Righting the Moral Wrongs of Immigration Reform

President Obama has set his sights on immigration reform, and that’s a good thing.  The issue has been a political lightning rod, with demagogues exploiting the issue of so-called “illegal aliens” for political gain.  They conjure up the image of the Mexican worker who steals all the jobs from honest, hard-working Americans, and brings crime and disease across the border.  Another popular stereotype is that of the Muslim immigrant with an Arab surname who is not to be trusted, coming to these shores to plot and spread terror.

But this is nothing new, and throughout history the U.S. has maintained a love-hate relationship with immigrants.  Without question, immigrants have been vital to the growth of the nation.  But many were treated like dirt when they first arrived.  Ethnic whites such as Irish, Italians, Jews and Eastern Europeans were regarded with disdain for their poverty, their culture and religion, and where applicable their darker skin.  I.Q. tests were designed in an attempt to prove their mental inferiority.  They were excluded from employment and educational opportunities, and formed their own institutions in response.  Of course, these were the days when the concept of “whiteness” was far less inclusive than it is today, and some European immigrant groups were rendered the functional equivalent of people of color.

As for immigrants of color, such as Asian-Americans, there was a fear of the “yellow peril” and the “brown hordes” that fueled a racist exclusionist immigration policy, culminating in the internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps on U.S. soil.  And Mexican-Americans have been on this soil longer than Anglos, yet they are branded as aliens and exploited for cheap migrant labor.  What an inglorious history we have to confront.

The Tea Party movement, a twenty-first-century incarnation of the angry white mob—with corporate backing no less—exploits the fear of the foreigner.  They and their cohorts in the anti-immigrant movement stoke the fires of hatred and resentment, among a population hit by recession and searching for the enemy.  There are those who want the U.S. to build a giant fence on the border with Mexico, not unlike the Berlin Wall or the Israeli security fence.  History has shown us that this is not a good idea.  Meanwhile, the more extremist elements take the law into their own hands and commit acts of anti-Latino violence, as the Southern Poverty Law Center has so capably documented.  And how ironic, or fitting perhaps, that Tom Tancredo, one of the most vocal and visible spokespeople for the immigrant-hater crowd, is himself the grandson of Italian immigrants.  How soon people forget!

And for the Teabaggers, President Obama’s foreign affiliations—as someone who had a Kenyan father and lived in Indonesia during his childhood—provide a bonus which allows them to express their xenophobic sentiment.  Visiting other countries, understanding other cultures and speaking foreign languages are an anathema to some among us.  All the talk about Obama’s birth certificate is really racist and xenophobic code language.  It reflects their desire to return to a time, presumably the good ol’ days such as the fifties, when whites had it all, and people of color were invisible— except when they were serving someone food or cleaning a toilet.  Meanwhile, Latinos are the largest “minority” group in America, a reality which unsettles a segment of the population.

There are 12 million undocumented immigrants, and they are not going anywhere.  They are a group with third-class status, lurking in the shadows of civic life devoid of rights.  Because of this, businesses are more than eager to exploit their cheap labor.  And yet, though many have lived in America for years and raised their children here, they often must face deportation and separation from their family members who have U.S. citizenship.  A nation that purportedly stands for “family values” cannot tolerate such a state of affairs.

Yet, the undocumented make for a good scapegoat because they are powerless.  How easy it is to blame your troubles on a migrant farm worker who makes cents on the dollar, rather than the banks that robbed you and all of us blind, then were rewarded by the government for doing it?  And what of the age of globalization and outsourcing, and the globetrotting transnational corporations that search for the nations with the lowest cost of labor, driving wages down in the process?  Simple minds and simple people search for the easy answers, afraid to get their feelings hurt if they stumble upon the truth.  So, they blame it all on the farmworker picking oranges, as if that was a job they really wanted in the first place.

Indeed, there is a moral justification for immigration reform and putting people on a path to citizenship.  It is the right thing to do, so that people can live with dignity and raise their families with security.  But even if you don’t care about the moral component, perhaps you wish to hear the economic reason for immigration reform.

david.jpgAccording to the Center for American Progress, comprehensive reform would add $1.5 trillion in additional GDP over 10 years.  Meanwhile, an enforcement-oriented strategy of mass deportations costs the U.S. $2.6 trillion in GDP over ten years.  For a nation running out of money, continuing to pursue the current misguided policies amounts to cutting off our nose to spite our face.

So, it is good that the President is looking at immigration reform.  In the meantime, let us ignore the Tea Party people and let their mentality die a natural death.

David A. Love

This article first appeared in The Black Commentator and is republished with permission.

Published by the LA Progressive on March 12, 2010
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About David A. Love

BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor, David A. Love, JD, is a lawyer and journalist based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin's Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International UK spokesperson, organized the first national police brutality conference as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. His blog is davidalove.com.

Comments

  1. It’s good to see our friends Kevin and Steve joining in the article’s call to support immigration reform as President Obama recently proposed.

    Better to deal compassionately with the issue that affects so many hard-working Americans and so many hard-working immigrants, than to endlessly kick the problem down the road.

