Invasion Politics

Fox and Friends is a morning show on the “news” station we know as Fox.

As any regular watcher of late-night comedy shows knows, the hosts spend a good chunk of time defending racist-in-chief Donald J. Trump. Today, Brian Kilmeade (who is one of those hosts) had this to say in defense of the wide spread calling out the President for his frequent and habitual use of the word “invasion” when discussing the passage of Spanish-speaking migrants across our border:

What the president has during his two and a half years is a major problem at the border which was not his doing——unless you want to blame President Obama for the unaccompanied minors that streamed through here in 2014. When you have over 110,000 people coming a month, over a million last year and then well over a million this year, if you use the term “an invasion” that’s not anti-Hispanic, it’s a fact. [Source]

The Merrian-Webster dictionary defines the word “invasion” like this:

1: an act of invading (especially an incursion of an army for conquest or plunder)
2: the incoming or spread of something usually hurtful

When you have a million people a year——not one solider but hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children——trying to cross your border and enter your country, the only “fact” is that you are witnessing a refugee crisis. De-humanizing language that portrays poor migrant families in need of refuge as a danger, a threat, and an attempt to “take over” the country are not only wrong, they are openly racist.

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.

Latino History Month #2

It’s time for your weekly “Hispanic Heritage Month” history lesson, something with a little more significance and less sponsorship than this.  Plus, you get for free what hundreds of students have to pay a high-priced college for, and I don’t even jack with your transcript when we’re done!

With the debate over Mexican immigration raging, 2010 is a time like no other in our history…or is it?  I wish.  History is a wheel of reoccurrence, a condition which is frustrating for noble-minded historians like myself, but a condition that is so nonetheless.  Among the many instances where this “debate” reared its racially-marked head in the past was the decade of the 1920s.

Back then, a swarm of xenophobes had manged to legislate the most restrictive immigration system in US history, framed by racial quotas which remained the “law of the land” until 1965.  These quotas made it easier for you to immigrate to the US if you were “white” and Northern European than if you were “swarthy” and Southern and Eastern European.  While support was diverse, both in constituency and the interests they sought to protect, a widespread base of support came from those whose goal was to limit the attack on “pure Americanism” which resulted from the infusion of so many not-quite-whites into the US.

Where were Mexicans in this formula?  Well, thanks to the political leverage of agribusiness, among other factors, they were left out of the quota system.  This didn’t sit well with the xenophobes who saw their presence as seasonal pickers in the Southwest as just as much a threat as the Jews or Italians in the East, if not more so.

The result was a regular attempt by some elites to extend the quota to Latin America and an accompanying attempt by other elites to stop them.

That’s the quick and dirty shaping the larger context of this piece, an op-ed written in 1928 and published in the LA Times (Feb. 18, 1928).  Penned by a representative of the agricultural industry, it is titled “Hands Off!” and reads, in part:

Putting up immigration bars at the border to keep Mexicans willing to perform manual labor from securing employment on the ranches and in the orchards of this country is a proposal that would bring injury to many and benefit to none. The Mexicans are good workers, the best as a class we have ever had in the Southwest. Under the present permit system, they come in when they are needed, and go back when their work has been done.

They are not wastrels, are not troublemakers. They create no race problems. They are neither political disturbers nor social menaces.

We of the Southwest know the Mexicans. They are god citizens. Many now living in Los Angeles recall when more than 70 per cent of the population was Mexican born or Mexican descent. Many of our most useful citizens are descendants of the second of third generation of the Mexicans who lived here before California was an American State. There are more than 100,000 persons of Mexican birth or descent now living in Los Angeles. Most of them are American citizens, and good ones.

California’s representatives in Congress asked for the exclusion of the Chinese and Japanese, but they have not and are not asking for the exclusion of the Mexicans. Agricultural, commercial and industrial organizations throughout the State are practically unanimous in their protest against restricting Mexican immigration to the 3 per cent quota…

…Relations between the United States and Mexico are cordial. The good will shown by the last two administrations has aided very materially in the restoration of peace and the promotion of good will in Mexico. Restriction of Mexican immigration would be regarded south of the Rio Grande as inhospitable, as unfriendly, as a reflection on the Mexican people which the Latin blood would be certain to resent

There have been no disturbances, no clashes between class and class, no general protests from California communities against the presence of Mexican laborers in any part of the South or West. Where the Mexican are employed they are welcome. They take part in cultivating and picking the cotton in California, Arizona and Texas. They pick the peaches, oranges, lemons and apricots and prepare them for shipment. They cultivate the beet fields of California, Utah and Colorado.

They are as necessary to our ranches and orchards as are the farm laborers at harvest time in the Middle West. A law prohibiting the movement of farm laborers from one State to another in the season of the wheat harvest would be about as reasonable as one preventing Mexican laborers from coming at seasonable times into the West and Southwest. These Mexicans are accustomed to life in a semitropical climate. They are children of the sun, and they perform a service for which those born in colder climates are neither suited no inclined…

If you’d like to think as a Latina/o historian, then you might want to consider the following questions to begin:

  • What are some of the reasons the author gives for not including Mexican workers under the quota system?
  • What can we infer from this argument regarding the opposition? That is, what does this tell us about how the “other side” is arguing?
  • How do ideas about racial fitness continue to frame the position here? What are those ideas? How do they benefit the argument?
  • How are Mexicans “naturalized” as part of the agricultural production process?

This position was a common one in this era, as it is today.  You might think about the ways this argument resonates with some of the ideas and positions you hear in our current public debate.

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:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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.