The road to citizenship isn’t exactly shovel ready. In my latest column for Salon, I look at how yet again Democrats have put a watered down compromise on the table — only for Republicans to still attack it. Argh!
There are many good things about the Gang of Eight bill, but here’s the bad:
If you came into the United States after December 31, 2011, you cannot get on the road to citizenship. If you come into the United States on the proposed W-visa for low-wage workers, you cannot get on the road to citizenship. If you committed document or passport fraud or any one of an expanded list of infractions, you cannot get on the road to citizenship. If you are the same-sex spouse or partner of a permanent resident or citizen, you cannot get on the road to citizenship.
Plus even if you can get to the road, it’s layered with traps. First of all, new system would be strongly tied to employment and employers. That makes it hard for the millions of undocumented immigrants contributing to the informal economy to prove their work history and qualify for citizenship. And new immigrants coming into the country may be unduly beholden to the whims, and potential abuses, of employers.
Read my full reaction here — and let me know what you think!
You’ve gotta admit, it just doesn’t feel right. Conservatives rail against “illegals” “sneaking across the border” with language laden with racial code — despite the fact that most immigrants are white and just overstay their visas. But then a Christian evangelical white family from Germany is denied asylum and conservatives rally around their cause? Seriously?
From my latest for Salon:
Look, this is how racial stereotyping works. No one comes right out and says, “We only like the immigrants who look like us.” They say things like, “The immigration system worked very well up until the mid-1960s” (Rep. Michele Bachmann) and “White America was kind of unified” in the 1950s, which “made it easier for society to function” (Bill O’Reilly, ignoring that Irish folks like him were once considered non-white). They call undocumented immigrants an “invasive species” that “contributes to the overall deterioration of the culture of this society” (Rush Limbaugh). The racialized message is mostly implied but nonetheless crystal clear — white immigrants, especially from Europe, are good, and dark-skinned immigrants, especially from Mexico, are bad. Which explains how a swath of conservatives so opposed to immigrant rights could be shouting from the rooftops in support of one family from Germany.
Read the rest here.
I helped make this video back in 2008. Juan, the subject of the film, went on to be one of the leaders of the DREAM Act movement, including marching from Miami to Washington in the Trail of DREAMs. This is one of the first videos I ever produced, but still one of my favorites.
Congratulations to Juan and all the DREAM students on their hard-fought victory. America thanks you for helping our nation live up to its own dreams.
I am proud of America.
Though we have long dangled the promise of the American Dream in front of the world, we have more recently too often used our nation’s promise to taunt others. In a world of economic struggle, in no small part created by policies pushed by big business through our government onto the globe, millions have come to see America as an oasis of bread and water amidst strife. It may be a mirage, as poverty within America is growing, but still, millions come to America looking for sustenance and salvation, only to be condemned and told to get in the back of a line that has been far too long and far too broken for far too long.
For some time now, American businesses have actively subverted our nation’s laws in order to lure low-wage immigrant workers and increase their corporate bottom line. But those on the Right don’t attack big business for this dynamic, they blame those poor and desperate enough to follow the trail of crumbs the businesses set. Somehow, immigrant workers who are picking our fruit and cleaning our homes are stealing from America, but millionaires and billionaires who pay lower taxes than the rest of us are just keeping what they earned. It strikes me as profoundly hypocritical that conservatives who repeatedly proclaim themselves the defenders of patriotism and American history so blatantly lionize our nation’s kings but vilify its immigrants. King George III gained his wealth and power through entirely legal means and was the rightful leader of the American colonies, while Christopher Columbus was an undocumented immigrant. But American history firmly sides with the latter.
Of course, with President Obama’s executive order to halt deportations of young, undocumented immigrants and students, we’re not even talking about the hardworking mothers and fathers who came to our great country looking for hope and possibility. We’re talking about their kids, who were brought here when they were two years old, three years old, maybe 10 or 11, for whom America is all they have ever known. These are the so-called easy cases, the most sympathetic immigrants among our nation’s undocumented, the kids who only speak English and want to be able to go to college to become doctors or teachers or entrepreneurs. But still, those on the Right attack these young Americans as law breaking criminals who steal jobs from rightful Americans. Wall Street executives who drained billions in wealth from middle class families? Model citizens. Young Americans who want the same opportunities my great-grandparents sought? “Illegals” we should lock up and deport. Policy disagreements aside, the sort of inhumanity with which the Right wing talks about undocumented immigrants in America reflects a deep nastiness that darkens the heart of our nation.
