Posts Tagged ‘citizenship’

The State of the State of Minnesota, Re. Immigration

June 13, 2009

While the 2009 spring session for the Minnesota Legislature just ended amidst a controversial decision by Governor Pawlenty to balance the budget by himself, many important immigration bills were debated in this past session. Admirably, the Land of 10,000 Lakes voted to prohibit state compliance with the Real ID Act, a catch-all piece of 2006 federal legislation which enabled the Department of Homeland Security to waive any and all laws in the construction of our border wall and would have required a national id card to be carried by everyone in the U.S., a thinly cloaked anti-immigrant measure. This bill, HF 988, will protect Minnesota’s growing immigrant community in this particularly vulnerable time of economic turmoil from an intrusive federal law.

SF 1514 was also passed  on May 21 by the Minnesota legislature, recognizing the crime of sex trafficking for the first time with harsh penalties of up to 25 years in jail while also granting victims a means of legal recourse regardless of their citizenship status.

Also important were the bills rejected by Minnesota’s lawmakers, many of which were targeted specifically at the immigrant community.  SF 505, which would have required the removal of all head coverings in order to procure state ids, was defeated, along with SF 144, which would have made government employees liable if they knew of an undocumented immigrant and failed to report it.  SF 577 was also defeated in its efforts to make English the official language (interestingly enough, just before the turn of the 20th century the same debates were being had about making Norwegian the official state language).

A couple of important federal bills might also impact Minnesota.  AgJOBS, reintroduced in the Senate by Senator Diane Feinstein (S. 1038) and in the House by Representatives Howard Berman and Adam Putnam (H.R. 2414), would allow immigrant farm workers the opportunity to earn the legal right to permanently stay in this country through continuing work in agriculture while also amending the current H2A guest worker program to grant growers a safer and more stable workforce. (Souza, Christine. California Farm Bureau Federation).  Similarly, the Visa Recapture Bill (or the “Reuniting Families Act”) introduced by Senators Robert Menendez and Charles Schumer would go a long way in reforming the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act. First, Visas unused due to lack of governmnet action dating back to 1992 would be added to the current year limits, and prospectively any surplus would added to the new year’s allowable visa limits. Second, spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents would be able to obtain visas (whereas now only citizens can really petition for immediate relatives), and it changes the age of minor children from 18 to 21.  Third, the overally level of family-sponsored immigrant visas would be expanded to 480,000/year, along with raising the number of employment-based visas to 140,000/year.

Advocates with the project Familias Unidas, along with the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, have worked to include Minneapolis on this collaborative’s national tour to 20 cities.  In its attempt to encourage support for comprehensive immigration reform this year, Representatives Luis Gutierrez and Keith Ellison will hold a community forum at the Incarnation Church in Minneapolis on June 14 at 2:30.  This multi-faith, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual event is aimed at getting Obama to follow through on his promise earlier this year to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2009.  The petition they will be signing at this event is as follows – feel free to print it off and send it to our President yourself:

The Honorable Barack Obama

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

My name is _____________________________________, and I am petitioning on behalf of my

______________________ who has no realistic options to gain legal status under our current

immigration laws.

President Obama, as a result of our broken immigration system, my loved one is at risk of being

deported/ has been deported:  causing the destruction and separation of our family.

This has caused us all to live with constant anxiety and fear about the future of our family.

As you eloquently stated in your inauguration speech,

“The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation:

the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their

full measure of happiness.”

On behalf of my family and the millions of other families like mine, I urge you to stop the

misguided raids and deportations that are tearing our marriages, our childrens’ lives, and

our communities apart.

We are hopeful that you will indeed fulfill your campaign promise to work with Congress to move quickly to enact just and humane comprehensive immigration reform that includes

family reunification, faster due process, a reasonable path to citizenship, and workers’ protection.

We are hopeful that you will indeed fulfill your campaign promise to work tirelessly to bring forth the change necessary to ensure that all people have an opportunity to dream, to live, and to pursue their full measure of happiness.

We are hopeful that you will indeed fulfill your campaign promise of Si Se Puede; Yes We Can!

