Immigrants are #MoreThanALabel

About a week ago, I was asked to participate in the #MoreThanALabel campaign, an effort by the MSW Program at Simmons College to promote positive immigrant-related discourse in the United States.

It’s not mystery that this is something dear to my heart, both intellectually and personally. It’s what I care about as a professor, through work that focuses on the history of Latin American-descent migrants and their descendants. It’s what I care about as a Chicano, as the member of a family and larger community that is both immigrant and native-born. And it’s what I care about as a person, as a human being who sees the unnecessary suffering of people as they make terribly difficult decisions to migrate and, ultimately, take up the struggle of creating lives in new often hostile places.

For those in the United States who care about immigrants––especially those who are part of the majority (white, native-born) society––there is work to be done.  If we really care about doing something to combat the labels and stigmas that affect the lives of immigrants in our country, we have to start by looking in the mirror.

We need to check our fears and assumptions. We need to open ourselves to learning about the diversity of immigrant experiences.  We need to promote the creation of new immigration systems that are designed to meet 21st century challenges.  And we need to forcefully and affirmatively commit ourselves to the social value of humanism.

Being a humanist in the 21st century means learning about the world. It means grappling with the complexity of things like capitalism and neoliberalism, systems that link much of us together in ways that are powerful and, often, invisible to our understanding. It means being empathic, extending ourselves to understand the lives, the desires, the struggles of others, even when those are nearly impossible to fully understand.

It also means changing how we think about the nation that is the United States.

There is no a person in the United States today who is not benefiting from the work of immigrants.  Not one of us will go the day without eating something that is planted, picked, packed, or processed by a Spanish-speaking migrant.  And that’s just one, life-giving form of work.  The work immigrants is so diverse that it relates to each of our lives in countless different ways, each day.  The common link of all this labor is simple: The United States does not survive without immigrant labor.

That is a good starting point, but its not a very humanistic one.  We’re not going to combat the racism and xenophobia making immigrant lives so difficult by shouting “We need them for cheap labor so we can benefit from them!”

What we need to do is to learn about these relationships between our own lives and the lives of immigrants.  We need to think about the ethics and morality that come with them. Is it right to benefit from the suffering of others?  Is it right to support a system that labels some “acceptable” and others “illegal”?  And finally we need to find a way to humanistically “flip” the power imbalance that makes migration such an oppressive system in our present.

We do that by accepting that global migrants deserve the same inalienable rights as do all other human beings in the world.  We do that by making sure our political systems nurture and protect those rights.

And we do it by living our own, individual and personal lives in ways that show it.

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“Immigration Reform” Clears the Senate

“I mean this is not only sufficient, it is well over-sufficient. We’ll be the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall.” (John McCain)
 
“If you can’t be reasonably certain that the border is secure as a condition of legalization, there’s just no way to be sure that millions more won’t follow the illegal immigrants who are already here.” (Mitch McConnell)
 

The Gang of 8’s “immigration bill” passed the US Senate today by a vote of 68-32. To read the full text, click here.

This compromise attempt at “comprehensive immigration reform” (CIR)–which began as something of a human rights movement to provide a reasonable pathway to citizenship for the 11-12 million unauthorized migrants in the US–has now become one of the largest “border security” bills in our nation’s history. It will fortify a 700-mile fence between the US and Mexico; double the number of Border Patrol agents on the ground (a group which has already doubled in size between 2002 and 2012); and arm that wall and those agents with some of the more advanced military technologies money can buy.

I am not against compromise. It is a necessary part of any democracy. But all issues have their limits. At some point the compromise process weakens, dilutes, or contradicts the original purpose of a bill that it alters it into something else. Sadly, I think the “border surge” amendment added this week to the bill has done just that.

The price to be paid for a pathway to citizenship and a fuller recognition of the basic human rights of immigrants is an even more militarized border that will negate those same rights for others. The price we are asked to pay is in blood–the blood of the thousands upon thousand of lives that will be lost as a result of our escalating war on the border.

The House is not even currently set to consider the Senate’s bill, waiting instead for its own members to author their own versions. For those of us who are advocates of justice, it is not expected to be an improvement on the Senate’s compromised legislation. And, so, the road ahead is a murky one and the lack of support for this current bill that I and others feel is, largely, insignificant.

The necessary pathway is one that we have to continue to carve out for ourselves and for future generations of immigrants. It is a pathway made clear through mass mobilization, mass action, and heightened political pressure on those we depend on to craft sound legislation.

In a democracy like ours, when the political system does not serve the cause of justice on its own, it is our responsibility to create a context where it has no choice but to bend.

That work is mine and yours.

The Cost of Immigration Reform

News is breaking today that the bipartisan grouping of US Senators known as the “Gang of 8” have negotiated a compromise that is, essentially, buying the needed Republican votes to pass the Senate. (You can read the story here.)

Border_Fence

Photo by Paul Sanchez (source)

The crux of the compromise is what some Senators are referring to as a “border surge”–an intentionally militaristic reference to “the surge” of troops and military resources dedicated to the Iraq War in 2007. This surge is, similarly, a costly waste of human effort. It will reportedly entail the building of another 700 miles of border fence, it includes a relaxing of the e-verify requirements for businesses, and it will double the size of the border patrol.

The Republican Party has chosen to frame the entire debate about comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) around the issue of “border security.” While some continue to object to what they call a policy of “amnesty,” most are towing the party line and making it a debate about border security, from an immigration perspective.

This compromise is a fantastic development. While I object to it—almost to the point of opposing the proposed legislation, even though it provides for an entire list of things that I think are VERY important—I can’t help but appreciate what it makes plain and clear: the private entities who have turned US immigration policy into a profit making machine of billions of dollars have the Republicans in their pocket AND will not allow CIR to pass until they are assured profit from the new system.

