Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Five facts about immigration

At a Netroots California session on Saturday, Isabel Alegria from the California Immigrant Policy Center and Thomas Saenz of MALDEF facilitated a discussion of the vexatious problem of how to communicate about the need for humane, equitable solutions to the nation's scrambled immigration situation. MALDEF has issued a new one page fact sheet highlighting five facts they believe are not getting into the national discussion. I've reproduced these points below with my own ampification in following each in italic type.
  • We all know that the United States is primarily a nation of immigrants and their descendants. But, it is also true that the United States is an independent nation in part because of a reaction to a restrictive immigration policy. Among the grievances against King George set forth in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 was a concern that the king had worked to prevent and discourage immigration to the colonies.

    Jefferson's words in the Declaration of Independence indicted the British king for trying to "prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands."
  • Our status as one united nation also depends on having one immigration and immigration enforcement policy set by the federal government in Washington, DC. When the United States adopted its Constitution in 1787, the nation settled on being one united nation rather than a loose confederation of separate independent states. If each state, as Arizona attempted in SB 1070, could adopt its own immigration enforcement policy, we would cease to be one nation.

    Before the U.S. Constitution was ratified, the country was governed under the Articles of Confederation [1781-1786] which gave most power to the states, effectively denied the national state the power to tax or regulate commerce, and made it impossible to formulate a unified national foreign policy. If this sounds like the program of some of the wackiest Teabaggers like Sarah Palin and Rand Paul, you'd be right. Back to 1786 we go ... it didn't work then, either.
  • Critical industries in the United States depend on undocumented immigrant workers. Agricultural farming has been an important part of our history and remains a crucial industry today. Several studies have estimated that well over half of all agricultural crop workers in the United States are undocumented. Moreover, there are no indications that American-born workers have an interest in adopting the lifestyle of migratory farm workers.

    There's no indication that U.S. residents will work, especially in a piecework system, for what growers will pay.

    Bob Brody, who has an apple orchard [in Washington State], says he thinks the visa system is too expensive, and the other alternative -- hiring Americans -- is a fantasy. "They won't do it," he says. "Talk to any grower." his productive Red Delicious orchards, he's offering $15 per bin. At that rate, a fast worker can make $120 a day.

    A bin holds half a ton of apples. Workers with rights won't do that work for that money.
  • There is no single “line” to wait to immigrate legally to the United States. Our current immigration system discriminates on the basis of national origin, or ancestry, requiring much longer waits for those from countries like Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines. For example, the adult son or daughter of a United States citizen who comes from most countries in the world currently waits four to five years to immigrate, while the adult son or daughter of a naturalized United States citizen from Mexico must wait almost 18 years to receive a legal immigrant visa.

    According to a National Foundation for American Policy brief on Family Immigration, the system is full of arbitrary inequities. Some are shocking: "the wait time for a U.S. citizen petitioning for a brother or sister from the Philippines [to enter the U.S.] exceeds 20 years." People who don't have to deal with the intricacies of the immigration "system" have little idea how convoluted and unfair the present mess has become.
  • More than two million undocumented immigrants came to this country as minor children. Many of these immigrants went to school here and were raised as American kids. Our national values have never punished or blamed children for acts that they committed while under the direction of their parents.

    How can we possibly treat kids who had no say in immigrating as lawbreakers? We do. The DREAM Act is meant to remedy this situation. It would put undocumented young people who came when they were 15 or under, who graduate from high school in the U.S. and who complete two years of college or join the military on a path to citizenship. The military provision looks like a rather coercive war draft to some activists, but for the country not to welcome the energy and initiative of these young people is simply national stupidity. See also Immigration as a generational issue.
The United States has created a rat's nest of regulations, policies and practices about immigration. We need more facts about the realities more widely understood. And we need the political courage to enact reforms.

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