Sincerely,

________________________________________    ________________________________

Signature                                                                      Date

__________________________________________________________ (Address)

__________________________________________________________ (City, State, Zip Code)

__________________________________________________________ (Phone)

__________________________________________________________ (E-Mail)

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The Tragic Use of Words to Criminalize Human Beings

January 29, 2009

Last Friday, the Minnesota Daily ran an article about the Asylum Law Project at the University of Minnesota.  The headline read, “Law Students Help Illegal Immigrants.” While the main thrust of the article was very pro-immigrant and gave voice to numerous groups involved in immigrant advocacy, the inclusion of the term “illegal” somewhat marred its message. After letters of protest from as near as the East and West Bank and as far as California, the Minnesota Daily Editor-in-Chief Vadim Lavrusik published statement explaining the misunderstanding, reiterating the Daily‘s 2006 commitment to use the term “undocumented,” and the editing of the article.

The Associated Press style book currently prefers “illegal immigrant” over “undocumented worker” or “illegal alien.”  While not as bombastic as the latter, “illegal immigrant” still criminalizes people and implies an overgeneralization.  For example, the cases the Asylum Law Project worked on were asylum seekers, who are neither legal nor illegal.  These people declared to the United States government they were seeking asylum from their home country; as a result, they are kept in detention centers until their case is decided.  To dub people like this “illegal” is to hold individuals guilty until proven innocent, a sad digression of American justice.  It is sad that the AP style book still persists in continuing a journalistic tradition that perpetuates such divisive and alienating terminology.

The common use and acceptance of derogatory terms in mass media track the same public discourse that laid the ground for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Called “Coolies” and “Asiatics” for years, accused of depressing wages and bringing subversive politics, decried as failing to integrate and having “anchor babies,” Chinese-Americans were discriminated against for decades preceding this first racially-based immigration legislation.  Chinese immigrants were effectively barred from citizenship until the act was repealed in 1943 with the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act.   As has been the case historically, the ways Chinese immigrants were framed in the media affected the way they were viewed nationally.  Associated Press should be pressured to change their practice of using “illegal immigrant” in articles throughout the United States.  Please write a letter or email to the editors, telling them that no human being is illegal and that we are capable of more civil and exact nomenclature for migrants.

The ABC of Agriprocessors

December 7, 2008

Nearly seven months after their Postville processing plant was raided by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), Agriprocessors pled not guilty on all charges Friday, December 5, 2008. Their lawyer, who phoned in to make the plea, did not mention the plight of the 389 unauthorized immigrants or their families (http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20081205/NEWS/81205033). He didn’t highlight the fact that these hard workers were steered into cattle barns and misled to believe that if they admitted all charges against them the process would somehow be easier and more lenient. Agriprocessors’ attorney didn’t mention their Nebraska plant that closed down or the Chapter 11 bankruptcy the company filed on November 4 to “reinvigorate the company,” according to their bankruptcy lawyer Kevin Nash. (Preston, Julia. New York Times)

The saddest aspect of Agriprocessors’ court proceedings is that they are being tried for the wrong crimes. Agriprocessors will face a jury trial on January 20 on the charges of “harboring and aiding undocumented workers, document fraud, identity theft and bank fraud.” (http://www.postbulletin.com/newsmanager/templates/localnews_story.asp?z=7&a=374130) They are not awaiting judgment for their notorious safety violations, underpayment of their immigrant workers, and mandatory unpaid overtime, all of which community members like Rev. Paul Oderkirk of Saint Bridget’s Catholic Church had been decrying for years. They are on trial for “aiding” unauthorized” workers that they intentionally recruited and then kept illegal so as to have a docile, underpaid workforce. They are on trial for helping immigrants rather than for the fact that they worked to keep their workforce illegal because unauthorized workers can’t unionize or lobby for better conditions. They are being prosecuted to the full extent of the law for helping immigrants but not even being chastised for filling the deported immigrants’ positions with Latino workers scooped out of Texas homeless shelters this past June (http://immigrationmexicanamerican.blogspot.com/2008/06/breaking-news-agriprocessors.html).  This kosher meatpacking plant that boasted revenues of $300 million will not be sitting before the jury for its criminal hourly wages or its exploitation of the most vulnerable community within our borders. No, they are on trial for “harboring and aiding undocumented workers.”


It is deeply saddening that immigrants are criminalized so deeply in this country that everyone associated with them becomes guilty by association rather than by exploitation. When people are made criminal by unjust laws, the worst crime imaginable is aiding and abetting them. Harking back to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 which were repealed just a few years later in the infancy of our nation, these laws are even more shameful in that they prosecute rather than protect the most vulnerable, unrepresented sector of American society, the 12 million extralegal immigrant workers living within our borders with little chance of effectively working toward citizenship.

