Friday, June 22, 2007

"Give me your tired, your hungry...." Who writes this crap?

Something I think I have not written about before - at least I don't recall posting anything here about it - is immigration. That's my failing, because it's something that none of us can legitimately ignore and the issues surrounding it are ones which too many of us on the left have allowed to be framed by the right and the nativists by default. Last week, David Neiwert, the estimable proprietor of Orcinus, wrote that
[t]he immigration debate, for those progressives deeply involved in it, has felt rather like waiting for Godot - we know our fellow progressives are going to be coming along any day now to join the journey toward effective reform. Still, we sit and sit, checking our watches as the clock ticks down, and we wonder.
As well they might and I am as guilty as anyone else. It's generally agreed that one reason for the silence is that there is no clear progressive position on immigration, no clear set of principles that can be easily applied to determine a course of action. Some are looking to define a progressive stance based on such shared principles, which is a good thing. But I tend to think that something is being left out of that discussion, specifically that I think many of us have been stymied less by a failure to apply our political and ethical principles than by an internal conflict:

Your heart says "open borders" but your head says "Not practical and I don't mean not politically practical I mean not practical practical."

Okay, but that means embracing some sort of restrictions, which in turn means some measure of enforcement against those who violate them.

But that in turn implies punishment not only of employers and other exploiters, but also of those who are simply trying to improve their lives but can't get around our considerable restrictions.

At that latter prospect, the heart rebels. The head replies "But without enforcement, limitations mean nothing." And the argument collapses back to the very beginning: If you can't have open borders and can't have non-open borders without penalties for those you don't wish to penalize, what do you do? And there we, at least some of us, sit.

One possible exit might come from the example of a woman I knew some years ago who was conflicted about abortion: She did not want women or doctors punished for having or performing abortions but she was also morally opposed to them and wanted to stop them. How she dealt with that conflict was by focusing on reducing the call for abortions: She recognized that most abortions occur because of need, not choice (especially not casual choice) and so worked for widely available sex education and birth control, improved adoption services, better and more accessible pre- and post-natal care, improved aid to poor mothers, and the like. She accepted she would not stop abortions, but did seek to minimize the number of them by reducing the need.

The lesson for us is that I think one aspect of our work on immigration, one progressive principle we can apply, is that if we're going to oppose "illegal immigration," we should do it primarily by attacking the causes: by arguing for fair trade over "free trade," by supporting local economies against globalization, by providing genuine debt relief, by fighting for international labor and human rights; the list could be lengthy and I won't add to it right here. The idea is that the better chance people have to attain a decent life where they are, the less likely they are to undertake the danger, expense, and hassle of leaving their homes and often their families to go to a strange country where they are often exploited and live in constant fear of discovery and deportation.

That's obviously not, nor is it intended to be, a complete program. But it is one facet I think we tend to overlook and one that should exist in conjunction with whatever domestic approaches we use, approaches which must include a clear and, just as importantly, doable path to citizenship for undocumented workers. By contrast, the "path" offered by that proposed immigration bill that is what really got a lot of us thinking about this was more like a narrow ledge alongside a sheer cliff. As noted by the New York Times last month,
[t]o become full legal residents ... illegal immigrants would have to pay a total of $5,000 in fines, more than 14 times the typical weekly earnings on the streets here, return to their home countries at least once, and wait as long as eight years. During the wait, they would have limited possibilities to bring other family members. ...

“It’s almost impossible to bring your family,” [Elías Ramírez] said, rattling off information he had gleaned from a Spanish-language newspaper. “You have to go back first, and what are you going to do in Mexico while you are there and there is no work? I’ve been here 20 years and I still work and support my family, so why would I do any of these things?”
Meanwhile, standards being pushed for legal immigration would drop favoring family ties, preferring instead high-skilled, English-speaking applicants. Low-skilled workers would be dumped into a new "guest worker" program where they could be legally exploited, perhaps by the same employers who illegally exploit them now, while effectively being barred from obtaining permanent resident status by the changed standards. Which means that for many, that so-called "touchback" visit would be a one-way trip.

There are those on the right - and, truth be told, some on the left - who argue that undocumented workers shouldn't be allowed to "jump ahead" of those who "waited their turn." But on the other hand, why shouldn't some consideration be given to those who have already established ties here, already established a life here; why should they be tossed to the end of a line of which they may literally never reach the front?

I freely admit to not being as informed about this as I should be, something I hope to remedy in the weeks ahead. I also hope I can correct my silence on the issue. For now, though, I'll just mention one more thing, one more thing we should address in some way: the unpleasant fact that a real root of the opposition to "illegal immigrants" here is straight-forward xenophobia. That is, it has less to do with law or fairness or concern for American workers or even "illegal immigration" than it does with just keeping out "the other."

For example, a week ago, to almost no media notice,
[t]he House amended the Homeland Security funding bill Friday to withhold emergency aid from U.S. "sanctuary cities" that shelter illegal immigrants.

The 234-189 majority was a victory for U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who has failed to win passage for similar measures seven times, The Rocky Mountain News reported. Fifty Democrats voted for the amendment.
That is, not only are the "outsiders" to be punished, but any city that tries to protect them will be punished as well, punished for what they have every legal right to do, punished for, that is, siding with the enemy.

And just in case we're tempted to think that the enemy is "illegal aliens" - as in "I have nothing against legal immigrants but these people are breaking the law! :snarl:" - the fact is, increasingly there is suspicion against all foreigners. The Christian Science Monitor's valuable Daily Update on Terrorism and Security reported 10 days ago that
[s]tudying in the US may have just gotten harder for foreign students attending or hoping to enroll at American colleges and universities.

The Boston Globe reports that the FBI's Boston field office recently issued a warning to all area colleges and universities, advising them to protect any sensitive research from overly inquisitive students. Warren Bamford, the special agent in charge of the office, told the Globe that agents will visit numerous New England colleges in the next few months as part of a national outreach. The office has also offered to brief faculty, students, and security staff on how to spot "espionage indicators." ...

The Boston Herald notes that Mr. Bamford says the government is not trying to encroach on free speech. Rather, he argues, the agency wants to ensure that universities know how to protect their potentially sensitive research.
Protect it, that is, from "overly inquisitive" foreign students, who should be regarded as potential spies.

And of course there's the story of Yaderlin Hiraldo, who illegally entered the United States in 2001 to reunite with her husband. He applied for a green card for her, which alerted authorities to her "illegal" status. She now faces deportation and would be barred from applying for a green card for 10 years. So much for trying to get square with the law.

Oh, who and where is her husband? He's Army Specialist Alex Jimenez, who is now MIA in Iraq.
Her attorney is seeking a hardship waiver, which so far the government won't grant.
And so much for compassion.

(Thanks to Kevin Hayden at The American Street for the link to the Hiraldo story.)

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