We are all immigrants . . . Aren't we?

The stories of the struggles that my great grandparents went through to get to Ellis Island are legendary. Immigration to the United States for opportunity, freedom, and religious tolerance has shaped my family’s traditions, my identity, and my values. The lesson that I learned from my immigrant history is that this is country of opportunity where everyone can be welcomed regardless of where you come from—that is what makes us uniquely American.

In the recent debates on immigration policy, those simple values that most of us grew up with seem to be missing from the debate. Did my great grandmother stow away on a ship from Germany with money in her pocket so that she could pay the “legal status” fee when she arrived? I don’t think so. Did she learn to speak English before she left? I know she didn’t. In fact, her insistence on speaking German at home was legendary. Like many people who arrive everyday from Haiti, Cambodia, Guatemala, Ghana, and other countries, world conflicts and failed economic policies put her in a position to make the very frightening choice to travel to strange country on the chance that maybe she would have a future without poverty and suffering.

So why don’t we welcome new immigrants now? Well, we weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms back then, and I know that there is some fear of security breaches at the borders. However, the current debate seems to equate immigration with terrorism, which is almost as ridiculous as purporting that Sadaam Hussein was connected with al-Qaida. (Hmmm.) The right-wingers have quite a few ridiculous things to say about immigration. This quote from Fox News' John Gibson featured on Media Matters was particularly outrageous:

"I think this kind of discussion by a major Hispanic political organization like la Raza casts a lot of suspicion about what open immigration groups are up to. There has been much discussion -- much discussion about the so-called reconquista, which is the retaking of old Mexico territories, which are now part of the United States, by pure birth rate.

We hear people say we are going to take it back and eventually -- that will eventually color the immigration debate in the way that Mexican-Americans and Hispanic immigrants will not want. La Raza is a group dedicated to the betterment of the race; good, but try being American while you are at it, guys. Eleven million people say they want to be Americans, they want to stay here, they want to be legal. Fine, just be Americans, learn the language so you can deal with the rest of us while you maintain your identity and your language and assimilate into American culture. That's how you make yourself welcome."

Seriously? Poor people who leave their families behind to climb over a wall and risk being shot by vigilantes to come to place to work for ridiculously low wages where they have no legal rights are secretly part of a “reconquista” conspiracy. Yeah, that makes sense. Here’s some good video of what is really going on the border.

Beyond this conspiracy propaganda, there is a pattern of even more insidious insidious racism and xenophobia that is infiltrating the debates on this issue. The most depressing part of this dialogue is that these wackos are dominating the debate on the issue of immigration. I don’t see many progressive voices in the blogosphere reaching over the cultural “fences” that divide us to speak out for the voiceless.

Okay, here is my disclaimer: I am working for the AFSC and Immigrant’s Rights are a priority for the group. However, I was looking for some other folks who are as outraged as I am by this, and there was very little being said about it in my normal circles, in spite of millions of people taking to the streets. (Here are some great photos of the protests in LA, btw.) So, I would like to start a substantive discussion about the progressive vision for immigration beyond the talking points -- we disagree with Pat Buchanan and Bush is pandering to the Hispanic community. Pew Research shows that most Americans are ambivalent about immigrants, as long as they are not affected financially. Ironically, US trade policies supported by conservatives to protect our economy have caused the recent waves of migration from countries where trade agreements have ruined the economies.

So, it looks like we need some guiding principles, since we are not going to get much help from the ever-withering D’s (even though this could be greatest political opportunity before 2008). I think the AFSC’s 6 principles for a compassionate immigration policy are a good place to start. There are big events being planned for April 10, so watch out for what is going on in your community—the Rapid Response section of the AFSC will have details in the coming days. Also, please add more sources of strong progressive views on immigration to my list and help link up the network.

a few things

First- we may have all been immigrants, but most of our relatives were not illegal immigrants. (Unless of course your relatives were settlers, and then, well, I guess it's not necissarily legal, though without any gov't what is law?)

Second- this is not how most illegal immigrants arrive in the US:
"Poor people who leave their families behind to climb over a wall and risk being shot by vigilantes"

I believe that most of them drive or fly legally and then overstay their visas. I may be wrong, but I've heard/read this on numerous occasions.

Now, here's the thing that I want to talk about, why should we be allowing employers to willingly break employment laws to fatten their pockets at the expense of the American working class? Maybe we do need more workers, though with the percentage of Americans in the workforce at a pretty bad level and with wages falling for a good number (most?) of Americans, I really doubt it.

Here's my question: why isn't the left completely up in arms about the complete disregard for labor laws exhibited by the employers of illegal immigrants? How can we expect the middle and lower classes to keep up, never mind get ahead, when we allow foreign workers who have MUCH lower expenses in their home countries to take jobs at below market rates?