14 days before Agriprocessors’ jury trial, ABC will be airing its new reality television show “Homeland Security USA.” This new series which profits off the often-fatal journey of immigrants through the most dangerous parts of desert borderland seems perfectly congruous with Agriprocessors’ charges of harboring and aiding extralegal immigrants (Stelter, Brian. New York Times). Something is fundamentally flawed in the United States when we are entertained by the criminalization, hunting, and deportation of people whose only crime is the desire for work and enough money for their family. Both ABC and Agriprocessors’ board of directors share this understanding and have figured out ways to profit from others’ painful, life-threatening choice to seek work in America.


Barriers to Integration

October 26, 2008

Friendship Park in Imperial Beach, California, has long stood as a symbol of Amistad and brotherhood between the United States and Mexico. 160 years after the border was established at this point, people now speak and kiss and sing through the wire fence. At times it is eerily reminiscent of prison visitations, with legal immigrants like Manuel Meza sharing coffee through the fence with his wife who was deported several years ago (Archibold, Randal). If they concentrate on each other’s faces, the fence almost seems to disappear as it moves out of focus…

The Department of Homeland Security, however, is repartitioning this monument to international goodwill. New fencing will create a no-man’s land barrier, ending Meza’s routine coffee hour with his wife, interrupting the yoga sessions that occur on both sides of the border concurrently, solidifying a distance which doesn’t exist between the Mexicans and Americans of San Diego. Another part of this new DHS plan is to fill in Smuggler’s Gulch with tons of dirt, yet one more sacrifice of beauty in exchange for control. Years ago, Pat Nixon came to this place and said, “I hate to see a fence anywhere.” Representative Bob Filner is opposing DHS’s plans to destroy this park & the cooperation it represents, while chief patrol officer Michael Fisher says, “It’s a real shame…[b]ut unfortunately, any time you have an area that is open, the criminal organizations are going to exploit that.” One might say it is akin to permanently shutting down the airports to prevent another 9/11, opting for maximum security at the sake of freedom.

But for now, San Diego and Tijuana are still united, if only here at Friendship Park. Rev. John Fanestil, a United Methodist minister, still conducts communion through the fence to people like Juventino Martin Gonzalez who was deported last month after 20 years working and raising a family on the other side of that fence. It is easy to understand the real reason why a wire fence will no longer do – one look across that fence, north or south, can only remind the viewer that we are all united, all the same, all one. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/22/us/22border.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail1=y&oref=slogin)

—–

Another barrier to immigration is the employers who would just as soon see extralegal immigrants remain illegal and undocumented. As long as our laws allow economy to trump dignity, this abuse of power will continue. This past week, though, Knickerbocker Avenue in Brooklyn saw a victory for immigrant workers. After years of hard work, Andrew Friedman and the Make the Road New York organization have successfully brought civil suits against employers who extorted and took advantage of immigrant workers. The courts ruled that a local fruit stand owed $28,000 in back pay, a dollar store owed $70,000, a sneaker chain $400,000. Yet for every one of these employers, hundreds more continue to profit from the inability of their workers to achieve full citizenship status. (Clines, Francis)

If citizenship is the first step, education is the next on the path to integration. A Migration Policy Institute survey just found that 1/5 immigrants with college degrees are unemployed or working in unskilled labor fields. (Aizenman, N.C.) These 1.3 million legal and extralegal immigrants could be vital contributors to our economy, yet their lack of English fluency and nativist feelings keep them from using their valuable skills. More than half of Latin-American college graduates are working unskilled jobs, and that number only falls to 1/3 for those living here 10 years or more. African immigrants have the highest unemployed rates of all immigrant groups in the U.S.

Iraqi refugees are given three-month stipends when they come here. Pressed to find a job and integrate rapidly, many highly-skilled professionals are scrambling for a minimum-wage job. My friend and ESL conversation partner starts his job at a furniture factory tomorrow, despite the fact that he ran two such factories in Iraq. His friend, a nationally renowned sculptor, hopes to get a job laying bathroom tile.

Because few foreign credentials transfer to the United States and few immigrants are given the language education they need, we miss out on the contributions of so many. Surely we can do better.

