Dec 14, 2005

Debating So-Called Immigration Reform

I was glad to see that Sepia Mutiny picked up on HR 4437 (the so-called Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005) and urged its readers to do something. Regardless of whether the bill eventually passes, it sends a very strong message that the restrictionists, the know-nothings, and the xenophobes are gaining ground and pushing a restrictionist, ultra-right wing agenda that can get quite far. It's very scary stuff.

But as in the past, I was really troubled by some of the comments on about this bill. Some folks don't seem to be able to take off their desi, middle-class, status-holder hats to think about what this means on a broader level. Not that I have all the answers, but it's funny how some of these things are just understood in radical/progressive desi/immigrant rights spaces, but in mainstream spaces, they have to be revisited again and again. But since commitment to progressive work is also a commitment to education, let's learn together...

The small picture thinking around issues of so-called illegal immigration views the concerns of the state as central in a debate that affects large populations of people whose fundamental human rights are eviscerated by hateful laws . These laws do little more than slap around people who are not empowered to vote or pay the legislators to leave them alone (insert religious right, corporate hogs, and every other interest group *here*), and pander to the ignorant (and I would say, less than majority) base in America.

But we shouldn't just accept the question of who is allowed to be in this country as some kind of inherent granted privilege. This so-called "legality" is a fiction. If not for its arbitrariness, then for the sheer fact that it has become a new way to split our communities - by immigration status. And immigrants and their progeny who were allowed to come here were picked by the people in power to fulfill specific roles in U.S. economy. Let's not get too carried away with the thought that there's some real distinction between people who are "illegal" and people who have been allowed to come here. For some reason, some immigrant community members think that they are somehow more worthy of the opportunities presented by the United States (read: money) just because they fit the description of what the nation was looking for at the time (or their parents did).

People come to the United States for money and a stable future for their children. The fundamental freedom that they want is to be left alone, like the not-so-innocent Pilgrims who started the colonial experiment in the 1600s to come here so that they could continue to stone and burn people and do whatever else they did at the time. But I digress. The point is, people migrate more because the situation back home isn't stable or they won't get a good return for their investment of time and work in a lifetime. The promise of America is more the freedom to get more for your hard work than in places where the social order is even more rigid than it is here, and that inequality is state-enforced. Some (myself included) would argue that the inequality and class divide in the United States is also state-enforced, and the gap is widening, but still - the prospect (or false hope) of moving from one strata in this society to another is very present and very known to people who come here. It is the Gold Mountain myth, the land of opportunity myth, whatever else different communities have called it. But that possibility is still more than many have in their home countries.

But the critical piece that restrictionists and their apologists don't acknowledge is that the ridiculous difference in economic conditions between the North and South are very much the result of colonial and imperialist powers doing as they pleased for hundreds of years with no regard to the long-term effect, or even the human cost of subjugation of entire races of people. The vast majority of people who come to the United States, including those who come through the channels that are currently authorized by the government, do so with two hearts - leaving home, where your roots and your people are, as well as your comfort to be one of many rather than one of a minority, where you can speak in your own language and hear the songs of your ancestors in the street life - that decision is heartbreaking. The promise of America is more for the immigrants' children than it is for themselves, and I know that I am the beneficiary of my parents' decision to move here, far more than they were, isolated and far from home as they were.

For people living in the shadows of the American majority culture, immigration status is a barrier even to trying to access critical human needs, and it is becoming increasingly more difficult. Shunning those who came via different paths, and distancing ourselves from those who are the most vulnerable to the periodic waves of extreme anti-immigrant sentiment, is both a disservice to our brothers and sisters, and a movement towards becoming a house hajji who adopts the white mask and forgets that the violence of the United States doesn't end with wars - that its past and current immigration policies very much constitute a structural violence against peoples of the world, and we shouldn't sit back and take it. Not in our names.


someone else said...

We should all stop talking about immigration. Let us hope that if we curl into the fetal position and occasionally yell at some Washington DC advocates, they wil stop promoting Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the worst possible legislative climate.

Rage said...

Sure. Let's hope. *sigh* Here's to better days.