Apparently, conservatives think the free market should not be free and open to everyone. Apparently, conservatives think that economic opportunity should be doled out according to a first-come, first served policy, not hard work. Apparently, they think wealth is not a zero-sum game when it comes to taxing the rich but jobs and opportunity are finite when it comes to the poor. Apparently, they think that more people working hard doesn’t multiply opportunity but somehow depletes it.
Economic opportunity is indeed elusive in America. But somehow, many feeling that insecurity take comfort in or at least overlook the notion of a growing class of robber barons yet are deeply threatened by Latino/a immigrants coming to America to work for less than the minimum wage. Over the last several decades, productivity in America has risen while real wages have declined. That is simply not the fault of immigrants. But perhaps blaming immigrants is easier than blaming our entire economic system, which is increasingly designed to bilk working class and middle class families for the benefit of the very rich. But I can’t help but wonder… if conservatives were right, if all the undocumented immigrants left the United States tomorrow and unemployed Americans took all those mostly-crappy, low-paying jobs, so that the already-profound gap between high income and low-income earners were to yawn even wider and the wealth gap increase, is that the Right’s idea of a solution? Sounds infinitely worse to me than treating our fellow human beings with basic decency and extending them the opportunity that we have so long held out for the world’s awe.
President Obama did the right thing. I wish he’d done it sooner. Providing a path to citizenship for America’s undocumented immigrants was supported by President George W. Bush and, incidentally, last enacted by President Ronald Reagan. So at the very least, I hope that conservative vitriol against undocumented immigrants has more to do with President Obama supporting them than any inherent, inhuman nastiness. I hope… Regardless, I am very proud of America and very proud to share her promise more broadly.
I’m thrilled that the United States helped dissident activist Chen Guangchen flee China. Now why aren’t we as hospitable to other immigrants who want to come to America, including undocumented immigrants seeking a better life for their families? Questions raised by this infographic:
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good.” And so it is with Congress. For within hours of passing legislation to repeal the military’s ban on gay and lesbian soldiers, the Senate failed to pass legislation granting a path to citizenship for thousands of undocumented immigrant students.
And so it is not without a significant taste of sourness on my tongue that I congratulate America’s undocumented immigrants for being the latest winner in the ugly reality show that is our nation’s constant search for an underclass to bear the brunt of all blame and punishment for whatever happens to be wrong at the moment.
No, America’s big bank CEOs and Wall Street titans didn’t win this year. Despite record breaking bonuses paid for with tax dollar bailouts — and despite the fact that their economic policies have driven undocumented immigration all along — the super-rich are sponsoring the judges so… the results shouldn’t be that surprising. It’s not like Tyra Banks is getting backed by a bunch of farmworkers in a field…
Few were surprised that immigrants finally took the top of the punching bag totem pole this year. After all, they’ve already been blamed for everything from high unemployment to rising healthcare costs to global warming. Now that the gay folks have finally won the repeal of the blatantly discriminatory and un-American law banning their service in the military, watch for immigrants pick up the slanderous slack. Soon, we’ll be blaming undocumented immigrants for America’s divorce rate and for the fact that more and more young boys are emulating Adam Lambert (whose ancestors were reportedly immigrants).
Leaders of the culture war have yet to figure out how to reconcile blaming their old nemesis the gays for not procreating with attacking Latino immigrants for procreating too much. “We have to figure this one out or we’ll just look stupid,” said one insider with information about the turmoil within Right wing organizations.
That’s not to say that the gays will have it easy. The fact that same sex couples still can’t marry or even visit each other in the hospital and the ongoing prevalence of violence against and suicide within the gay community will keep the gay contingent in the running for next year’s Top Scapegoat competition. We’ll see how the absurdly offensive call for separate showers in the military plays out.