(http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/10/23/ST2008102300319.html)

The Unilateral Contract for Immigrants

October 8, 2008

Nate was sitting in a bar a week after an innocent woman was killed by a repeat offender who had gone untracked for an indefinite amount of time. He was sitting in a bar across from a well-known member of the Justice Department of the State of Minnesota. As a Target Public Relations Executive, he says, the problem was piercingly clear. “Man, you’ve got an inventory-tracking problem.”

As a result of this casual evening encounter, the statewide “Suspense File” of criminals with aliases or uncertain whereabouts has dwindled from well over 30,000 to under a couple hundred. Bringing together township, local, and regional governments under the statute 299C.111, this information is finally being efficiently shared and these precincts are realizing their part in the larger community.  Nate brings up this anecdote as proof of the power of benevolent self-interest. “Self-interest is the only sustainable source of benevolence or volunteering. Your goal must be to broaden people’s sense of self-interest to include those around them, their community, their workplace.”

This idea of community is core to the idea of nonviolence. The philosophy of nonviolence only has credence if, as Dr. King said, “we are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” As our communities grow and change, as immigration changes the face of Americans, and as globalization destroys the traditional view of bordered states or bounded communities, this expansive self-interest must cultivate a healthy respect and active work to improve the plight of those near and far.

Nate points out that while politics is the business of solving problems (and so protects itself by never eliminating those problems completely), public policy is the art of dilemma management. Dilemmas, or unsolvable problems, are the realities of life, but it is our duty and responsibility to mitigate the effects of those dilemmas. We will never end poverty, but we can continually work to mitigate the effects of poverty in our Beloved Community.

As Nate preaches an interdisciplinary mode of approaching problems, our nation’s immigration system and its needed reform ring in my mind. Essentially, immigrants have always come to the United States on implied unilateral contracts. Our media and our economy have always lured hard-workers hoping to better themselves and contribute to the American Dream. Since the Alien & Sedition Act of 1798 and the first nation-specific discrimination via the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, our nation has been unjustly enriched on the backs of immigrants. Notwithstanding remittances and return migration, immigrants have always contributed more to our economy than they have taken. Despite what popular bombastic talk-show rhetoric may repeat, immigrant populations traditionally work harder than native residents and will generally integrate as much as they are allowed by that nation’s institutions.

For the more than 12 million extralegal immigrants contributing to America right now, they labor without hope of compensation. Since the failed immigration reform bills in 2006, nothing has been forwarded to offer a path to citizenship for hard-working immigrants who are performing everything we expect of citizens. At what point does an extralegal resident earn the right to an American driver’s license or a Social Security Card? How long must someone work 80 hours a week to provide for their family before they are given the chance to naturalize?

If our great nation were to adopt immigration policies more akin to a unilateral contract, then so many immigrants’ good faith demonstrations of citizenship would finally be awarded with the meager promise of the bottom rung in American society. But at least it would be a starting point, an entry level to all the rights and protections of our Constitution and legal system, something more than 12 million people live without as Americans in all but documentation.

As civilization moves forward and borders get more confused, nationalities become more arbitrary, and human capital becomes even more mobile, the nonviolent concept of benevolent self-interest must begin to inform our policies, laws, and community standards. I hope I live to see the day when there are no undocumented and unprotected workers in the U.S., that everyone here would have some legal status and all would be somewhere on the continuum of achieving full citizenship.

From Postville to Hidalgo to Beijing- The Olympian Effects of Immigrants and Walls

July 19, 2008

Hidalgo County has seen contractors already readying the earth-moving equipment needed to construct their portion of a the border wall as early as July 21.  While officials have dodged specifics and Hidalgo County officials emphasize the fact that this cement structure is actually just an addition to strengthen the levees in need of serious repair,  local residents are chilled to see the giant bulldozers, pipes, and CATs which are planned to tear up their backyards in the coming days of summer.  (Leatherman, Jackie)

