Monday, July 18, 2005

Immigration Revisited

This was originally submitted to Booman Tribune on June 21, 2005

I've been trying to find the words to express the crisis we are facing here in the American Southwest with regards to the failed Immigration policies of the United States. I hope to continue the conversation I started with my first BooTrib diary about the need for our elected officials to take a serious look at reform of our immigration system.

Regardless of how you feel about this issue, there is one underlying factor that cannot be ignored any longer--people are dying by the hundreds in the desert heat of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Metal art at the Nogales border crossingAs I've mentioned in many comments here, President Bush has soured the debate on Immigration Reform by insisting that it's a Homeland Security issue. By using his terrorism meme, this becomes solely about "Securing our Borders" rather than a full-fledged dialog on other issues such as economics and human rights.

Tom Barry, policy director of the International Relations Center, recently wrote this analysis, entitled, "The Immigration Debate: Whose Side Are You On?". I recommend that you read the full thing, it's very good.

Whose side are you on? That's the question that President George W. Bush asked in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. And he gave the world his answer and warning: "Either you are with us or against us."1

The president has not retreated from his "them-versus-us" framing of international affairs. At home, restrictionist groups demanding a clampdown on legal and illegal immigration are framing the immigration debate in the same dualistic terms. They insist that U.S. political leaders tell the public whose side they are on--the side of pro-immigrant groups, or the side of the opponents of "mass immigration," "open borders," and "immigrant terrorists."

The "whose side are you on" question about immigration is sparking political fires across the country--from U.S. border communities in southeastern Arizona, where citizen vigilantes proudly say they are protecting the "home front," to the halls of Congress. An increasingly powerful caucus of Republican representatives is pushing to close the borders to the immigrants that stream across on a daily basis and to deport the 9 - 10 million unauthorized immigrants living within U.S. borders.

Anti-immigrant movements are, of course, nothing new in the United States. Campaigns against new immigrants have generally coincided with the business cycle, rising in intensity with economic slowdowns, declining in times of prosperity. There are two main corollaries to this rule. One, the U.S. public generally views immigrants with more or less hostility according to the color of their skin, their English-speaking abilities, and the degree to which their religions and cultures depart from Judeo-Christianity and what conservative Harvard scholar Samuel P. Huntington calls the "American Creed."2 Two, in times of war, immigrants from nations in conflict with the United States are especially suspect.

Grassroots campaigns that blame immigrants for job losses and declining wage levels, as well as charges that fault the immigrant population for crime and public health crises, have coursed through U.S. history, ebbing and surging in response to economic and political circumstances. Certainly, the deepening sense of vulnerability experienced by many U.S. citizens today in the face of downsizing, outsourcing, stagnant wages, labor union decline, and the steady loss of medical and retirement benefits explains part of the rising anti-immigrant backlash.

But now, the restrictionist forces come to the public debate armed with a righteousness that goes beyond perceived economic threats from foreign workers. Immigration restrictionism is increasingly framed as key to homeland and cultural protection. Most of the allied anti-immigrant forces argue that the War on Terror cannot be successfully fought without gaining total control of U.S. borders, downsizing the resident immigrant population, and severely restricting new immigration.

This issue concerns me greatly for several reasons. First of all, I am a 7th generation Arizonan of Mexican descent. My family was in this area before the current border was in place. The same blood flows through my veins, through all our veins. Secondly, I work amongst the Latino activist organizations here in Tucson that are bastions of hard-core liberal Democrats. We are trying to fight for the human rights of these people but are increasingly frustrated by the lack of focus on this issue.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comIn May of 2005, Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain introduced the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act (S.1033). While the bipartisanship signal sent was great, both Senators came under immediate fire from their party bases. It seems like there is one thing all people can agree to regarding immigration--to disagree. Why?

RubDMC provides our community with a daily reminder of the human rights crisis in Iraq. I hope you will all take the time to visit the Derechos Humanos website regularly to see the lives lost here in the United States. There may not be poetry, but it should still cut deep to the heart. These people are not criminals, they are immigrants seeking employment or residency to help bring themselves and their families a better life.

Probable hyperthermia; gunshot wound; multiple injuries due to motor vehicle accident; hypothermia due to exposure to the elements...

The crisis will continue as long as the debate remains stagnant. I hope to jump-start this dialog here. What are your thoughts?

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