Anyway, some in the gay community were sad to lose this year. “I’m so used to being part of the most hated, demonized sub-group in America,” said B. G. Kween. “At least if I wasn’t treated as a full part of America, I could connect to the long and sad legacy of people’s throughout history who have been stepped on and spit on by the ruling elite.”
But as a gay non-immigrant myself, I’m happy to concede at least something to the undocumented immigrant community. I mean, after being forced to flee their homelands by economic conditions many of which the United States created, being coaxed to our country by corrupt companies to do dangerous and underpaid work and then being constantly treated not only as less-than-American but, frankly, less-than-human, it’s about time undocumented immigrants win something. Yes, the Next Top Scapegoat contest isn’t much fun to win — and the prize, even more discrimination and injustice at the hand of demagogues, is even worse. But as Emerson said, at least the sour can have something sweet — the pride at knowing that in a nation historically obsessed with producing and maintaining oppressed communities, your community is the top of the bottom of the heap. Congratulations!
And let me also pass on my thanks to the United States Senate, who managed to stand for the best of our nation’s values and the worst of our nation’s narrow-mindedness within the same 24 hours. That’s quite a feat!
Sally Kohn is a community organizer and progressive political commentator. She is the Founder and Chief Education Officer of the Movement Vision Lab.
The immigrant rights movement is in a frenzy over a recent piece on Truthout written by some of the young undocumented students pushing for passage of the DREAM Act. In the essay, Jonathan Perez, Jorge Guitierrez, Nancy Meza and Neidi Dominguez Zamorano turn their anger at the DREAM Act’s failure not on the Senators who failed to vote for cloture, or on the Republican Party in general which has backed down on support for immigration reform. No, in the tried and true tradition of circling the wagons and shooting ourselves, the DREAM activists are attacking the mainstream immigrant rights movement.
Let me stop here and clarify that I do not believe unanimity in movements is a good thing. Healthy and vibrant debate, and even dissent, is essential — not only in creating a spectrum of ideological perspectives and thus appealing entry points for all different sorts of people to join the movement, but also because debate and dissent keeps a movement accountable. It’s important that we remember there would have been no Civil Rights legislation but for Malcolm X and the Black Panthers whose relative extremism made Martin Luther King and his adherents seem more reasonable to the powers-that-be. At the same time, Malcolm and the Panthers also pushed King to be more radical — an essential force in keeping the mainstream Civil Rights movement from being dangerously co-opted by the liberal establishment.
That said, there’s a difference between dissent and disrespect. The DREAM activists have crossed the line.
The DREAMers (as they’re called within the immigrant rights field) have a litany of critiques of their mainstream colleagues. Mainstream immigrant rights groups are part of the “non-profit industrial complex” and thus beholden to capitalist structures and foundation interests, instead of challenging them. Mainstream groups are not staffed by undocumented immigrants, yet claim to speak for undocumented communities. And mainstream leaders, the DREAMers claim, are not “putting their bodies and lives on the line” for reform while the young undocumented activists are.
For the record, I think that the direct action on all parts of the immigrant rights movement (DREAMers included) has been largely tame and uninspired, with a few exceptions like the Trail of Dreams, in which four undocumented students walked from Florida to DC to demand reform. The power of direct action in past movements, including the often-correlated Civil Rights movement, wasn’t that it was large or dangerous. It was that the direct action was beautiful, powerful — like a physical metaphor of injustice played out before people’s eyes. If you’re not allowed to eat with white people at a lunch counter, sitting at that lunch counter is a visual illustration of the rights you want and how wrong it is to deny them. For undocumented immigrants who don’t have the right to work or vote or live in America, marching in the streets doesn’t have the same visceral power. In fact, unfortunately, seeing millions of immigrants take to the streets in 2006 was arguably a wake up call to Americans either hostile toward or unsure about immigration reform who all of the sudden realized just how many immigrants we have in our country. Arguably, instead of inspiring compassion, the marches inspired a backlash.
Still, make no mistake about it, everyone on every side of this movement marched and many took arrests. Meanwhile, leaders within the mainstream immigrant rights and grassroots organizations organized strategy sessions over the past four years to explore more aggressive and effective tactics for direct action, studying models from Eastern Europe and Latin America. I am sure that each of these activists — volunteer leaders in these organizations as well as paid staff — would gladly put their lives on the line for this cause in which they believe so deeply, if they only knew what to do and how it would make a difference. The DREAMers weren’t any more sure on this tactical level.