This past week also saw the controversial news of court interpreter Dr. Camayd-Freixas penning an essay about what he witnessed during the court proceedings following the recent Agriprocessors raid in Postville, Iowa, on May 12, 2008.  This ICE raid, the largest in its history, involved over 900 agents and put nearly 400 extralegal workers on trial for their work in the largest kosher meat-packing plant in the nation.  While Agriprocessors was merely fined and sternly reprimanded, the lives of these Guatemalan immigrants and the town which had become their home have been gutted by the legal proceedings that imprisoned more than 260 of them for 5 months.  Detained for weeks in a converted cattle-ground holding house called the National Cattle Congress, paraded into court in handcuffs, shackles, and chains, these immigrants with Mayan last names listened tearfully to the Spanish interpretation of what had already been decided in the court well in advance of the raid.  Rather than simply deporting these workers who were lured here under false promises of well-paid work and future citizenship, these hard-working immigrants now must sit in county jails with charges of aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud as their families scramble to make ends meet without these principal breadwinners.  (“The Shame of Postville, Iowa”)

Postville, IA, once a town of 2,273, has lost more than 1/3 of its community in the month since the terrifying raid.  ICE timed the raid before the end of the school year, when some migrant workers would have returned to their homes, and as a result the end of the school year saw Latino students legal and extralegal terrified to go to school.  3 of 15 high-school students showed up for school the week after the raid, while 120 out of 260 students in the elementary and middle school were missing.  The schools’ principal actually rode around town on a school bus, coaxing and cajoling these students to come to school, assuring them that ICE cannot raid a public school because of Peter Schey’s landmark case in the 1980s; 50 of them would not be convinced. American children were having nightmares that their parents would be similarly deported or jailed.  (Camayd-Freixas)

Dr. Camayd-Freixas broke ranks with the “unbiased” legal interpreters by publishing his reflections and observations of this humanitarian disaster.  He was moved to write as he saw immigrants begging in their native language to be deported quickly.  He was moved as he listened to the weeping of fathers who had walked a month and ten days before finally crossing the Rio Grande.  He was moved to hear of families who had journeyed here only to work for a year or two in hopes of saving enough money to survive in Latin America, a desire that could have been legitimized if only temporary work permits were legislated instead of Secure Fence Acts.  These men and women waived their 5th amendment rights to trial by jury in hopes of a “fast-tracked” deportation five months later, despite the fact that they had used false papers not for unlawful activity or felonious actions but rather for seeking a living wage. (Camayd-Freixas)  In this New Era of ICE operations, a new government agency which grew 10% last year and is readying itself for many more of these raids in the name of the War on Terror, every small town must cringe in fear whether it has extralegals living within its borders or not;  terror terrifies indiscriminately.

 

As a border wall is being prepared for the Texas-Mexico border and as future ICE raids are being formulated based on the “success” of the Postville sting, the Beijing Olympics are about to begin.  The United States will boast its largest number of immigrant athletes since these statistics were kept.  These 33 immigrants will represent the United States and surely bring pride to red-blooded Americans as they stand on podiums to hear their new national anthem.  We can all be proud of the four Chinese-Americans representing us in table-tennis, or the Polish-American kayaker, or the Russian-American gymnast Nastia Liukin, or the New Zealand immigrant triathlete.  All of us will hold our breath in August as we watch the men’s 1500-meter squad of immigrants; Kenyan-American Bernard Lagat will run alongside the Sudanese “lost boy” Lopez Lomong and Mexican laborer’s son Leo Manzano who only recently got his citizenship in 2004.  We can all be proud of these new Americans, but we must also take a hard look at our nation’s policies which simultaneously champion a few token immigrants while terrorizing others and making the immigration process both dehumanizing and virtually impossible for so many (Wilson, Duff and Andrew Lehren)  As I watch the Summer Olympics, it will be tough for me to think of China’s human rights violations which have caused protests throughout much of the free world; I will be too busy crying as I watch American immigrants bask in their one day of glory, saving up these precious memories for four more years and for all the immigrants who will never receive acclaim and recognition for the work they do to make our country what it is.

Immigration as Nonviolent Tactic

May 22, 2008

¨Those immigrants, we give them everything.  When they have a baby, they receive 2500€ and a cochecito (baby carriage).  And when those babies grow up, they get all the help in the world.  Those immigrant kids get into good schools instead of good Spanish kids who´ve been here and belong here.¨ (A man in Barcelona)

Americans have long been partial to isolationism.  Far too often, we think we are the only country facing certain issues, and therefore we look no further than our own borders for the answers to issues the entire world is facing.  Immigration is not an issue limited to the Rio Grande Valley where the government is so desirous of erecting a border wall, nor is it specific to our fruit fields, urban restaurants, construction sites, or factory jobs.  By definition, immigration is a global issue, a fact which makes a border-wall solution to immigration bitterly laughable. 

