come during the spring break season–April 16-17–the two issues intended to dominate the meeting with Felipe Calderón are the twin “wars”–one drugs and one on brown bodies. Ironic that though both are forms of violence literally worsened by government enforcement and regulation, Obama’s team sees one as “Mexico’s fight” and the other as an issue in need of reform. Vamos a ver…

• “Obama’s civil rights nomination upsets some Latinos” (Los Angeles Times)
And here’s why President O made his big announcement about his upcoming trip to Mexico and his putting immigration front and center–because he had a room full of angry Latino politicos on his hands. The chispas from D.C. to L.A. is that Obama had picked Thomas Saenz to head up the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division (offered and accepted!) but then re-gifted his offer to another Latino star, Dominican American Thomas Perez. And why? Because Saenz is down with the illegals. And I ain’t even touching the whole “h” issue with which both “Tomás-es” struggle…

• “Obama wants to shift money, resources to SW border” (Associated Press)
Watch out what you wish for. Obama and company are stepping up the already healthy program of border militarization. Of course, they say its for added security in the wake of a wild Mexico drug war. What’s worse? Well, they’re prepping to make the argument that to afford it, we need to scale back workplace raids and shift funds to the border itself. So there! You get an end (or a reduction) in the human rights violations sponsored by your government, but we put more guns at the border. With friends like these…

• “Budget Cuts Lead to Health Service Cuts for Illegal Immigrants” (KNBC-TV)
Uhhhh, didn’t we already decide this in court? Oh yeah! That was the successful lawsuit against Prop. 187 that progressive won in defense of the human rights of immigrants, largely at the hand of lawyer Thomas Saenz, who Obama recently…ah man!

• “Recession changing flow of NE Ind. immigration” (Chicago Tribune)
This is less another story about the way a recession halts an immigration flow than it is a subtler phenomenon: how immigrants migrate within a receiver nation once here. No recession is evenly spread. And while home foreclosures are hitting the urban coasts in sharper ways than parts of the “heartland,” other aspects of the economic downturn are being more severely felt there.

• “A Slippery Place in the U.S. Work Force” (New York Times)
There is a reason people call it the only paper left in this country. In the latest installment of their ongoing “Remade in America” series, Julie Preston of the Times presents an exceedingly well-written story on the current economic crisis and immigration. For a follow-up, see the Times’ opinion section here.