Monday, June 25, 2007

Immigration: beyond demonstrating the human face

As the corpse that begs for a stake in it -- the "immigration reform compromise" -- comes up for a vote to reconsider in the Senate tomorrow, I want to get serious about how progressives might think about immigration.

Last week I had a chance to hear a discussion of migration issues between Gerald Lenoir of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and Brandon Smith of Global Labor Strategies.

Both men emphasized that the immigration rights movement, through the May Day marches and such projects as the Dreams Train, had done a good job of putting a human face on migrants. Far more of us have become conscious of the low-wage workers who ubiquitously clean our toilets, pick our crops and repair our roofs. But we have a lot more to consider before we'll be able to win humane, equitable immigration policies.

Lenoir ran down the frames the right wing has put on immigration. They have made the discussion one of:
  • National security. They treat anyone black or brown who crosses the border as a threat -- and then use small scale, but brutal, raids on undocumented communities nationwide to make their case that the danger is everywhere;
  • White supremacy. Bill O'Reilly has actually said on Fox that "white male culture" is at stake;
  • "Our jobs" are being stolen. African Americans, in particular, should feel very afraid.
Lenoir proposes three alternative frames that might enable progressives to talk about immigration, especially among African Americans.
  • Instead of a national security state, we need a human security state. The purpose of government needs to be, not obsessively constraining our freedoms out of fear of enemies, but enabling us all to live free lives. Remember that old promise about "freedom from fear..."
  • Racial equity needs to be one of our society's highest goals. We have to struggle against all forms of racism; African Americans have historically led that fight, but today they need to broaden their vision beyond a simple black/white frame.
  • Globalization is creating a new context for all of us. Past gains by African Americans are being eroded by the export of manufacturing jobs, just as NAFTA destroyed Mexican farming and forced thousands to come north.
Lenoir made the important point that the peace movement -- the movement against Bush's wars -- should be right there with the immigrant rights movements as both are contesting the imposition of an authoritarian national security state. That alliance is certainly not there yet. The immigrant rights movement also needs to become more aware of and sensitive to the history of African Americans in this country.

Smith spoke to the reality that low wage migrants do constitute the present workforce in some industries that used to be bastions of the white working class, such as fishing where he worked (and I can add in construction where I have worked.) The charge that the jobs are no longer there for some white folks is not a lie -- but it is not so much the jobs that have gone missing as that employers are no longer willing, or able, to pay living wages. All of this is a consequence of global capital's relentless pursuit of the highest possible profits achieved by pushing all the non-rich into a race to the bottom. According to Smith,

"Immigration is the proxy for anxiety over globalization."

Here I'm speaking for myself, though I doubt either speaker would disagree. Perhaps fortunately, though the Democratic party shows little spine or imagination in dealing with migration issues, the Republican party is truly killing itself over immigration. The debate brings all its hidden racist trolls into the light, while its corporate poohbahs drool over "reform" as a chance to import slave labor. Nobody is satisfied; everyone goes away mad.

It seems unlikely that the weakened Bush administration will be able to push through much beyond some more money for Haliburton and other profiteers to further militarize the borders. But the strains brought about by global capital's rapacious exploitation of all vulnerable labor will continue to afflict us for years to come unless the peoples of the world can get together to rein the system in.

1 comment:

janinsanfran said...

Seems that today the stake got stuck -- and If you want to see Bush looking like he got kicked in the stomach, take a look at this.

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