Sunday, June 09, 2019

The Erickson Report - Page 3: A Longer Look at Immigration

A Longer Look at Immigration

Now we move to what I hope will be a regular feature of the show. It’s called “A Longer Look” and it’s where we examine a topic in somewhat more depth that we usually have time for.

This time, the topic is immigration.

We have been exposed to, have suffered through, been heartbroken by, the string of stories, extending over the past few years, of the cruelty, the bigotry, the casual indifference to the welfare of human beings, up to and including charging a man named Scott Warren with felonies for, in essence, refusing to allow immigrants to die in the desert, that is the reality of the policies of the Tweetie-Pie administration regarding immigrants and immigration.

We have seen the families torn apart, the children in cages, the dismantling of lives of people who have been in the US in some cases for decades, who have roots here, lives here, families here, some who came as children young enough that they have known no other home, we have seen increasingly furious attempts to deny legal rights to asylum seekers, all these people denied, degraded, dismissed because they are "illegal," more truly because they are "other," they are "not us."

Which at the end of the day should be no surprise since that's what it has always been about.

The very first US law touching on immigration, the Naturalization Act of 1790, limited naturalization - that is, the ability an immigrant to become a citizen - to "free white persons of good character," thus by definition excluding Native Americans, indentured servants, slaves, free blacks - and later Asians.

Starting in the 1850s, tens of thousands of Chinese laborers had been welcomed to the American West as a source of cheap labor, in particular to help build the railroads. When the demand for Chinese labor dried up, a racist anti-Chinese backlash quickly followed. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred the entry of Chinese laborers for 10 years and declared that Chinese could not become citizens. The act was renewed in 1892 for another ten years, and in 1902 Chinese immigration was made permanently illegal until the law was revoked decades later. Chinese remained ineligible for citizenship until 1943.

Our experience with Chinese exclusion provided a basis for later movements to restrict immigration by other "undesirable" groups such as Middle Easterners, Hindu and East Indians, and the Japanese - and, more recently, Muslims and people from, in the words of our president, "shithole" countries.

For example, the Immigration Act of 1924 barred immigration from Asia and set quotas on the number of immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere - that is, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The quotas for specific countries were based on 2% of the US population from that country as recorded in the 1890 census. So populations poorly represented in 1890 were heavily restricted, blocked from legal entry, which especially affected Poles and other Slavs along with Jews, Italians, and Greeks, the latter two groups also affected by the notion dating  from the 1890s that "Mediterranean" people were inferior to northern, that is, whiter, Europeans. The purpose of the bill? According to the US Department of State Office of the Historian, it was "to preserve the ideal of US homogeneity."

Or, as one writer at the website OpenBorders.info noted, white supremacy has always been a central feature of US immigration policy.

There were some advances during the 60s and 70s, such as a 1968 act that eliminated immigration discrimination based on race, place of birth, sex, and residence along with abolished restrictions on immigration from Asia.

A 1976 law eliminated preferential treatment for residents of the Western Hemisphere, and a 1986 law included provisions through which over 2.6 million undocumented immigrants obtained legal status.

So let's be clear: While what we have seen these past couple of years may be something of a change from the most recent prior decades, it is not a real change, merely a reversion to the way we had always done things. It has always been about "preserving our homogeneity" in the face of "the other," the "not us."

By the way, know full well that I am not letting Barack Obama, the Amazing Mr. O, off the hook here: He deported more people than any previous president. But I also have to acknowledge that in the latter years of his presidency, it really does appear that efforts were focused on deporting people with actual criminal records, not just who they happened to come across.

But amidst all the news, I recall one case from two years ago that to me encapsulated all that is wrong with our national policies on immigration.

His name is Andres Magana Ortiz and he was an undocumented immigrant who had lived in the US for nearly thirty years. He has an American wife and three US-born children. During his time here he worked his way from migrant coffee farmer to owning his own land and being prominent in Hawaii's coffee industry, even to helping the US Department of Agriculture conduct a five-year study into a destructive insect species harming coffee crops and helping to run 15 other small farms.

He lost his fight to not be deported US despite letters of support from Hawaii's entire congressional delegation and the judge in his case, who, while legally unable to stop Ortiz's deportation, wrote a scathing opinion saying that that “the government decision shows that even the 'good hombres' are not safe,” that remark directed at Tweetie-pie, who had insisted that ICE would only go after the "bad hombres." On July 7, 2017, Ortiz "voluntarily" left for Mexico, just days before he was to be deported.

Here's the question that still haunts me: What was the point of this? What was gained by making him leave? What would have been lost by allowing him to stay? What was accomplished by this beyond satisfying the white-supremacist desires of the bigoted xenophobes occupying the upper reaches of Tweetie-Pie's administration? Just how sick are our national policies?

And consider this: Ignore for the moment that by the usual way such stories were told to us as we grew up, Ortiz is a classical, almost cliche, American success story, rising from migrant laborer to land owner, businessperson, and upstanding figure in the community. Ignore all that and for the moment just focus on the fact that he had been here for nearly thirty years. And it didn't matter.

Because there is no sort of statute of limitations on being an "illegal" immigrant. No matter how long you have been here, no matter how many and how thick are the roots you have set down, no matter how stable is the life you have established, no matter how much you have contributed to your community, it doesn't matter.

Think about that. There is no statute of limitations. Except for murder, terrorism, and sexual crimes against children, federal law has statutes of limitations for all sorts of crimes and all kinds of civil offenses. We have federal statutes of limitation for kidnapping, for fraud, for racketeering, for embezzlement, for all sorts of the most serious crimes. But not for being an undocumented immigrant. Not for crossing a border without the expected official permission. You did it two years ago, ten years ago, thirty years, fifty years, it makes no difference.

This is insane.

Even the notoriously anti-immigration - and note well that I didn't say anti-undocumented immigration, I said anti-immigration - the notoriously anti-immigration Mark Krikorian, even he a few years ago allowed as how even as he disagreed with it as a matter of policy, the idea that an undocumented immigrant who has been in the US for three years - that was his time frame - and has put down roots here should not be deported, that idea "at least makes a certain kind of sense." Even he was prepared to say that even though he disagreed with the idea, it was an arguable point.

So yes, as a first small step to bringing sanity to our policies there should be a time limit. There should be some sort of statute of limitations. There should be a point beyond which being able to show roots in the community and an established life will free you from the daily fear of discovery and deportation, the daily fear of the ripping up of your life and the ripping apart of your family.

Another small step is realizing that our borders have always been porous, that those who rant about "regaining control of our borders" ignore the fact that we have never had such control. I intend to talk more about this next time, more about how we have often found it necessary to recognize that there is a real limit to what could be done and we had to adjust to the facts on the ground - as we did to some extent in the 1986 law I mentioned.

There is one more, very dramatic, even radical step we could take, which again I intend to address next time, a step pretty much everyone on all points of this topic insists they are against but which deserves a hearing, because there is a case to be made - I won't say a genuinely persuasive case because I'm not entirely convinced myself - but there is a case to be made for open borders.

But instead, what we have is a thoroughly-broken system enforced by the well-named ICE because it is cold-hearted to its core, now directed by an administration chock full of bigoted xenophobes who don't care who they deport as long as they can eject and reject "foreigners," "them," "the other."

They are without mercy. They are without compassion. They are without understanding. They are without humanity. They and the system they oversee are an Outrage that must not be allowed to continue.

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