Archive for the ‘justice’ Category

Presidents on Immigration – Past, Present, Future

February 17, 2008

    On this President’s Day, let us recall our long and storied past Presidential stances on immigration. The Fourteenth Amendment of 1868, which codified national citizenship policy for “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and of the State wherein they reside,” has allowed many immigrant children to live with rights for which their parents must win the “lottery” (quota system). Countless children I teach each day have the Fourteenth Amendment to thank for their status in Brownsville, Texas. President Andrew Johnson dragged his heels against this and all the other Civil Rights Bills, much to his Republican party’s dismay; however, the bills were passed and continue to stand as some of the most important immigration legislation today.

    The literacy test, which was first introduced in 1895 by Henry Cabot Lodge and which took twenty-two years to finally pass, was vetoed by a myriad of presidents such as Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, and William Howard Taft. Cleveland’s reason for the veto was that the terrific growth of the United States up until 1897 was “largely due to the assimilation and thrift of millions of sturdy and patriotic adopted citizens” (Roger Daniels’ Coming to America, 277) He also declared that immigrants of the not-so-distant past were some of the nation’s best citizens. In his steadfast veto, Cleveland addresses the issue of citizenship requirements and ends with a conclusion that may be very insightful to our nation’s current preoccupation with national security and terrorism. Cleveland said,

It is infinitely more safe to admit a hundred thousand immigrants who, though unable to read and write, seek among us only a home and an opportunity to work than to admit one of those unruly agitators and enemies of governmental control who can not only read and write, but delights in arousing by unruly speech the illiterate and peacefully inclined to discontent and tumult” ( Roger Daniels’ Coming to America, 277).

Perhaps our country’s leadership could come up with smart background checks which do not discriminate so much on nationality but criminality and past employment.

    Taft’s relentless veto was based solely on the economic necessity for a large and constant immigrant base. His reasoning echoes the reasoning of the Bracero Program, worker visa programs, and short-term migrant labor initiatives. Taft’s rationale was that, “the natives are not willing to do the work which the aliens come over to do” ( Roger Daniels’ Coming to America, 277). The beauty of immigration is that few immigrant families stay in these entry-level positions – the steady influx of immigrants who are upwardly mobile is a dynamic, short-term phenomenon for new immigrant families.

    Woodrow Wilson, in 1915, spoke out on the ethical the cause of immigrants. His veto to the literacy test rested on the fact that the bill would reject new immigrants “unless they have already had one of the chief of the opportunities they seek, the opportunity of education” ( Roger Daniels’ Coming to America, 277). Again, this same argument holds true and needs to be taken up by so many groups opposed to a physical border wall. One step into a school on la frontera will reinforce the fact that so many immigrants come to these United States seeking a better education for their families. The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), which has failed to pass in several bills both in 2006 and 2007, would ensure that all schoolchildren who are high-achievers in our nation’s classrooms would have the opportunity, regardless of income or citizenship, to study at institutions of higher education and apply themselves to becoming skilled workers. Had he lived another 93 years, Woodrow Wilson would be one of the staunchest advocates of the DREAM Act, which could have proved one of the most empowering and inspiring legislations of the second Bush administration.

    The literacy test passed in 1917, and was soon followed by Calvin Coolidge’s Immigration Act of 1924 which set the first nation-based quota system for all incoming immigrants (the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 only applied to “sojourners” from the largest country in the world). This Act also marked the beginning of the first official Border Patrol.

    Arguably the last President to be extremely pro-immigrant died with a couple bullets in 1963. His dream was to revamp immigration legislation to “base admission on the immigrant’s possession of skills our country needs and on the humanitarian grounds of reuniting families” (John F. Kennedy’s A Nation of Immigrants, 80). JFK firmly believed that the quota system was discriminatory at a time when Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement were also making strides toward a Civil Rights Bill. Kennedy goes on to write that,

The use of a national origins system is without basis in either logic or reason if neither satisfies a national need nor accomplishes an international purpose. In an age of interdependence [read “globalization”] any nation with such a system is an anachronism, for it discriminates among applicants for admission into the U.S. on the basis of accident of birth (John F. Kennedy’s A Nation of Immigrants,75).

 

Had he lived longer than 46 years, perhaps the United States of America would not still have a quota system which permits only 24,000 people from any country to migrate to our land, regardless of whether their sending nation has a population of China’s 1.3 billion or Monaco’s 32,000.

    One of the last substantial pieces of immigration legislation was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). Signed by Ronald Reagan, this has since been decried as an act which only worsened problems and which amounted to scotch-free amnesty. While neither of these are the case, IRCA did not ultimately address the true problem. By treating the symptom of illegal immigrants rather than the immigration legislation which criminalized them, Reagan departed from Kennedy’s lead and opted for the easy, immediate solution. While IRCA did make a substantive difference in the lives of 2.7 million people, it did not address the real problem which finds our country with 12 million residents on the wrong side of current immigration laws.

