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The Immigration Crisis

by Man Eegee Tue Jun 21st, 2005 at 10:57:45 PM EST

Crossposted at Booman Tribune

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.


More below the fold...


Metal art at the Nogales border crossingAs I've mentioned in many comments on BooTrib, 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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The first picture is taken from near the Nogales, Sonora/Arizona border crossing.

The second is from the Paupers' Field in Tucson, which is a section of the main cemetery designated for unnamed illegal immigrants.  The plot has become full and the county is now starting to cremate remains.  The full story is here, and deserves its own diary.

My humble blog - featuring Friday Basset Blogging

by Man Eegee (man.eegee :at: gmail.com) on Tue Jun 21st, 2005 at 10:59:38 PM EST
in getting an international perspective on this issue.  I am a novice when it comes to the immigration policies of European countries and would love insight.

My humble blog - featuring Friday Basset Blogging
by Man Eegee (man.eegee :at: gmail.com) on Tue Jun 21st, 2005 at 11:05:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a report due out today by an international NGO on the benefits of immigration to countries. So far I have just heard passing references to it on radio news so look out for it later on the net.

Within the EU national boundaries are less rigid than within say NAFTA. With the exception of the new accession countries where there are transitional arrangents, any EU citizen has the right of abode and working anywhere in the EU. Many countries are in the Shengen area where there are no border controls between countries at all. Movement between non-Shengen countries for citizens usually involves a minimal examination of either a passport or National Identity document to make sure it is genuine.

By the way absence of passport control is going to be a significant difference between the experience of citixens travelling within the EU and a US citizen travelling outside the country. Not many at the moment realise they will need a passport for re-entry to the USA next year for all countries except Canada and Mexico. These follow a year or so later so that honeymoon trip to Niagra or weekend drinking taquilla is going to be more complicated.

As far as those from outside the EU are concerned, you have to distinguish between legal immigration (for fixed periods like tourists and some seasonal workers or permanently), the (initially) temporary entry of refugees under the Asylum provisions and illegal immigration mostly for economic reasons. Because the level of pay, even for the most menial jobs, is far higher within the EU than in neighbouring countries to the east and south, there is a desire to enter to work even illegally. Such illegal immigrants often forget the additional costs of living but, like the USA are prepared to accept much worse living conditions to enable them to send financial support home.

Freedom of movement within the EU means the external borders have to be "harder" to stop illegal entry. The assimulation eastward means Poland is now has the main border responsibility in the east. Other countries with significant border control problems are Italy which has to tackle speedboats from both Albania and North Africa. Spain has similar problems over the Straights of Gibraltar and als owith its land borders in North Africa. They have recently had an amnsety to regularise illegal entrants.

Illegal economic immigration has often been attmepted in some countries, especially the UK, based on a claim for asylum. The UK has some draconian and quite frankly racist and unpleasant regulations to "tackle" this. There are far more people here illegally as overstayers from temporary visas granted to white Commonwealth countries than fake asylum claimers.

As I alluded to earlier, some people who have been born outside the EU have right of abode as they have a claim to citizenship. These are mostly from the British Commonwealth whose parents are or were UK subjects. Immigration is also granted in the UK for family reunion purposes (so for example a wife and children can join a working father here). You should note that  French Ovrerseas Departements and (I believe) Territories form part of the EU as do the Spanish enclaves in north Africa.

A worker from outside the EU can get a permit to work if they have a skill in shortage - technically a company has to give an assurancve that the post cannot be filled by an EU citizen. A feature of much more of EU immigration compared to the US is the initial intent to return home. In Germany this was formalised as the  "Guestworker" scheme which resulted in many Turks entering to work. Large scale immigration from the Caribbean in the 1950s to the UK was prompted by personnel shortages in public transport and nursing. Very frequently this initial intent to return becomes a more distant ambition although retiring "back home" is getting increasingly popular. Also apparently increasing is investment in the home country to ensure a good income on returement or migration back later in life. Parlicular countries showing this pattern are Ghana and Bangladesh. Some countries like the UK also have schemes to permit agricultural workers from outsie the EU to help at harvesting for a few months. This scheme is becoming redundant as the countries involved acceed to the Union.  

Incidentally, the UK government is currently making proposals that would mean work visas for doctors and nurses are for limited terms and the person will have to return home at the end of the period. This is to stop the attracting of skilled medical workers from the 3rd world and them staying permanantly. The intention of this is to maintain the additional training and experience for the individual at the same time ensuring health provision in the home countries are not as badly disadvantaged.  

 

by Londonbear on Wed Jun 22nd, 2005 at 04:57:15 AM EST
Londonbear, I noticed U.S. Newswire has a report on the 2005 World Migration Report.  Here's an excerpt:

The perception that migrants are more of a burden on host countries than a benefit is not sustained by research, according to the World Migration Report. In the UK, for example, a recent Home Office study calculated that in 1999-2000, migrants contributed $4 billion (US) more in taxes than they received in benefits. In the US, the National Research Council estimated that national income had expanded by $8 billion (US) in 1997 because of immigration.

