Monday, February 13, 2006

Ethics and conscience said no way!

Do we have to start this up again? The text above reads in part:

I pledge to uphold my professional principles and the right to privacy. I will continue to provide services to all who request them; I will refuse to verify immigration status. ... I will support others who refuse to cooperate and I will urge others to do the same.

The Immigrant Rights Action Pledge (IRAP) was a response to the passage by California voters of Proposition 187 in 1994. That measure, never put into effect because of a series of legal challenges, would have required educators, doctors and social service workers deny help to undocumented persons. That's right: the people who work with them were supposed to rat on kids, sick patients, and desperate people.

IRAP wasn't the only or perhaps even a very important part of the broad push back inspired by that recent episode of xenophobia, but it mobilized an important source of resistance: people whose professional code of ethics mandated that they resist discrimination and criminalization of the innocent. The consciences of service workers were outraged. Thousands signed on to say a loud "no." They supported immigrants, advocates, and the attorneys who eventually squashed that measure. Along with religious people whose faith traditions locate holiness in welcoming the stranger, these professionals are the most likely source of citizen resistance to current anti-immigrant efforts.

HR 4437, passed by the House last fall, included a provision that makes it a crime for anyone to assist undocumented immigrants to "come or remain" in the United States. The bill makes 'soliciting, aiding, abetting, counseling, commanding and procuring' undocumented workers an aggravated felony, according to a recent Pacific News service article. Any number of humanitarian organizations that try to meet the needs of poor people and low-wage workers could find their work has been turned into an offense.

Migra Matters has a good discussion of the bill. The law has yet to clear the Senate and some of the most horrible provisions may be stripped out. But some kind of immigration "reform" that creates additional obstacles to migrants hoping to become members of our communities with full legal protections is almost certain to be passed this year.

Meanwhile, people trying to save lives along the Mexican border already find themselves at legal risk. Two aid workers with No More Deaths; No Mas Muertes, Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss, face felony charges of transporting "illegal aliens" for the crime of medically evacuating 3 people in critical condition from the 105-degree Arizona desert in July 2005. Amnesty International, religious leaders, the local AFL-CIO, and the antional NAACP have all come out in support of the accused. Recently former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Stanley Feldman joined the defense team. No trial date seems to have been set.

Facing rising U.S. xenophobia, teachers, medical workers and social service providers should be badgering their professional organizations to take a lead against what amount to outlawing their professional ethical obligations. Panicked attacks on immigrants have been a staple of U.S. history; repeatedly, people of goodwill (abetted by the labor needs of employers) have overcome the fears of exclusionists. Can we do so once again in the 21st century?

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