Second, yes, the mainstream groups (including grassroots organizations in the Fair Immigration Reform Movement grouping as well as Washington-based organizations) are for the most part staffed by documented immigrants. In several cases, these staffers are children or grandchildren of immigrants. And in some cases they’re white guys. It’s appropriate to scrutinize this (especially the white guys leading immigrant rights organizations phenomenon). However, the grassroots volunteer leaders of these organizations are undocumented, and the best of these organizations are truly led by these members. What’s more, if we’re going to get into an identity politics breakdown, while the young DREAM Act leaders are mainly those who want to go to college and thereby gain citizenship, the undocumented members of most “mainstream” grassroots immigrant rights groups are low-wage workers who are struggling to make a living and support their families and were not going to be helped, immediately or ever, by a DREAM Act that helps kids on a more elite path.
And yes, the immigrant rights groups being critiqued are 501(c)3s. So are lots of the groups critiquing them. But more importantly, it was these very same 501(c)3s that incubated and trained the DREAM Act students, hosted their meetings and supported their travel, provided media support and in countless other ways encouraged and facilitated the DREAMers’ work. At the same time, many of these 501(c)3s are deeply critical of the limitations on non-profits, the challenges of funding, etc. Still, they are working within the system we have right now to push the boundaries of what’s possible and win change.
In 2007, the first time comprehensive immigration reform failed, I was working for the Center for Community Change (which organizes the Fair Immigration Reform Movement and is now a leader in the national Reform Immigration FOR America campaign). As leaders and staff from grassroots groups were literally in tears about the demise of a path to citizenship, a staff person from another immigrant rights group publicly condemned us “Washington insiders” for “working behind the scenes” and “selling out” the immigrant community. Huh? Do you think that’s how it works? That the “mainstream” immigrant rights groups have all the power and are happily accepting atrocious terms like guestworker programs and harsh border enforcement and deportation rules, working behind the scenes to actually screw over their constituents — the very folks we’ve all worked tirelessly for decades to help? It’s one thing to criticize. It’s another to be naïve. Mainstream immigration groups held meetings with the White House, organized hundreds of thousands of calls into Congress, held demonstrations and a huge rally in Washington, got unprecedented mainstream press endorsements, but still couldn’t pass comprehensive immigration reform. Come to think of it, the DREAMers suggesting the “mainstream” immigrant rights groups are remotely mainstream betrays a deep misunderstanding of these dynamics.
Personally, I’ll go on record believing that the entire immigrant rights movement (CIR supporters and DREAMers alike) should not have tried for legislative victory at all this year. The backlash from 2006 and 2007 was too strong and, though perhaps less severe than under the reign of the Minutemen, more widespread thanks to the visibility of the Tea Party and increased audience of Fox News. Somehow, even though over 67% of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform, the anti-immigrant climate was too strong to be overcome. Immigrant groups should have spent the past two years on a longer-term majoritarian strategy to change the mainstream climate, rather than a Hail Mary minority interest strategy to persuade Congress that Latino votes were dependent on reform. Just as the vocal Tea Part has been exerting disproportionate power over the political discussion, the vocal anti-immigrant forces — albeit fringe — drowned out the numerically significant but culturally powerless supporters of justice.
Still, everyone gave it their best shot. Everyone. And, all parsing of tactical and strategic choices aside, perhaps the best thing that can be said for the “mainstream” immigrant rights groups was that they kept fighting, hard though it was, for a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants — maintaining their principles and justice and equality and not giving up on winning for the entire community. The DREAM Act kids, unfortunately, felt held back, and wanted to win the DREAM Act even if it meant pushing aside comprehensive immigration reform. Interestingly, the DREAM Act would have only helped the DREAM kids — while comprehensive immigration reform would have helped the DREAM kids and everyone else. I really admire the courage and boldness of the young DREAM Act leaders — but I wish that, in the aftermath of a collective and hard defeat, they weren’t acting like petulant children.