The report also notes that in a wide variety of jobs in Western Europe, there is rarely direct competition between immigrants and local workers. Migrants occupy jobs at all skill levels, with particular concentration at the higher and lower ends of the market, often in work that nationals are either unable or unwilling to take.



My humble blog - featuring Friday Basset Blogging
by Man Eegee (man.eegee :at: gmail.com) on Wed Jun 22nd, 2005 at 09:22:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
heartbreaking issue, a running sore to add to the many other cankers and boils on the body politic of the US.  I haven't a pithy political solution, only some anecdotal commentary to illustrate the realities...

I live in California where immigrant labour does almost all the dirty jobs.  every construction site, every low-rent auto repair shop, every corporate ag field of pesticide-laden gmo pseudo-food, every hotel cleaning staff, every restaurant kitchen, has its complement -- up to 100 percent -- of Spanish-speaking low-wage labour.  every big hardware store, every morning, has the same crowd of Hispanic men and boys waiting outside, hoping to be picked up as casual day labour by the (mostly Anglo of course) contractors as they drive by in their huge trucks and SUVs.  pass by around noon, and you see the dispirited rejects -- elderly, youthful, scrawny, whatever -- still trying to look strong and able as they court an ever-diminishing chance of making any money that day.  a fair percentage of this "flexible" (as our pundits of race-to-the-bottom econ love to say) labour force is "illegal," paid under the radar, paid in cash and well below the going rate for legal, documented Anglos.  and it is a labour force that can't complain -- the threat of being turned over to la migra is always there, the employer's ace up the sleeve.

so this issue is in my face, day after day.  Anglos in California take for granted that the weary guy trying to sell strawberries on a street corner, the gardener's heavy labour crew, the grunt labour for the roofing contractor, the guys who tent and spray for termite poisoning when houses are sold -- all the jobs that mean back breaking effort, sweating for hours in the hot sun, and exposure to heavy toxicity -- are "Mexicans."  that's just how it is.  and at the same time, the Anglos who feel these jobs are not good enough for them, complain about "Mexicans coming here and taking our jobs."

when I was young I worked in an auto shop -- a dubious auto shop run by a Mexican immigrant who had wealth or connections or both to start with, and had parlayed these into business ownership.  he brought countrymen in through a network of friends and family.  working alongside these guys as a junior grease monkey I got to hear some of their stories.  one gently-spoken, grave and courteous guy told me he was qualified as a lawyer back in Mexico City, but the economy was very bad and there were no jobs, so he was making more as a mechanic in el Norte than he could back home.  the shop owner used to amuse himself by chucking small lit firecrackers onto the shop floor when the guys were working under cars and trucks.  he found it funny if he could get a worker to start violently enough to hit his head on the underbody.

anyway, it was an eye opener for me at the age of twenty, a work experience I never forgot -- the feudal authority of the shop owner, the bitter dignity of some of the workers, how you could tell who had legal papers and who didn't.  California is in this sense an apartheid state:  there are two classes of labour and the division is mostly racial.  there are workers who have unions and ombusdmen and due process and OSHA rules, and then there is a Dickensian subculture of intimidated, underpaid, undervalued Gastarbeiter.

political harm is of course done in several ways.  racial tension is exacerbated between the low-cost immigrant labour and demographics who used to do those same jobs -- poor whites, poor Blacks.  a downward pressure is exerted on wages generally when "we can always get some Mexicans who will work for less" -- especially useful for union-busting.  and the immmigrant labour force serves as an ideal scapegoat for the job-destroying policies of the corporate elite, the offshoring and downsizing and whatnot.  the real reason you (or your young-adult children) don't have jobs, mister, is those darned immigrants.  never look upward, only downward or sideways.

I think all of the above helps to explain the insanity at the border and the appalling indifference of US public opinion.  Americans feel afraid, and rightly so -- standard of living eroding, employment uncertain, health care often nonexistent or brutally unaffordable -- and the idea of Defending Our Borders against an external, infiltrating force that can be blamed for our troubles is seductive.  doesn't hurt at all if that force speaks a different language and is darker complexioned than the Aryan ideal.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Jun 22nd, 2005 at 06:00:46 PM EST
I don't think this is a racial issue. The problem is quite simple: Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for social security, unemployment, drivers licenses, etc. That's not right.

The answer could be one of:

  • Build a big fence.
  • Let anybody come in legally.
  • Let other states join the U.S.
  • Expand NAFTA.

Sort of like the options that Europe has with Turkey.
by asdf on Wed Jun 22nd, 2005 at 08:22:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
has posted a great diary at Booman Tribune in response to my thoughts above.  I hope you'll check it out and join the dialogue.

My humble blog - featuring Friday Basset Blogging
by Man Eegee (man.eegee :at: gmail.com) on Thu Jun 23rd, 2005 at 12:21:19 AM EST
 until world wages stabilize. Think 50-80 years.

....because I would rather see us reduce the consumption of imported oil than have to send American boys to fight in the Persian Gulf. - John B. Anderson
by Anderson Republican on Thu Jun 23rd, 2005 at 01:52:10 AM EST


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