IMO- it should be a felony to hire an illegal immigrant (but I don't think it should be a felony to be here illegally). If you can't find an American to do the work you need done for a wage that is acceptable for American living standards, then you need a new business model. And if you can't make money within the legal system and you decide to take matters into your own hands, well, you deserve to go to jail as much as pot dealers do.

Draft Zinni! It's Security, Stupid! and Blue Force Blog | Progressive National Security, National Security Progressives

Illegal vs. Legal

Americans aren't ambivalent about illegal immigrants; 53% - according to the Pew poll - think they should be sent home. With respect to legal immigration, shouldn't we as a country have a right to decide how many and how fast people immigrate here? Also, I'm concerned about the environmental implications of our exploding population; don't hear this talked about much.

on Alex's point

The reality is that there are people "up in arms" about employers' ability to exploit undocumented workers. We are the people who are supporting comprehensive immigration reform, which will give undocumented workers the same rights to enforce the law against their employers that other workers have.

For an excellent de-bunking of some right-wing myths about 'illegal' immigrants, I offer this link: http://alisavaldesrodriguez.blogspot.com/2006/04/more-stupidity-in-my-in...

most of us illegal immigrants

not only are most of us illegal immigrants. the U.S. illegally took what we now know as Texas from Mexico.

i say, make the wall impregnable. primarily for National Security reasons. i stood for this before 9/11. drug trafficing is killing more people in the U.S. than terrorism has and will.

the undocumented workers should get temporary work allowances then return to the countries they came from. the allowances should be in the neigborhood of 18 to 36 months. the rights as workers should be guaranteed. things like minimum wage, OSHA standards, 40 hour work weeks with the option of overtime at 150% the regular rate.

let's not forget the effect of NAFTA and U.S. led neo-liberalism has on the economic situation in Mexico.

as a political opportunists any one left of the Republican Party should remember Bush carried 40% of the Latino vote in '04. we need to make inrodas into that voter bloc.

George W. bush was the first President to call slavery immigration.

Enslaved African weren't Immigrants

We were not all immigrants - some were brought on slaveships. Why? The same type of economic exploitation that exists with illegal immigrants from American greed.

Enslaved Africans weren't Immigrants

We were not all immigrants in America - some were brought on slaveships. Why? The same type of economic exploitation that exists with illegal immigrants from the same type of American greed.

yeah, but...

Let's say that all of the immigrants became citizens, and that they too could try and enforce the rules on their bosses. What would prevent their employers from simply firing them and hiring other illegal immigrants.

But- while I'm not sure about which comprehensive plan you're referring to, I do think that we have to come to terms with the fact that the vast majority of the immigrants who are here, legally or otherwise, are here to stay, if for no other reason than it's logistically impossible to deport them all, or even a high percentage of them.

Draft Zinni! It's Security, Stupid! and Blue Force Blog | Progressive National Security, National Security Progressives

strange issue

Immigration is such a strange issue, simply because our government thinks they "own" the United States and the concept that is "America". It is not just that we were all immigrants once, but our forefathers stole the land from Native Americans.

Obviously I am not looking to have al Qaeda on my doorstep, but really, who are we to say that non-violent, hard-working people cannot come into the US to make a better life for themselves?

Instead of closing the borders, why not set up agreements with the other countries and get them to establish good wages so that people do not want to come here. If they could earn comparable wages, most people would want to stay with their families.

well...

Immigration Defined

George Bush is an idiot. Still, I don't see how slaves being unwilling immigrants, makes them not immigrants.

Dictionary.com: 2 entries found for immigration.

To enter and settle in a country or region to which one is not native. See Usage Note at migrate.

v. tr.

To send or introduce as immigrants: Britain immigrated many colonists to the New World.

comprehensive immigration reform

means immigration reform that is not just about enforcing the borders & locking people up. It includes a path to legal status for workers who are currently in the country. The House bill that passed (Rep. Sensenbrenner's bill) is an enforcement-only bill. Most of the bills that have been discussed in the Senate (excluding Sen. Frist's bill) have some elements of comprehensive reform--whether those are worker protections, or ability for undocumented students to go to community colleges, or amending existing programs like the agricultural guest worker program.

I don't believe that immigration reform is a panacea to all of the problems of low-wage immigrant workers, but it's one part of the solution. As someone who works for a union and is a third generation union member, I would certainly argue in favor of organizing service workers as another part of the solution.

One of the major problems that I have with the enforcement-only crowd is their insistence on a one-size-fits-all solution for the problem, that doesn't deal with the reality of people's lives.

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