In case you haven’t heard the news, net migration from Mexico is at 0% right now. On top of that, the budget of the Border patrol has nearly tripled in that last 10 years. That budgetary explosion has already meant the number of Border Patrol agents on the ground has more than doubled since 2002.

Creating a pathway to citizenship and ending the human rights crisis of the current policy of mass detentions and deportations threatens the industries who have been raking in more than $5 billion dollars from the so-called “immigration crisis.” Acknowledging the non-existence of the “crisis” and handling immigration like a nation concerned about sound, productive policy does the same.

The hundred of millions of dollars key corporations spend on lobbying has been stalling CIR because of this harsh reality. But, by linking CIR to tighter border security, these corporate interests have discovered a way to profit from the new system as well.

If this “compromise” helps CIR legislation pass the Senate and House then it is a sad day for all of us. While that legislation will do a lot of good, it will also be a lasting historical reminder about who truly has the power over this nation’s government.

For the millions of lives who will be adversely affected by this continuing and future war on the border, it will also be a lasting reminder of who bears the real cost when human rights become the eclipsed by the desires of the military industrial complex.

Terror on the Border

This Friday (April 20, 2012), the PBS affiliate in San Diego will air the latest episode of “Need to Know” featuring a report on the 2010 homicide of Anastacio Hernandez Rojas. The story will present never-before-seen video suggesting what many have been alleging for years–that the US Border Patrol has been using excessive force in the performance of their duties.

Rojas died only days after being beaten and tased by Border Patrol agents, which initially caused his heart to stop. Official reports attributed the use of a taser to his being combative. In video evidence received by PBS, Rojas appears to be completely subdued, handcuffed, and on the floor when an agent uses the taser against him. At the same time, he is surrounded by about a dozen other agents, who stand there watching what turned out to be the event leading to his death.

You can see a preview of the report below.

 

DREAM Act: the silver lining

UPDATE: The DREAM Act did fail cloiture, 55 votes for and 41 against.

The DREAM Act goes up for a cloture vote in about an hour from now. It will not meet the 60 vote threshold to move to the Senate floor for consideration.

So, the DREAM is dead again. I’m sure it will be back but don’t hold your breathe for that resurrection to come before 2012.

Here are my thoughts on all of that.

A lot of you might be wondering why Harry Reid would schedule a vote on the DREAM Act he knew would fail. The answer to that question is the silver lining to this whole mess.

First, Reid kept it in play as leverage. I expect DADT to get its 60 votes today, clearing the way for it’s passage. We might not ever know, but the two together might have created a context where the one could pass.

Second, there was always a possibility something would get worked out to get 60 votes. It was slim, but “possible” in the textbook sense of politics.

Third–and this is the most important–even in a failed vote the DREAM Act won. To understand that, you have to understand this.

One of the historic problems it has faced is never having forced people to go on the record. Politicians could support it and then do nothing, or support it and then back away, and never have to firm up their stance.

But now a gaggle of Republicans are on record against a measure that has wide support among Latinos. Harry Reid and the Democrats get the benefit of their vote and the GOP gets the negative consequence of theirs.

Forcing the Republican anti-Latino and anti-immigrant hand–especially when it makes them contradict their traditional legal values (criminalizing children “for the actions of their parents”)–is a win in the longterm.

Now we just need to remember in 2012.

DREAM Act: the silver lining

David Hidalgo (1954- ), Louie Pérez (1953- ), Cesar Rosas (1954- ), Conrad Lozano (1951- ), and Steve Berlin (1955- ), collectively known as Los Lobos (East Los Angeles, CA); and Taj Mahal (Massachusetts, 1942-) performing “Highway 51” (c. 1988).

In CA, the Latino Future is Now

There’s a great piece in today’s LA Times spotlighting the rift in the CA GOP over a proposed ballot initiative which would do for California what SB 1070 did for Arizona.  You can read it here.

The Republicans who favor the initiative, like others across the nation, are addicted to their game of (white) race politics and immigrant scapegoating. Those who oppose it (or at least oppose supporting it) are worried about the long-term damage to their party’s political influence.

As the piece notes, in the last election in CA:

…one in five voters was Latino; 80% of them cast ballots for Democratic Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, while 15% voted for Whitman despite her multimillion-dollar effort to woo them. Their participation, driven by labor unions who used the Arizona immigration law to pull Latinos to the polls, was nearly double what it was in the last gubernatorial contest. And those numbers are expected to grow.

Indeed, with a clear majority of the under 18-year-old population in the State of “Hispanic” origin, we are no longer a sleeping giant but a yawning and stretching one. Political power will increasingly depend upon your ability to garner Latino voters.

But far too many Republicans in this State are so myopic (and just plain hateful) to see what is staring them plainly in the face. As current Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado (a Republican) laments:

“You can pull the life-support machine off the party, just pull the plug,” he said. “Because there’s no secret, if you look at obituaries and you look at the birth notices in any newspaper, I can tell you what California is going to look like in the next 10, 15, 20 years. If you continue to alienate the fastest-growing population, then you can continue to be a party that is successful in certain areas, but you won’t be able to run the state.”

The debate and political contest over immigration in California is vitally important for the rest of the nation. Unlike what you might guess, this importance is not based on premonition. While many of the Southwestern states, and a few others, will continue to trend toward the Latino plurality California now enjoys, most will not. If Latinos and other pro-immigrant constituencies (especially Asians) choose their representative wisely, CA will set the example for the rest of the nation on how a State can build strength from immigration.

Our unique and historic context is an opportunity to create a society that can withstand the loss of a white majority while continuing to hold to more basic elements of the US political system, nothing short of a fulfillment of a political vision set in motion more than two centuries ago yet, still, only imperfectly realized.