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Sunday, April 02, 2006

The protesters seem intent on ending border restraints, not improving immigrants' lives + Mothers leaving children behind + Europe's failed policies

From Joe Hicks in Los Angeles (a former Black Panther, previously ACLU communications department director and now Vice President of the L.A.-based human relations organization Community Advocates, Inc.) -- he's a really smart, astute, progressive yet pragmatic person and I respect him tremendously. I'm posting the entire column because it's so thoughtful and a necessary addition to the dialogue:

THE DEBATE over illegal immigration has reached a vigorous boil, with contrasting bills in the House and Senate and hundreds of thousands of protesters demonstrating nationwide. The complexities of this debate seem lost on many of the protesters. Many claim that what lies beneath reform efforts is raw racism, leading to the view that the recent protests signal a new civil rights movement.

It's simply not true. This nation's civil rights movement of the 1960s broke the back of white supremacy that prevented black Americans (who were citizens) from enjoying the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution. Undeniably, the freedoms codified by civil rights-era legislation have made life better for all Americans -- regardless of skin color, gender or national origin.

Now, many Latino immigrant-rights organizers and their sympathizers seem to be saying that there is some inherent right being expressed when people sneak into the country, thumb their noses at the law and make fools out of those who wait patiently in foreign lands for visas to come to the United States.

It is quite clear that many of those participating in the demonstrations have adopted the stance of the beleaguered victim, perceiving frustration about illegal immigration as racism. Some comments have been painfully ignorant. One protester said: "I'm here to make sure that Mexicans get their freedom, their rights." During the student protests, the American flag was only occasionally on display, while the Mexican flag was omnipresent. A student said he was waving the latter in support of La Raza (the race), while another asked why illegal immigrants were "treated like criminals." Perhaps he wasn't aware that crossing the U.S. border without the required visa is now, and always has been, against the law.

The participation of students, some as young as 13 and 14, is especially troubling given that all too many seemed clueless about the issues. Perhaps more puzzling is that some of the student walkouts took place on a day honoring the memory of Cesar Chavez. The great Chicano labor organizer held a march in 1969 from the Coachella and Imperial valleys to the Mexican border. Chavez and the United Farm Workers were protesting the use of illegal immigrants as strikebreakers. Further, Chavez believed that illegal immigration was antithetical to the wage interests of the migrant workers he represented.

What immigrant-rights groups refuse to acknowledge is that an unchecked flow of unskilled labor drives down wages for entry-level jobs, rendering all poor Americans, including millions of teenage workers, less than competitive.

Are illegal workers doing jobs that Americans won't do? This often-heard argument is specious. The reality is that most Americans won't do entry-level labor for the meager wages often offered to undocumented workers.

Activists seem focused on a political agenda that is fiercely anti-capitalist and intent on removing all border constraints. Nevertheless, protesters in Los Angeles were welcomed uncritically by the city's leaders. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the crowd of 500,000 last Saturday, "There are no illegal people here today." He added: "America was built on the backs of immigrants."

This is an obvious truism, but it obliterates the distinction between legal and illegal and mocks the rule of law. The immigration process continues to bring people from all parts of the world to these shores, but it has to be an orderly and lawful one.

Lawful or not, the United States cannot absorb all of the people who aspire to come here. A 2005 Pew Hispanic Center survey on attitudes toward immigration, conducted in part in Mexico, found that an estimated 70 million adults in Mexico would come to the U.S. if they had the means and the opportunity. About half of those said they would be willing to move to and work in this country illegally. The study also found that 35% of Mexican college graduates want to come to the U.S., even if that means they would have to work at a job below their qualifications --and many also said they'd be willing to come illegally.

What we are witnessing is not the birth of a new civil rights movement but the attempt to render meaningless the concept of border controls. Any march that can mobilize 500,000 people will get the attention of Washington's politicians, but this nation must not be deterred from securing its borders, enforcing the law and finding a way to humanely deal with the more than 11 million illegal residents already here.
He doesn't mention that when Americans travel to other countries we are expected to have IDs, passports and visas and don't find that burdensome or unreasonable. And if we move there or live there for extended periods of time we are generally expected to learn the language -- indeed, to survive, one must. It's also true that the children of immigrants do learn English once they are here and the grandchildren often have only English language skills and do not speak their grandparents' mother tongue -- which is not ideal in a global economy much less in a multi-generational, multi-cultural family.

The U.S. has done a poor job of promoting multi-language skills acquisition which is common throughout the developed nations of the world (and many undeveloped ones!). Most people I've known from Europe and Africa know at least three or four languages.

We're not exactly the most progressive, informed, educated people on the planet (despite our arrogant braggadocio) and as we continue to prove on a regular basis by the leaders we choose and the steady erosion of rights, benefits, wages, standards of living for workers, poor people and citizens already in this country, much less those who wish to join us.

Joe's column is in the LA Times.

Also in the Times, yet another compelling take on this thorny issue -- "The Love Left Behind: What will it take to keep mothers and their children from crossing the border?" -- written by Sonia Nazario whose Pulitzer Prize winning, astounding series "Enrique's Journey" has recently been released as a book.

Nazario concludes:

What I found out is that most immigrants would rather stay in their home countries with their extended families, with everything they know, than take the enormous risks required to cross the border and to make a new life here. Many women say it wouldn't take radical changes in their countries to keep them at home, by their children's sides. They say that if they had food to feed their children and clothes to put on their backs, if they could send them to school, or even if they had just the hope of doing so, they would never walk away, leaving behind their homes, their lives, the children themselves.




"Many Americans have become enamored of the European approach to immigration--perhaps without realizing it."

FAREED ZAKARIA
writes (rationally, factually) about how the conservative, xenophobic (House of Representatives') approach to immigration here (who says men can't be emotional, irrational and hysterical?) in the U.S. parallels Europe's failed, conservative, xenophobic immigrant policies in the upcoming International Edition of Newsweek here.

FINAL FOOTNOTE:
Here's an insightful, compassionate, first-person account of working in the agricultural fields and just how thankless and awful the work really, really is -- at The ERA Outside the Lines. They also carry the thoughtful political analysis, critiques and posts of Dr. John Bomar (living in Arkansas), whom I believe I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog. I'm on his mailing list and love to read his well-informed, opinion pieces (often based on his own first-hand experiences as well as factual research).

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