    The final “immigration law” on the books is one which physically, socially, economically, and ethically affects our nation’s immigrants, citizens, and borderlands. The Secure Fence Act of 2006, supported by President Bush and, sadly, both Democratic candidates Obama and Clinton, paved the way for a 700-mile fence along our 2,000-mile southern border. This “secure fence” would reroute extralegal immigrants to the most dangerous desert sections of our border; it would be an affront to American immigrants past, present, and future; it would be a tremendous waste what some estimate to be $5 billion while border communities such as Brownsville and Hidalgo County continue to be the poorest in the nation; it would serve as a severe distraction from the necessity for comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform; it would strand extralegal residents on this side of the border; it would separate loved ones; it would cripple border economies which thrive on the influx of international business; it would destroy precious and rare ecosystems and wildlife which cannot be found anywhere else; and it would cause our young nation of immigrants to wall ourselves off from our neighbors and the globalizing world at large.

    Let’s pray that true immigration reform will come with the next Presidency. If protest is prayer in action, then please join your prayers with ours, put your feet to the street, and join the Border Ambassadors and concerned citizens in the March Against the Wall as we walk 120 miles from Roma to Brownsville, Texas, this March 8-16.

People of Faith United For Immigrants- Mennonite Brethren

February 3, 2008

This Thursday, January 31, 2008, it was announced that the Latin American District of the Mennonite Brethren Church was being sued by U.S. Department of Homeland Security for refusal to allow government officials to survey their property for the border wall. This sort of civil disobedience is not unique to the Mennonite Brethren Church, however; Christian churches have long been counterbalances to politics. Immigration has long been an issue for the church, and of late a plethora of denominations have taken strong stances and bold mission statements both pro-immigrant and anti-border-wall.

 

The Mennonite Brethren Church’s refusal to allow government officials to step on their land is indeed a brave action of nonviolence, but it is entirely in keeping with their church statement on immigration. At the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. (MCC U.S.) Executive Committee Meeting in Akron, PA, in March of 2006, the Mennonite Brethren discussed their church’s doctrine on and commitment to immigration. MCC U.S. was responding to an outcry from parishioners, communities, and the Biblical passage in Leviticus 19:33-34 which states, “ “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do (the stranger) wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love (the stranger) as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

MCC U.S. has a long history of civilly disobeying unjust laws and nonviolently working for just and compassionate legal reform. This church has had members be conscientious objectors long before the law made provisions for such people. In other cases, Mennonites have disobeyed laws to become sanctuaries for refugees and illegal immigrants. With this history in mind, the Mennonite Brethren drafted the following resolution.

“Therefore:

1. We commit ourselves to helping anyone who asks including the strangers/immigrants in our midst regardless of their legal status in this country.

2. We are committed to obeying God rather than human authority, especially when laws call us to harm others and block us from efforts to protect life.

3. We commit ourselves to support MCC workers who are working with immigrants by:

a. praying for them, their families and their work on a daily basis.

b. giving them our moral support as they continue in their work assignments.

c. providing the financial resources needed for any legal defense or penalties imposed because of the work we have asked them to do.

4. We will partner with denominations to provide financial resources to assist individuals and congregations with legal costs.

5. We encourage our constituent denominations to call on area conferences, districts and congregations to provide financial help and set aside monies in case pastors or other church workers would need any legal help.

We also:

1. Call the U.S. government to enact realistic, humane and just comprehensive immigration reform.

2. Ask that any immigration reform provide workers with sufficient labor protections, reunite separated families, end militarization of the U.S./Mexico border, allow workers to come and go safely across the border and create a path

to legalization for those undocumented immigrants who wish to stay.

3. Ask the government not to force church workers to choose between obeying the dictates of their faith and the dictates of their government.

4. Call the U.S. government to create economic policies that will assist developing countries and provide for fair trade. If people are able to provide a decent living for their families, many would choose to stay in their home countries.

5. Ask the U.S. government to make trade agreements and institutions more accountable.”

While detractors often point to the multitude of Christian denominations as a source of contention and “factionism,” the Christian stance on immigration is anything but fractured. If anything, the church is asking the questions that so far have not been making it into the political scene or the Presidential primaries. The Mennonite Brethren Church, along with numerous other Christian denominations, are civilly disobeying more restrictive immigration reform and nonviolently opposing a wall because they do not see it as a compassionate response nor a successful strategy. What these churches share in common is their desire to reshape the world so that there need not be illegal immigrants. Whether this is through U.S. investment in Central American countries, or earned amnesty legislation, or a phase-out of the quota system, or harsher penalties on employers perpetuating this sector of society, what is the same is their desire to target the laws which make such people criminals rather than the people who are being criminalized by current legislation.

