Sunday, March 21, 2010

Immigration in the United States

It was during the Muslim workshop at the Beyond Borders conference that I articulated what I felt to be the major themes of any dialogue related to the reception of migrants. In fact, these themes not only relate to migration, but the way we view the other in general. You can name the issues as fear, xenophobia and a lack of empathy.

“The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you: They are unique manifestations of the human spirit”-Wade Davis. Cornel West echoes this philosophy in his statement that it is wrong in a post-racial world to say that we should live as color blind citizens. NO. In fact, we should embrace those of other colors, countries, religions, cultures and traditions as being unique; as having their own equal manifestation of that wonderful human spirit; most importantly, as being our equal despite our differences.

It is perhaps ironic that I am currently reading the memoir of Edward Said. I thought of Dr. Said as I was sitting in the various workshops and lectures listening to the reasons that people migrate. The primary reasons are economic or political exile. The United States currently only recognizes political exile. We preach in our national and Capitalistic philosophies that everyone is entitled to achieve success through the fruits of their own hard labor combined with ambition. However, in practice this rarely plays out. In fact, it is a lie from the ruling classes to keep the poor and working class in constant submission. Capitalism always amounts to a failed economic policy for the poor and working class, but is a brilliant system in that it allows for the illusion of freedom to be perpetuated by the upper 1%. We are taught from our youth that we too can become rich if we only work hard enough. It is soon discovered that being rich is an exclusive and limited club because the entrance requirements are steep and are controlled by an elite that wants to stay elite. Race, culture, family, intelligence, environment and endless other factors play into the decision making process of who has and who has nothing.

How does Capitalism relate to immigration? Well, since the United States does not allow economic exile, the poor looking for a better way of life are often forced to enter illegally. This is especially the case in those coming north to the United States from Mexico, Central and Latin America. It is here where the illusion of equality in the Capitalistic system breaks down. So often, and through so many people, we hear that if people want to live in this country, then they need to go through legal means. Migrants must learn our language, must obtain the proper paperwork (become documented) and must not reach into the pockets of the good American citizen. These migrants must not leech off of the public services of the U.S. when they don’t pay taxes or “contribute to society”. The truth, however, is that our economy could not survive without undocumented labor. It is not inaccurate at all to compare migrant labor to slave labor that throughout history has enabled empires to maintain their power. These workers are exploited from the moment they choose to enter our country. From the means of transportation (often on foot) through the wages they are able to obtain, the migrant is treated worse than an animal (and is often hunted like one).

Humanitarian aid is never a crime. U.S. law actually states this. CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) and others on the front line of defense of migrant rights are working pragmatically to improve the conditions of those attempting to cross our Southern border. Why does a religious organization engage in such “subversive” behavior? Because unlike the Minutemen and other racist vigilante groups claiming God and country, these Peacemakers actually focus on the “least of these” that makes the morality of Christ something worthy of study. CPT does this through the distribution of water, and when possible, medical services along the trails leading towards the Tucson area (perhaps the most heavily traveled entry route).

Think back to the reasons that people migrate. Economics are one of the two biggest factors. Since the U.S. does not make this reason legitimate and because we have predatory lawyers and “immigration representatives” the migrant often has no choice about entering illegally. These migrants enter for simple reasons. They want to eat and they want to provide for their families. The lawyers seek to charge them thousands of dollars just to walk them through the maze of paperwork. In addition, the migrants must pay thousands of additional dollars in government fees to acquire all the final paperwork. Time in the country, the travel of relatives, marriage and numerous other carefully designed forms of discrimination can negate the chance at citizenship all together.

The immigrants entering on foot through the Tucson route face many dangers including wild animals, weather, foot and leg injuries and border patrols and vigilantes of all types. The long walk usually takes 3-4 days. During this time if someone in the party is injured, whether they are old or young, they are left behind. The group does not have the physical strength or the supplies to help the injured party. CPT estimates that most of those left behind die. It is also estimated that for every body that is discovered, there are 10 that are not seen. This is because of the harsh desert conditions resulting from predators and weather that will cause the remains of a body to virtually disappear. In addition, if arrested these migrants face imprisonment, deportation and even torture at the hands of the border patrol. If there are family members, it is possible that they will be deported at different points along the border just to make their punishment that much more miserable.

It is time that we as a country examine our policies as related to immigration in a number of ways. First, we must look at why it is that so many south of our border want to enter in the first place. The short answer is that our very economic system is in large part responsible. It is through the exploitative nature of American Capitalism that other countries fall into poverty. Our way of life causes enormous suffering to the other. Riches only come at someone else’s expense. When will we take responsibility for our actions as a nation instead of simply trying to treat the symptoms of the problem by keeping people at arm’s length?

We must also look the very foundation of our immigration policies. A great start would be to add economic refugees to the list of qualified migrants. This would greatly reduce the red tape and fees required for entrance to our country. It needs to be realized just how important are the contributions of the migrant.

The other is not the enemy. We are all equal as humans. Our immigration policies would go a long way towards improvement if we stepped back and realized that other cultures and traditions are just as rich as our own. In America that statement in and of itself is almost ludicrous as this country is comprised of an enormous mixture of migrants from centuries past. Love, empathy and compassion are the answer, not fear, ignorance, racism and xenophobia.

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