Nearly half of extralegal immigrants in the United States came here legally on visas and work permits.  One can look at this and campaign for militaristic campaigns to treat all students and workers on visas as if they were on an extended parole, but that would be missing the point.  The fact is that this makes absolute sense.  Immigration is no longer limited to the Vikings of 500 years ago, nor is one country outsending all the rest (though government officials would have us think our southern neighbor is invading us with good workers, family-oriented individuals, and bilingual neighborhoods).  Students and workers from all over the world come to the United States for a better opportunity, but they do not count on the lack of opportunities for earned citizenship and naturalization.  As a result, hundreds of thousands overstay their visas, holding out hope that one day their opportunity to pursue happiness will be legitimized by the government that invited them here in the first place. 

 Immigration is a global issue, and one which needs global solutions.  If a paranational organization were set up to monitor immigration laws in sending and receiving countries, like the ones which exist for shared water rights and common resources, then perhaps a freer migration pattern could result, one which focused more on the task of assimilation and integration rather than rigid quotas and discrimination.  Embedded in immigration is one answer to the complex problem posed by the disastrous overkill combats of the last century.  Many people wonder if there can be nonviolent solutions for war and conflict, and immigration and emigration, if controlled by an international entity, could sap such dictators and warlords of their necessary resource – “expendable” souls.  Few people praise death and desire war, but out of a sense of duty and/or fear, the poor have always been expected to shoulder the immense burden of war campaigns.  What if Hitler announced his plans to wage all-out war throughout Europe, and half his working class emigrated to Spain in a matter of weeks?  What would happen if countries were held accountable to their constituents not by a vote of paper but by a vote of presence? 

We are entering a new age of globalization, and immigration is surely one of the most exciting aspects of modernity.  Technology has shrunk distances, media has brought divergent cultures together, and ideas are being interchanged at the speed of cyberspace.  Immigration might be the 21st-century answer to empires, dictators, and overpopulation.  Giving people a choice of living conditions could reinforce good policy and punish bad governance.

According to an immigration advocate here, Barcelona is one of the biggest receivers of immigrants in Europe.  Ecuador happens to be the largest sending country, which makes sense based on the linguistic similarities and shared heritage.  However, the number 2 sending country is slightly surprising.  Italy, another nation in the European Union, would hardly seem like a country facing a mass exodus.  However, Italy´s current government is so awful that many Italians are more than willing to immigrate to neighboring Spain, even though it means learning Castellano and Catalan as well as leaving behind their heritage.  A government such as Italy´s cannot continue to make bad decisions, or it soon will be like the ruler alone on his own planet in The Little Prince, with absolute power over no one but himself.

Immigration in all its Designs

May 4, 2008

Touring Spain, I am quickly being reminded of immigration in all its designs.  In the United States, we tend to imagine Mexican braceros or refugees, but often ignore or forget the host of reasons people migrate from place to place.  I am reminded of this at a long lunch with Rotarians in Coruña.  Jim, a British expatriate, keeps refilling my wine glass and inviting me to imbibe more alcohol as a fellow hailing from the British Isles (however long ago my Irish ancestors crossed the sea from County Mayo to Penn´s Woods).  Jim was just one of many ex-pats who willingly came to Spain some 40 years ago on business and never left. His friend and fellow Rotarian Richard was born in the heartland of Kansas, and his English still drawls like corn in the rain.  For every immigrant who returns, which historically comprises 30% of immigrants, countless more find much to love in their new country. 

The very idea of Rotary is one of international brotherhood and universal goodwill, and it squares with aglobal and historical view of immigration.  We are still departing from the hateful philosophy of eugenics, but people are coming to an understanding that there are no pure races, that the Irish of our stereotypes are really just descendants of Viking raiders who intermarried with the Gaels who hailed from northwest Spain since migrating all the way from India.  Immigration is not a new phenomenon, nor is it something to be contained or perceived in an epidemiological mindset.  People will inevitably travel, people will seek out lands where they can make the most impact, people will settle and integrate and assimilate because it is necessary for satisfaction.  The nativistic worries about racial blocs and unassimilable immigrant groups are unfounded, for as much as there have been concentrations of immigrant groups, their children undoubtedly grasp the culture which surrounds them in order to attain contentment. 

