After the shadowy Bush years, the emergence of reasonable policy can be a little surprising. Immigration law has suffered from a lack of planning and is often influenced by fear rooted in the Sept. 11 attacks. But the national dialogue on immigration has begun to grow healthier. Activists, immigration advocacy groups and Latino and Asian American communities dug in and are working toward reform. Right wing and anti-immigration voices have less sway. This week we see two tangible and positive developments on this front: An announcement from the White House regarding detention policy reform and a letter against aggressive enforcement sent to the White House from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
The White House’s latest announcement on immigration detention reform is encouraging, as it finally addresses the abysmal conditions of the detained, who include families and children. Though, as Michelle Chen muses for RaceWire, what is the overall purpose of these proposed improvements in detention facilities and policies? Are they simply to make the general public more comfortable? After reviewing the latest reform proposals for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers, Chen finds a lot of hype and not many details. She writes that despite any makeover, “the central, defining reality of detention remains the banishment of hundreds of thousands for violating a system of rules that is itself guilty of systematically violating rights.” So reason may be returning, but in some cases, it may only be turning the corner, and hardly arrived as of yet.
On the heels of a recent letter to the White House that demanded an end to aggressive enforcement policies, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has weighed in. The lawmakers sent President Barack Obama a letter that underlined the connection between racial profiling, civil rights abuses, and the 287(g) program, which deputizes local law enforcement with border patrol powers. The caucus called on the administration to “immediately terminate” the program. They wrote that in their collective experience, “state and local law enforcement officials actually use their expanded and often unchecked powers under the program to target immigrants and persons of color.”
The “tough” angle of U.S. immigration policy can be traced, of course, to the national response to the attacks of September 11. This was when enforcement began to take an aggressive, combative shape. But does it serve us today? Instead of viewing the changing demographics of the nation as a phenomenon deserving a military response, it is more helpful to have a dialogue like The American Forum’s Rev. J. George Reed and Chris Liu-Beers, who discuss the root causes of immigration. Harsher enforcement has little value, according to Reed and Liu-Beers. The conversation must include “American trade policy (including NAFTA),” the economic conditions and lack of opportunity in “sending” countries. They also assert that the idea of somehow deporting 12 million people from our country is but “ugly fantasy.”
Sometimes reasonable conversation on the immigration issue arrives as studied fact, taking the form of reports such as the recent Principles for an Immigration Policy to Strengthen and Expand the American Middle Class: 2009 Edition, which Michele Waslin reports on for Alternet. “The myth that immigration is bad for U.S. workers has sulled the immigration debate for far too long,” writes Waslin. And the study reinforces one of the more benevolent notions in the U.S. national identity: that our social body so often nourished by immigration, benefits from this cycle. Immigration reform, properly planned (based on reason, and not fear) can “harness the positive contributions of immigrants, thus improving the lives of middle class Americans.” However, under the current system, “undocumented workers are vulnerable and exploitable, living at the mercy of their employers,” and to the detriment of all of us.
Last month, Lindsay Beyerstein pushed back against a bogeyman used by those of the Joe “You Lie” Wilson ilk for In These Times. She asks “Why Not Cover Undocumented Migrants?” Beyerstein explains why allowing the undocumented to buy into insurance would be better for all of us. “As a group, migrants tend to be young and healthy,” and this is a desirable demographic to insure, on the part of the health insurance industry. Migrants often “return home before they get to the inevitable ‘old and expensive’ phase of life.” Additionally, inherent to how insurance works, it simply makes economic sense to spread the risk to a larger group of people. All in all, Beyerstein writes, “there’s no good economic reason to make eligibility contingent upon immigration status.”
The changing dialogue benefits from independent reporting, like Wiretap’s coverage of FBI informant Ahmad Afzali. The facts are not all in, but according to the FBI, Afzali, who had been working with the U.S. government agency for over a year, is accused of tipping off alleged terrorist Najibullah Zazi. Afzali’s attorney claims this would be a ridiculous action to take on a line he knew was tapped. Meanwhile, the Muslim community where Zazi lived feel that he is not being fairly treated, his own words being “distorted and used against him.” Whichever way this goes, we can only hope that Muslim communities in the U.S. are afforded a bit more peace of mind in the years ahead. It certainly is one group that has suffered at the hands of wartime hysteria and aggression.
We can’t exclude reasonable consideration from any one group of humans. We can not withhold humane treatment, nor an identification with any group in our nation. That is how national ID laws get passed—an “othered” group is used first. Then, it comes to the rest. This is also why certain youth are punished, even though laws were passed long ago to protect other youth from such fates. We see where the insistence of anti-immigrant irrationality leads us: To building “national security” walls in the desert that eat up billions of a national budget just to patch the holes, and accomplish just as much death on that lonely trail to opportunity.
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