 

 

*The Border Ambassadors are proud to partner with Mennonites throughout the Rio Grande Valley as part of their 120-mile No Border Wall Walk from Roma to Brownsville, Texas.*

Smart Borders

January 15, 2008

        Our borders define us. By definition, they define where a country ends and where it begins. Our country began with open borders, encouraging immigration, but to hear current bombastic rhetoric and to see the doubling and tripling of our border security budget, America’s modern history would read as a long chapter of closing itself off to rest of the world. Our borders now define us as a terrified nation arrogant enough to think we have nothing more to learn or gain from would-be immigrants. From without, our borders show us to be distrusting, hypocritical. And within, 12 million extralegal residents live without rights and/or recourse to fundamental protections most enjoy by birthright. The 23 million legal immigrants also struggle to carve out a life for themselves, many with the hopes of bringing their families one day.

        Borders are ambassadors, and the U.S. border with Mexico has long been a deaf consulate. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 does not address the real needs of Americans or Mexicans, or for that matter Somalians or Mung or Iraqis or Bosnians. A border which ceases to be permeable is just a wall unresponsive to the needs of either side.

        Smart borders are permeable boundaries set up to ease administration and to profit those on both side of the border. Cities have long employed smart borders. To ride a train from New Jersey to Philadelphia is to cross borough lines, city lines, and state lines all without the hassle of a security check or a passport stamp. Free movement between cities is expected, and for most Americans so is free movement to other countries. Much like the wars which we support because they are so far away, so too are our fears of being unable to cross borders whenever we so wish. Perhaps if Americans were treated like a Muslim man in an airport or a Mexican day-laborer – perhaps then we would finally admit that freer movement of all peoples is a necessary human right that we have taken for granted.

    America needs more than a border wall. This nation must honestly address immigration reform for its human rights issues, social justice, and its economic implications. We must work to integrate and desegregate all residents in the United States regardless of race, color, sex, or citizenship. We must simultaneously renovate an inhuman immigration quota system which blockades countless workers and family members who could positively contribute to our nation.

 

Whereas:

  1. Globalization is inevitable but moral economics, just migration rights, and mutually beneficial borders are not.

  2. The world has always been globalized through environmental issues, economic matters, and social movements; and recently has become further linked through technology.

  3. Rigid borders are inherently violent, both in cause and effect, and also a means of perpetuating inequality and injustice.

  4. Borders are best when they are instruments of choice, tools which help governments better serve the people on both sides of the border.

  5. Borders are best when they are a seam and not a rift, when they are permeable lines of distinction (ideas) rather than concrete, uncommunicative, unresponsive walls.

  6. Choice of habitation strengthens both the country which receives the immigrants and the country which gives them up.

  7. Cities already have working borders which allow for and encourage economic, social, and cultural interchange.

  8. Communication is more time-intensive but has longer-lasting effects than rigid, unresponsive border enforcement.

  9. Nonviolence is the sole tool of change which strives for consensus and equality.

It is the purpose of this blog to make globalization accountable through communicating the concept of smart borders, permeable instruments of choice and mutually beneficial relationships. To the extent that the violent, nativistic, limiting borders of today can be replaced by liberalized, humanizing, and progressive borders tomorrow, this blog and its readers will have been successful in being a “voice for the voiceless.” There is no greater force on earth than an idea whose time has come, said Victor Hugo as quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. As we elect our next political leaders and a potential border wall looms in the distance, the time for this idea has come.

Duty Free

January 14, 2008

        The border is a fascinating anomaly. Here, pesos and dollars can be spent on either side of the Rio Grande. Spanish and English are accepted at most places of business, and the schools teach countless students who cross a bridge every day for their education. Everyone knows medicines are cheaper in Mexico, and just a 90-cent toll to walk across. Animals cross in broad daylight unhindered by la migra.

Which brings us to the singular case of duty-free goods. A host of duty-free shops on either side of the border sell discounted liquor and tobacco products. The buyer gets a claims ticket, walks to the bridge, and as they are passing through the turnstile, their product is then handed to them. All that is left is to walk across to Matamoros, then turn around and head back through U.S. Customs. The very idea seems ludicrous, laughable, and yet thousands of people do it a week.

Duty-free stores highlight the absurdity of our current, unresponsive, dehumanized borders. They are set up to be impermeable for people (think the 2006 Secure Fence Act), and yet goods and products are encouraged to cross the border many times. When the United States moved many of its automobile and textile manufacturers over to Mexico, this free movement of products was surely brokered into the deal. Why then are people viewed so differently by the current immigration laws?

