Amazing G(race)

In the movie Amazing Grace, William Wilberforce campaigns for decades trying to abolish the slave trade in Britain. After a lifetime’s work, he is finally successful when he legislates the Slave Trade Act of 1807 which requires all British ships to fly their colors at all times, even when delivering slaves to the Americas. When the British slave ships were prey to pirates, the profit was no longer there and the slave trade withered within two years.

Devastating incidents like Postville, IA, will continue in these United States as long as our nation’s borders are increasingly militarized, our citizens are more policed, and our businesses are not held accountable. If employers were made accountable, truly responsible for the lives and wellbeing of all their employees, they would cease recruiting and luring extralegal immigrants to come and remain within our borders without basic human rights.

Whatever your political leanings, President Bush’s 2004 speeches concerning Latinos and immigrants in general were truly inspiring. On one particular occasion, George W. Bush called the extralegal immigrants in the United States “Americans by choice.” Rather than demonizing or criminalizing them, like so many other political leaders, Bush seemed to be advocating for compassionate immigration reform, change which would restore dignity to the 12 million extralegals within the U.S. and give hope to all those praying for their names to turn up in the quota’s lottery.

Until we move away from a profit-driven market for extralegal workers and continue criminalizing human beings for migrating, we will continue reading headlines like the shocking one in Long Island this past week. Marcelo Lucero, after having lived in the United States for the past 16 yeasr after emigrating from Ecuador, was brutally beaten and stabbed to death on November 9. A mob of seven boys were picked up shortly afterwards, and they were quoted as having said, ““Let’s go find some Mexicans.” (NYTimes)

The Pew Hispanic Center states that 1 in 10 Latinos (legal and extralegal) report being questioned about their immigration status. Even though Minnesota has refused to allow local enforcement of federal immigration laws, effectively prohibiting local justice departments from asking about immigration status (MNAdvocates), the recent economic crisis has xenophobia aflame in the United States once more. As middle-class Americans feel the crunch, righteous indignation at seemingly untouchable “upper management” is being turned on the ultimate scapegoats, those people who have scant rights and little legitimacy in our society.

It is important to note that in times like this our nation is redefined. Throughout American history, our nation’s crises were opportunities for both positive reform and negative policy-making. From the ceding of civil rights under the guise of Patriotism to the institution of universalized welfare programs for the nation’s neediest, from progressive refugee policies to profiteering part-time worker arrangements like the Bracero Program, it in epochs like the current Economic Crisis of 2008 that America, and indeed the world itself, is re-imagined for better or worse. It is our duty to guide its refashioning into a place where all people have basic human dignity and are afforded rudimentary rights such as the right to migrate and to work without fear.

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