Can’t See the Border for the Fence

Immigration status has always been a pervasive issue in my life.  I come from a family of undocumented immigrants. One of my earliest memories is of my mother coming home panicked after surviving an Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) raid at the factory where she worked.  It didn’t dawn on me until later that her U.S. born children would have gone days even weeks without knowing what happened to her if she had been deported. I am one of millions of U.S. citizens who is directly impacted by immigration policies because they affect my family.

Immigration as an issue is different from most public policy issues in that undocumented immigrants have little recourse to advocate for themselves in the U.S.  They cannot vote or contribute monetarily to campaigns, two of the things that are essential to move any legislation in this country.  As a result the movement has struggled to gain popular support and it shows.  I have many conversations with friends who are generally progressive but have a very difficult time wrapping their heads and values around the issue of immigration.  One recent conversation I had with a friend focused on building a fence on the border.  I kept going back and forth with this person about how all the proposed policies dealing with immigration were racist, inhumane or just plain ridiculous. I argued against every point and finally she just asked in exasperation “well how do we solve the problem?”  This frustration is shared by many on the left including me.  How do we solve the problems with immigration without solely reacting to policies that are misguided and bigoted? How do we address these issues in an anti-racist, humane and sane manner?

This is a conversation about values
As progressives we need to get on the same page and agree on what the problems are, and start offering solutions that don’t rely on punitive policies that promote the erosion of our own rights and values. Arizona’s anti-immigrant laws are an example of policies that stood out for their sheer magnitude of fuckedupness towards undocumented immigrants. Arizona also managed to legalize racial profiling of U.S. Citizens under the guise of being tough on immigration.

I want to offer a different way to think about immigration reform a way to think about this issue that focuses on changing systems and addresses the impacts rather than punishing individuals.  This is a long conversation and it will take up its fair share of blog posts, so check back often.

Value #1: No human being is illegal
We need to change our language when addressing undocumented immigrants. Using the term “illegal” effectively dehumanizes immigrants, and allows us to justify the types of punitive policies that we would not stand for if they were designed to impact U.S. Citizens.  (For example, when the federal REAL ID Act passed, it was largely rejected by the states–not because it was designed as an attack on immigrant rights, but because it was seen as a broad erosion of civil liberties.  Talking about REAL ID through an immigrant rights frame was passed over, in part, because many of us continued to believe that immigrants were not human beings deserving of human rights, but “illegal aliens,” and less than human.)  Just because someone is undocumented doesn’t mean their existence or the core of their being is “illegal,” and we shouldn’t stand for anyone saying so–least of all other progressives.

Value #2: We don’t support racism
Let’s face it: the communities that are heavily impacted by anti-immigration policies are not white and mostly of Mexican descent.  Current immigration policies are not just about containing immigration but culture.

Value #3: We can be better neighbors
Our international economic policies contribute the majority of immigration from Mexico. Mexico and other Latin American countries are deeply tied to our own economy which means that our economic international policies have a huge impact on immigration.  We posted about this recently

Value #4: We’re PROGRESSIVES
Current Arizona Style anti -immigrant policies are creeping their way into every part of our country and are supported by the same groups who work against all that we hold dear women’s rights, racial justice, LGBT justice, labor and environmental justice.   These conservative policies are the foot in the door for the most radical on the right to seize power and erode our rights.

Clearly anti-immigrant movements violate our progressive values.  If I described a racist, anti-labor, xenophobic, jingoistic policy we would be outraged, yet we are on the fence about immigration.  If we have any hope in changing the tide on immigration we need to start at home.  Here are a couple of suggestions.

  • Get Educated. We cannot let those who seek to oppress dictate the direction of this issue.  Understanding the impacts of anti-immigrant laws and the causes of immigration will better equip the movement for fair and progressive immigration reform.
  • Support your local immigrants rights groups. Immigration reform  is one of the most unpopular issues in the country and progressive groups are woefully understaffed, and under resourced.  What’s worse is that support for anti-immigrant groups is growing exponentially.  When pro-immigrant rights groups put out a call to contact your legislator, do it!  If you can’t afford a large donation become a monthly donor.  Volunteer and get an insider’s perspective on the current immigration movement.
  • Talk to your friends. Immigration is a hot-button issue and therefore something that most people avoid talking about with their friends and family.  However, YOU are the strongest influence for your friends and family.  We are bombarded with anti-immigrant rhetoric everyday and we need to start counteracting it with real conversations that expose the hateful rhetoric.

4 thoughts on “Can’t See the Border for the Fence

  1. Ok, in all seriousness, I dont care where you’re from, your nationality, your skin color, your sex, your age, your (insert description here)… if you’re here illegally, or you’re an anchor baby, then you deserve nothing more than a friendly pat on the back as you’re sent back to your family’s country of origin. We already have LEGAL immigration here. The fact you, or anyone else, thinks “the system is broken” is not only no excuse to break the law, but its such a horrible disingenuous excuse, as well. There’s people who fought and died for US values, people who came here legally and those who were born here who should not all have to pay for you, or anyone else who hops the border illegally. The fact that people also suggest that people like me lack conscience for suggesting you go back home is also a major lie and misrepresentation. I care for the plight of people around the world, its why I donate money, time and energy to them IN THEIR COUNTRY.

    Here, educate yourself with FACTS:

    • Sam – Wow. It seems like you’ve read a lot into this post that just isn’t there. The author here has written about progressive values, and is clearly writing to others on the left. There isn’t anything here about you “lacking conscience,” it’s just challenging progressives to think more deeply about immigration. And no one’s suggesting anything that would tarnish the memories or reputations of those who’ve fought & died for US values. What this author seems to be suggesting is taking another look at what we consider to qualify as US values.

      That said, it seems like you could stand to do some deeper thinking on this issue. Talking points about “anchor babies” and “staying in their own country” suggest that you haven’t given a lot of thought to the broader sociopolitical elements that control waves of immigration to the US. I’d recommend looking into how NAFTA, CAFTA, the IMF and the World Bank influence immigration, and how US immigration policy expands and contracts over time depending on our labor needs. The problem is, as this author points out, that doesn’t account for the fact that there are people’s lives and families tied up in those policy changes–not just filling labor needs.

  2. Hey Sam, I don’t get the impression that you’re interested in exploring views other than the ones you currently hold. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you probably searched out this blog post so that you could make some anti-immigrant comments.

    One piece of history you may be missing out on is just how recently most of the Southern U.S. actually WAS Mexico. What you imply is “your country” hasn’t been so for most of human history. And if you want to get down to facts, you’ve got some research to do, including much of what’s cited in this post and the comment before mine.

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