    – Dick

  2. Steve Lamb says:

    As to globalization, its not inevitable. Getting to globalization required changes in the law favorable to offshoring. The fix is just as simple, tariffs for goods made in slave wage factories with wretched working conditions and that are polluting beyond even those of the early 20th Century. These factories in the third world are NOT CREATING wealth, they are destroying it here at home for the working class and also destroying the world wide commons of clean air,land and water.

    Its we the People’s fault we kept voting for politicians who were hell bent on getting their next donation and serving their corporate donors rather than we the people. Until we refuse to vote for people who refuse to vote for us, it wont change. As long as the left embraces the globalizers and union busters because we want to feel warm and fuzzy, we will not have a movement worht anyones time.

  3. Steve Lamb says:

    Illegal immigration is the enemy of all workers, regardless of color. An open border and an endlessly enlarging pool of labor brings the value of all labor down. One of the many problems facing the state of California is the LOW WAGES enforced here by an open border. Supply and demand always works in the labor market. Increase the supply and the demand lowers.

    Anyone who is NOT for immigration reform is against organized labor, against a living wage and against worker recourse to the the courts. One thing demands the other.

    In the Netherlands when you remove the VAT prices at mcDonnalds are the same as they are in the USA, yet hourly worker wages at the McDonnalds in the Netherlands are 30% higher than in the USA. Where does the extra 30% go? into the franchisees pocket.

    Contruction costs are much higher than they were thirty years ago yet wages are way down in the industry. PArt of the extra cost is due to increased costs of code changes and the rest is going into the contractor and developers pockets.

    Same for clothing factories, the gardener, the cooks at your local eatery. An open border is keeping wages down, the multiplier down,and tax revenues down.

    It’s also teaching young White, Asian and African-American workers that there are kinds of work reserved only for “Mexicans” and at the slave wages offered far below their dignity. this is bad for them and the country as a whole. It devalues all labor.

  4. Kevin Lynn says:

    Rubbish! Anyone who at anytime has sought to stem the tide of illegal immigration has been labeled a racist and hater by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

    Cesar Chavez opposed illegal immigration because he knew first hand it was a device to whittle away the progress he hoped to achieve for the farm workers. After 1986, the floodgates opened and not surprisingly, the wages and benefits of unskilled and semiskilled workers have been dropping ever since.

    I would suggest to David he take a little time out to read the findings of the research commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences for the Jordan Commission (named after the late Barbara Jordan.) He will find that the presence of so many illegal aliens in the country has done nothing but hurt and diminish the prospects of America’s most vulnerable.

    I believe illegal immigrants (and I am speaking now as the son of an immigrant) are no more entitled to break the law than the cronies on Wall Street who created the financial bubble or Dick Cheney and George Bush who duped the country into war.

    And lastly, the Jordan Commission articulated the standard that “a credible” immigration policy must meet if it is to truly serve the national interest: “people who should get in do get in; people who should not get in are kept out; and people who are judged deportable are required to leave” [Commission (1997, p.59].

  5. Nicely done! Conflating anger over 12+ million people residing in this country illegally exclusively with racism, hate, and communist brutality in so few paragraphs takes skill.

    You decry the rampant bias and stereotypes of those “Teabaggers” by citing your own rampant bias and stereotypes of those who hold a position in opposition to yours. Are they all closet KKKers? Really? No room for a sane opposition to uncontrolled importation of poverty, illiteracy and disease into the U.S.? No room for principled defense of the sanctity of a nation’s borders or immigration policy? When over 10% of the citizens of the impoverished nation to our south are here illegally, then we have a right to be concerned.

    I agree that we need a revised immigration policy that allows for a sane worker program, but pretending that the only alternative is to countenance an open door policy and a guaranteed path to citizenship is mindless. Citing the CAP study may be satisfying to you, but there are other reports that prove the opposite point – that there is a net negative impact on GDP as a result of the current situation. But your thought is to silence or demean or hate those who disagree with you instead of saying how can we move to a solution that addresses their concerns while achieving a better immigration policy.

    You made use of the subtle but disreputable shift from talking about opposition to illegal immigration/illegal immigrants to equating that with opposition to immigration/immigrants in general. That is unfair and uncalled for – and you know it.
    ————————————————————–
    And at the end of the day, I must ask about the absolute fixation by liberals and progressives on classifying scrotum and testicle licking as something despicable. Doesn’t that show disrespect and hate toward people of the gay, bi-sexual, and transsexual communities? Call the Tea Party members Tea Partiers, but to call them teabaggers is just plain juvenile. Grow up.

  6. All racism is so sad, but the test is whether all can work together to share the New World in peace and prosperity sans racism while not throwing out what’s really worth preserving, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Study my 7-step nonpartisan Megamerge Dissolution Solution to see how the real solution to the U.S.-Mexico problem is to invite the people of Mexico to dissolve their failed country and fatcat and cartel controlled govt. that bred Carlos Slim et al., and join the U.S. as 10+ new states. http://go.to/megamerge

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