Though far from perfect, Spain is much closer to realizing a humane and accurate perception of immigration.  There are no deportations in Spain.  Though boats are turned away in the Grand Canary Islands and immigrants are refused from some ports, once those persons are here the Spanish government uses fines to oust extralegal residents who refuse to enter public society through the liberal immigration routes.  Here in Spain, it takes but 3 years for an extralegal worker to attain authorization, which is a significant step en route to full citizenship.  In the United States, similar immigrants must wait in an endless lottery which can take upwards of ten years to never.  Immigrants from Mali, Senegal, Morocco, Romania, Hungary, Brasil, Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Uruguay – all these people are viewed as possible citizens by a system which tends to treat people as assets rather than criminals. 

In conversations with Jim and Richard, they air some criticism about Spanish immigration policies but are quickly silenced when I mention the proposed border wall, detention centers such as Hutto, and the xenophobic talks of massive deportation in the American immigration debate.  Though there is no such thing as a perfect, fully replicable immigration system, we must be moving towards comprehensive, compassionate immigration legislation which supports immigrants of all designs. 

 

America – The Story of Integration

March 21, 2008

    This past week, Obama gave a speech for the ages when he openly confronted the issue of race in a conciliatory fashion. Like him or not, the speech was noteworthy in that it spoke to the future of the United States.  The “more perfect union” he addresses is one in which every little boy and every little girl is afforded the same opportunity to participate in our country’s democracy.  To be successful, we must integrate.

    American history is a long story of integration. Our greatest successes have been ones of inclusion, from Emancipation Proclamation to the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. The most abysmal times in our nation’s history, similarly, have been those times when our nation was most segregated. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Japanese internment camps, Jim Crow Laws, and the long residue of the original sin of slavery are just some examples of the sad moments in our nation’s history when it has refused equal access or equal rights to all its people.

    Our story is one of integration, and it must continue to be so if we are to continue to live up to our moral and social potential. Currently, our country has some 12-20 million people residing and working within our borders who have been refused the rights, protections, and opportunities most basic to the American story. The same individuals decrying these workers’ rights smack of the same rhetoric segregationists employed with chilling effect in the 1950s and 1960s.

    When my great-great-grandparents immigrated from Ireland to these United States, they were greeted by Army recruiters like so many immigrants. The military has always been ready to bestow citizenship on those immigrants who would be willing to die for their newly adopted country. How much more impactful would it be if our nation were to tender the same means to earned citizenship for workers who have been contributing to, but not benefiting from, Social Security and taxes all these years? To truly call ourselves an “integrated” nation, we must move beyond the rhetoric of black and white and extend the discussion to human beings with and without rights.

    Harvard Professor Charles V. Willie once stated that school desegregation was worlds better than it was 50 years ago, but only nominally different than it was 30 years ago. This idea of an unacceptable plateau can be equally applied to the issue of immigration. Our nation’s immigration policies are more just than they were in the 1920s, when nation of origin and the idea of a racial ratio became the measuring device for who could and could not immigrate legally. However, our nation’s current immigration legislation is much more backward, prohibitive, and segregated than it was 150 years ago before nativistic policies began stemming the full integration of immigrants.

    The United States must decide that it has to abolish the class of illegal immigrants, not through massive and fiscally prohibitive deportations but rather through laws which would moralize the quota system, enhance family reunification policies, allow all students to pursue higher education, and extend a means to earned citizenship for our nation’s extralegal working class. Integration must advance from the limited fields of voter rights and school systems to the heart of civil rights, which is equality for all. Dr. King famously stated in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” that “Anyone who lives within the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” The civil rights movement of this past century stemmed from the migration of peoples and sought to reconcile their rights. For the sake of American history and our country’s future, we must apply this same reconciliation and extend this same palm branch of redemption to those working families who have migrated or would wish to migrate here. Our future depends on the integration of everyone, the full participation of every resident in the American dream. As Joel Millman writes in his book The Other Americans, “Our future is being born today in a village somewhere far away. Our welfare depends on the quality of our welcome when that future arrives.”

What is meant by ‘Real Immigration Reform?’

January 24, 2008

        Yesterday, a good friend of mine in Austin pressed me about my oft-repeated phrase of “real immigration reform.” He was in agreement that there are some social and moral dilemmas with our current immigration system, but he couldn’t honestly see a better, more direct answer than the border wall. I had to thank him for his honesty, and his desire to candidly grapple with the problem and its solution. However, legislation would solve the problems at a much deeper level and in a more sustainable manner.