America’s immigration laws are being disobeyed covertly nationwide. Some 12 million illegal immigrants currently work and reside in the United States. The problem, is, that those businesses which lured them to the United States do not want to “declare them” to customs or fight for a real path to their citizenship. No, instead, American capitalism is content to keep them illegal (read exploitable).

In his publication Young India, Mohandas Gandhi worded it in the following way.

We have too long been mentally disobedient to the laws of the State and have too often surreptitiously evaded them, to be fit all of a sudden for civil disobedience. Disobedience to be civil has to be open and non-violent. (emphasis mine)

Gandhi clearly saw that the rules were being bent freely. He decried this form of evasive disobedience, though, because it merely bends the law and encourages lawlessness. The world is a different place because men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. chose not to bend bad laws but instead break them, openly and fully intending to accept the state’s punishment. Only then can true change happen.

Starting with the Bracero Programs in 1942 which sponsored about 4.5 million migrant workers, the United States has uneasily bent its laws concerning immigrants it deems it needs economically but does not want socially. Countless restaurants and fields and factories across these United States currently employ Mexicans and other illegal immigrants at substandard wages and without benefits. This “duty-free” work force is capitalistic cowardice.

If we truly welcome immigrant labor, our immigration laws must be reformed immediately. For too many years, government policy has been “hard” on immigration and soft on enforcement. This sort of double-speak, this mental disobedience embodied by the border has allayed the conscience of Capitol Hill, has freed it of its duty to its citizens, those Americalmost immigrants, and those businesses valuing an economic edge above social welfare.

However, we are never free of our duty to any resident of these United States. Pretending that 12 million living and breathing and loving and working people are negligible simply because of they lack a classification that came to many of us freely at birth is to ignore our duty. For Americans, our borders have been “duty-free” places for decades. Our modern wars abroad do not touch us anymore with rationing, peace-gardens, and can drives and so cease to be real; in the same way, Americans are granted an international bill of rights at birth which enables them almost carte blanche access to the rest of the world. How different it is just a few hundred feet across a river!

There is no such thing as “duty-free” living, and it is our duty to speak out against border policies and immigration laws which are unjust and limit residents’ rights. As Gandhi famously wrote, “Noncooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good.”

Criminalization

October 20, 2007

Much dialogue on marijuana in the last few decades has centered around the large rates of incarceration and the exorbitant cost of imprisonment. According to estimates in Eric Schlosser’s book Reefer Madness, some 20,000 inmates are currently imprisoned primarily for a marijuana charge. Proponents for legalization have a valid point when they argue that if marijuana were no longer criminalized, it would save the United States millions of dollars in lost labor and imprisonment fees.

What is more bizarre, then, is that very few politicians or advocates have spoken loudly or clearly on the topic of immigrant criminalization. With more than 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the United States, this number defies all logical enforcement and flouts our underfunded prisons.

There are essentially two types of bad legislation. Some failed legislation are good laws badly enforced, as in the case of the Emancipation Proclamation or school desegregation in the South. Both of these were good laws which lacked a concerted effort at universal, uniform enforcement. While some states succeeded in integrating students of all ethnicities, many states found loopholes and ways to thwart real enforcement.

The other sort of bad legislation are bad laws impossible to enforce. Prohibition, as laid forth in the 18th Amendment, was a good moral choice but bad legislation. State-mandated alcohol abstinence was impossible to enforce; it succeeded in little more than feeding mob activity and criminalizing thousands of people who up to this point had been law-abiding citizens.

Our current immigration system in the United States would fit into the latter category. With over 12 million illegalized citizens, it is fiscally and theoretically impossible to punish, discipline, fine, imprison, or detain every extralegal immigrant in the U.S. Its enforcement is impossible, but that has not stopped us from pouring $6.7 billion dollars into border security for 2007. Border security received more than a 3% raise from 2006, while education funds remained essentially the same and emergency funds were cut by 2%, even in the wake of the Katrina fiasco. With all these increased border security measures, the cost to apprehend a single illegal immigrant crossing the border has risen from $300 in 1992 to $1700 in 2002. And we still have over 12 million undocumented immigrants.

The only immigration reform which has been approved in the past few years has been in bulking up our border security. However, that is missing the crux of this situation – this is ultimately self-defeating, prohibitively expensive, and impossible to enforce.

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his outspoken speeched against Vietnam, stated that, “Justice is indivisible.” To have a law on the books which is unjust and not being enforced is to shake the very bastions upon which our justice system stands. Ultimately we must join with King in agreeing that, “no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.” While amnesty will not solve everything, offering a feasible path towards citizenship for potential illegal immigrants as well as undocumented workers currently residing in the U.S. will begin to address this article of failed legislation and this pock upon our moral countenance.