We need to stop calling undocumented immigrants in the United States “illegal”. A more appropriate term is: New American Heroes.
Why are undocumented immigrants heroes?
Millions of Americans, immigrants and citizens, work incredibly hard every single day in ridiculously low paying jobs that are the life-blood of our economy but are barely life-sustaining in return. I think every person who gets up at the crack of dawn or in the middle of the night to work one or two or even three jobs so they can pay the rent and put food on the table are heroes. But as hard as it is for every low-wage worker in the United States (and increasingly, middle class folks too) undocumented immigrants face additional, greater obstacles. These undocumented immigrants are heroes, too.
I certainly don’t have what it would take to survive if I was forced to flee my home country because of economic or political insecurity, travel thousands of miles in sometimes life-threatening conditions, move to somewhere where I probably don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language, and do the most thankless and backbreaking jobs like picking vegetables in the 100 degree sun or washing pots in a restaurant — all to help my family survive. I think that is heroic.
But whether we’re talking about undocumented immigrants in low-wage jobs or middle class immigrants who overstayed their visas, as a nation we have always believed that the pursuit of the American dream is heroic. Given that the rest of the world has long paid the price for sustaining the American dream (in terms of natural resources, cheap labor, wars, etc.), it’s only fair that immigrants should in turn hope to share in that dream. Through our cultural dominance of the globe, we repeatedly hold up the American dream as an ideal to which everyone should aspire — and, we tell the world, one in which everyone is included. It’s only fair that others should want in.
Some argue that all makes sense but still, why can’t all immigrants just take the legal path to the American dream? Because, increasingly, there isn’t one. Two very important facts have changed in the last decade that significantly impact the immigration equation.
First, in 1994, NAFTA was passed. Now, true, Mexico signed it — but it was largely under the coercion of big international business interests. The result was the devastation of Mexico’s economy by larger corporations in the US that flooded their market with cheaper products. A lot of that was corn, which we subsidize with our tax dollars here — and that artificially cheap corn imported into Mexico drastically undercut local farmers. Folks who had been surviving for generations as farmers and local business people are now seriously struggling.
Second, two years later, the United States passed a harsh immigration reform law that, ostensibly, made it much harder for immigrants already here (and with proper papers) to get citizenship AND made it harder for migrants from certain countries — especially Mexico and Central America — to come here in the first place.
So you pass United States policy that intentionally smothers small farmers and shopkeepers, etc., in Mexico AND THEN you change immigration policy so that these now-much-more-desperate immigrants can’t come to the US.
Why is it our corn can cross the border to “compete” in Mexico’s economy but Mexicans can’t cross the border to compete here?
In this context, the word “illegal” in the immigration debate is not only divisive but misnomer. If anything, the United States’ political acts should be deemed “illegal”, not the acts of well-meaning immigrants left with no other choice. Moreover, throughout history, we have celebrated those who disobey unjust laws in the name of justice. Undocumented immigrants today are carrying the torch of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Sojourner Truth — great leaders who understood that sometimes we must all answer to higher laws, to a higher belief in freedom and equality for all. In the great tradition of the American Revolution, resisting unjust laws — even if doing so is technically illegal — is an act of heroism.
On May 1, 2010, hundreds of thousands of heroes marched in cities and towns across the United States demanding a workable path to citizenship that will move our entire nation forward together. Just as it would be unthinkable for President Obama and Congress to ignore the demands of military war heroes, we cannot ignore the dire situation facing these heroes of economic wars our country has wrought. Just as undocumented immigrants recognize higher good than broken immigration laws, the President and Congress must find higher guidance than what is considered politically safe.
The word hero comes from Greek meaning to protect or defend. Undocumented immigrants are protecting and defending something much more important than borders (which big business erased long ago). Undocumented immigrants are defending the very definition of America, one that has always promised opportunity for all newcomers and, with any hope, always will.
op-ed originally published April 28, 2010 in Christian Science Monitor
In late 2007, Oklahoma legislators enacted what was then the nation’s toughest anti-immigrant law. Mere months later, state Sen. Harry Coates – the only Republican legislator to vote against the measure – said, “You really have to work hard at it to destroy our state’s economy, but we found a way. We ran off the workforce.”