    One component of transformative immigration reform is prohibitive penalties for companies which employ undocumented workers. We do not need illegal immigrants – we need immigrants who are sponsored here in the United States and who come with a purpose, but we most definitely must not continue our current method of refreshing a grossly under-paid, right-less pool of workers. Stiff penalties for businesses would follow the same trend which has been adopted with corporate white-collar crime (think Enron). If the tremendous resources of the U.S. Border Patrol could be used, instead, to police the businesses which are pulling immigrants from their homeland under false pretenses, the border would be a very different place indeed. Immigrants come either from a push or pull motive – either because of the conditions of their home country or the promises of the new one – and to the extent that we can diminish the false pull of exploitative businesses, illegal immigration could be greatly curtailed. The few workers who might still come across illegally would find it very difficult to get a job, and because of their close proximity to their home country, would return like 1/3 of immigrants.

    A second key piece of meaningful immigration reform is to extend a means to legal citizenship for the 12-14 million extralegal working residents here in the United States. Earned citizenship would necessitate that person have a steady job and a place of residence. The main problem with our current immigration laws is that people migrate here and then are stuck between D.C. and the border checkpoints. Unable to secure legal citizenship, they are caught in a revolving door of underpaid, exploitative work which is both dehumanizing and compounding to their dilemma. Earned citizenship measures would greatly decrease the number of long-term extralegal residents, so that ICE could focus solely on those residents who are not moving towards such legalization. Countless immigrants who simply overstayed their visas could become much more productive members of society, no longer lurking in the shadows, if only they saw hope of citizenship.

    The third crucial element of far-reaching immigration reform would be an overhaul of the current quota system. While many immigrants and refugees come to these United States outside the current quota, this system allotting 26,000 immigrants to each nation, irregardless of its population, still forms the foundation of our current immigration legislation. These quotas, in theory, allow just as many people to immigrate from Vatican City and Luxembourg as from China, India, or Mexico. More egalitarian “quotas” would be relative to a country’s population. American universities already have a complex and accurate system of ranking students coming from schools as divergent as my alma mater Troy High School in Pennsylvania (100 graduates/year) and Philadelphia high schools (2,000 graduates/year). Another possibility, instead of quotas, would be to highlight specific industry vacancies which are prohibitively under-staffed and draw immigrants for these specific fields. This would assure an excellent pool of workers for American businesses, and it would also ensure that immigrants come to the U.S. with steady, well-paid occupations already lined up.

    While these three components are fundamental changes which must be made if we are to change the future of immigration in this country, several other ideas would help to make our nation significantly better for those populations which are so often overlooked. The DREAM Act, which failed to pass last year in Congress, would provide much-needed funds to qualifying immigrant students who have already demonstrated a readiness and dedication to academics. The DREAM Act goes much deeper than simply rewarding immigrants who work; this legislation assures that these young residents will not be stuck in the cycle of underpaid jobs which fail to utilize their contribution potential and talents. Another immigration reform which would greatly aid our current state is speedy deportation. Detention centers like our nation’s largest at Raymondville are a pock on our country in the same vein as Japanese internment camps and Guantanamo Bay. Immigrants who are employed illegally and are slotted for deportation should have the right to a speedy process. Currently, they are stripped of all rights and incarcerated for a month on average (though some are left for years). The companies which hire undocumented workers should receive much stiffer penalties than the workers who were exploited, but if we are to return them to their home country so that they can begin a new life, this must happen speedily. The alternative is what we currently have, an expensive detention process which has not been proven a true deterrent to re-entry but has most definitely been proven to be dehumanizing, unconstitutional, and an affront to basic human rights.

    While immigration should be at the forefront of American thought for the next fifty years or more, the three changes of 1.) prohibitive penalties for law-breaking employers, 2.) paths to earned citizenship, and 3.) a dynamic overhaul of the current quota system, would alleviate the pressure on our borders, dismantle the need for a Secure Fence Act, and provide the most basic American rights to some 12-14 million people who are living in inequality. It is my solemn prayer that one day all residents in these United States will truly be treated equally, that people will receive better treatment and fairer taxation than corporations, and that no group of people will be denied a future because of dehumanizing legislation.