Perhaps the only upside of Arizona’s new, even harsher anti-immigrant legislation is for Oklahoma, where immigrants and citizens may flee as Arizona’s economy crumbles in the aftermath of its hateful legislative action.
Oklahoma HB 1804, passed in November 2007, cut off undocumented immigrants from state services and made it a crime for anyone, including citizens, to provide transport or assistance to undocumented immigrants.
One study suggests the bill led to an estimated 50,000 people fleeing Oklahoma and a 1.3 percent drop in economic output statewide. As a result, Oklahoma may well have incurred $1.8 billion in economic losses, just as it, like the rest of the nation, was bracing for recession.
That’s a steep price to pay for what even some proponents of the law have acknowledged is a rarely enforced, mostly symbolic measure that has the primary impact of creating a “culture of fear” for the state’s Latino community, both legal and nonlegal residents, causing not only economic harm but psychological pain as well.
It is this culture of fear that connects Oklahoma and Arizona. Both are states littered with crumbling farms and factories and aging populations who feel that any prospect of prosperity is passing them by.
But instead of building a 21st century global economy that works for everyone, Oklahoma and Arizona imagine that kicking out new immigrants will somehow turn the clock back 30 or 40 years, to some heyday that never really existed but, more to the point, could never exist again in our current context.
Immigrants who are stimulating our economy now come from Mexico and the Philippines, not Germany and Poland. Our greatest economic prospects lie in information technology, not corn or manufacturing. Exurbs and urban renewal lure young people to the coasts more than ever. But the reality is, that is nothing new.
Forty years ago, folks in Arizona and Oklahoma were complaining that the immigrants weren’t Irish or Scandinavian, and Tucson and Oklahoma City were luring kids from the countryside. Change is unavoidable. What we can avoid is reacting with irrational fear and scapegoating and hate.
Arizona’s new law will undoubtedly cause even greater economic losses in that state, given that it’s not only harsher, but Arizona has a larger immigrant population and the law is receiving greater national scrutiny. Kristen Jarnagin, spokesperson for the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association, noted that the state’s significant tourism industry “is certain to experience the unintended consequences of the economic backlash” from the passage of the new law, SB 1070. Already, immigrant rights groups and allies are calling for boycotts of the state.
In 2008, Arizona tourism brought $18.5 billion in revenues into the state. Even a slight dent in that income will be deleterious.
Arizonans are understandably focused on the need for immigration reform. The state is the main port of entry for new immigrants and, as in all states, the recession is putting financial limits on already-strained public services.
Arizona is stepping in to fill the gap left by the failure of Congress to pass workable immigration reform that creates a path to citizenship and moves us all forward together.
Extremist and hateful as Arizona’s law is, it may unfortunately be just the beginning of reactionary state lawmaking if Congress continues to stall.
The negative lessons that Oklahoma has learned, and which Arizona is about to learn, may not be enough to counter fanatical frustration in the face of federal inaction.
If you read the comments on local news websites and blogs where some angry and vocal native Arizonans express support for SB 1070, the professed need for self-defense often overshadows common human decency.
“If someone breaks in to your home, you have every right to shoot them dead,” wrote one poster on the Tucson Fox News affiliate’s website. “The USA is our home, why don’t we have the same right? Sounds extreme, but nothing seems to be working.”
But other than being downright hateful and inhuman, Oklahoma already learned the real impact of this attitude: You only end up shooting yourself in the foot.
NEW YORK TIMES PROFILE
JOIN SALLY’S EMAIL LIST
FOR A GOOD TIME, FOLLOW
RUMORS ABOUT MELoading Quotes...
TV DOESN’T PAY THE BILLSMake a tax-deductible contribution via our fiscal sponsor, the Grassroots Policy Project
POPULAR TAGS2012 Election 2012 Elections barack obama budget capitalism civility Congress corporations debt deficit democrats economy feminism financial reform Fox News gay rights Glenn Beck government greed ideology inequality jobs marriage equality Mitt Romney Obama occupy wall st occupy wall street Paul Ryan popular education populism president obama progressive protests race racism Republicans Right wing sexism social movements strategy taxes Tea Party unions values Wall Street