April 30, 2006

Immigrant Solidarity—Monday, 11pm: Be There or Be a Jerk

Okay, let's clear up something. Joe reported this morning on the Immigrant Solidarity March/Rally that is happening on Monday and also on this signage incident. (Someone graffiti'd a flyer with the word "ILLEGAL" over the top.) Joe accuses supporters of immigrant rights of being both ignorant and misinforming, a common tandem in conservative-speak whenever the writer is about to put one over on you himself (or herself).

The first trick Malchow and his ilk are trying to play is to highlight Bush's moderate guest-worker program while ignoring the actions of groups like the Minutemen (NH website here) and the House in passing HR 4437 (which didn't have a guest worker programs) and the general nuts who babble about national purity and keeping our English language sacrosanct and safe from all that Mexican. These groups and efforts are not insignificant. HR 4437 actually passed the House.

The second trick these duplicitous fools are trying to play is to cast all supporters of a more liberal immigration policy as open advocates of illegal immigration. This is false. The people marching on Monday (and I hope to be one of them) are not encouraging illegal activity. They are encouraging a saner, safer, and more practical policy of dealing with the 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants that are here already and a better, more effective package of legislation and policies that will find ways to structure the process of immigration in such a way that both America and the immigrants benefit legally. On top of that, these staunch "lawfulness" advocates miss the point—this is a human-rights issue as well as an issue of law.

Thirdly, Joe downplays the level of anti-immigrant animosity on campus. This poster, put up by the Dartmouth College Republicans should give you a different view:



Also, I must mention this: Joe states: "Anyway, do I want that representing my school? Yes, m’aam [sic]. No one ever said good grammar... is bad for a fine little New Hampshire college." Well, Joe has an orthographic error instead of a grammatical error there, but how is grammar related to protesting for the rights of immigrants? Is writing well then related to counter-protesting? Because if so, Joe's efforts will surely doom the counter-protest crowd.

3 comments:

  1. A student wrote the following to the College Republicans regarding their flyer:

    Dear College Republicans,

    The purpose of my blitz is to inform you that your advertisements for your weekly meetings are likely to be considered offensive to several communities on this campus. I do not want to put words in anyone's mouth, but I believe that your poster is meant to be a wry political comment to rally support for recent House Resolution 4437. While I personally disagree with the changes proposed by Congress, I can appreciate political disagreement amongst my peers. I cannot, however, appreciate your organization's use of a graphic that I am confident at least part of your membership realizes is considered an inhuman rendering of illegal immigrants.

    Please consider the following,

    1. If you are trying to evoke a nostalgic moment where we fondly remember the anti-immigrant hysteria that took over California in the early 90's (when the featured road signs were introduced - specifically Sept. 1990), please also remember that the nativist arguments of the time (and today) center around (a) protecting job availability for citizens, and (b) decreasing the use of resources by non-citizens.

    With that, also realize that (a) many of the jobs taken by illegal immigrants are jobs that citizens are unwilling to take, for wages that citizens are unwilling to work for, and (b) illegal immigrants often pay social security and other taxes to false document numbers, which they cannot later claim, and thus provide the government with money that is left to surplus.

    2. The comfortable lives we are fortunate to experience as American residents are made possible by American exploitation of illegal workers in the US, and exploited workers in foreign countries. The clothing on our bodies and other produced goods would not be as affordable if not for American exploitation of workers. The price of food would increase dramatically if not for illegal immigrants working in American agriculture. Would it not make more sense to advocate for the rights of these exploited workers? Is it appropriate to criminalize those that make the American standard of living sustainable in the first place?

    3. The reasons why many immigrants find ways to enter the country illegally center around economic and political turmoil in their home countries. All too often, the United States and/or American industry has played a known, active role in perpetuating the dire living conditions that illegal immigrants are fleeing from in the first place.

    4. Is it appropriate to represent human beings in a way that likens them to animals as seen in this poster? Also consider that your organization is in NO WAY using the sign for any sort of safety concern, as was the original intention, but instead playing off all the political and social discourse that has centered around the graphic.

    5. Is it appropriate to ask wry, tongue-in-cheek questions that effectively trivialize the experiences and deaths of so many immigrants and immigrant families seeking greater opportunity, in the "Land of Opportunity", at the same time the Land of the Dollar that grows off exploitation of underdeveloped nations? Is that a mature forum for political discussion?

    6. The literal meaning of 'illegal', or course, has not changed.

    Thanks you.

    Kind regards,

    X

    Post-script: Please view the following website for more information.

    http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050410/news_1n10signs.html

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  2. The College Republicans just wrote back:

    Mr. X,

    I write in response to your concern about the College Republicans' flyer promoting dialogue on illegal immigration. The sole purpose of the flyer was to encourage students to voice their frustration with the current immigration debate at our weekly meeting. We understand that the graphic may be offensive. However, the poster was intended to be provocative - to force students to re-consider our approach to the immigration issue. The road signs, as familiar symbols of illegal immigration, served as a compelling visual aid to this effect. Had our intent been to offend members of the Dartmouth community, there were a number of overtly distasteful pictures we could have chosen.

    Indeed, the frame of mind with which many are approaching a solution to the immigration problem is inherently flawed. The rhetoric behind the rally for the rights of illegal immigrants is eerily similar to that employed when the Immigration Reform and Control Act was passed in 1986. Although the circumstances were slightly different, nearly 3 million illegal immigrants were granted amnesty in an effort to curb illegal immigration. However, the Act only spurred greater illegal immigration into the United States, with nearly 11 million illegal immigrants now residing in the country. Most Democrats and some Republicans advocate a similar approach today - a strategy doomed for failure. Surely, you agree that the United States cannot afford to have a completely open border. If we are truly serious about curbing illegal immigration, then, does it not make sense to first secure the border? To curb the problem at its source? After the border is secured, we can have a worthwhile debate on how to contend with the illegal immigrant population in the country.

    That aside, your contention and the common perception that illegal immigrants take jobs Americans are not willing to take is utterly false. Americans are unwilling to take these jobs at the artificially reduced wage rate. The supply of cheap labor, in the form of illegal immigrants, reduces the market wage rate. In the absence of cheap labor, market forces would push the wage rate up to a level at which Americans would be comfortable working. More Americans would have jobs at the higher wage level and fewer employers would demand them - it's simple economics.

    While illegal immigrants may pay some taxes, their economic toll on local and state governments is well established. The financial burden on hospitals, schools, and other local and state welfare services surpasses $15 billion a year by conservative estimates, easily covering any economic contribution illegal immigrants may make. Fundamentally, the problem is their low wage jobs - any taxes they pay are considerably lower than the resources they use.

    Even more central to the debate, however, is whether or not economic motivations should be a sufficient criterion for U.S. citizenship. Many of the illegal immigrants come here solely for jobs, with no incentive to learn English, read American history, or adopt the country's most precious values - a process of assimilation that has defined this nation's immigrants for decades. There is no doubt that we respect them for their hard work and sacrifice to earn a living, but they are simply not like the immigrants who take a genuine interest in becoming American citizens.

    From your email, I only presume that you have taken equal offense to the blitzes about Monday's walkout for the rights of immigrants, as they do not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants. Of course this is a nation built on immigrants - after all, we are all immigrants in one sense or another. No one can ever take away the sacrifices and contributions immigrants have made to this country. However, to use this as cover for the rights of illegal immigrants is pathetic and quite frankly, cowardly. Any sort of amnesty or fast track for illegal immigrants' path to citizenship is offensive to legal immigrants who waited years, often decades, to come to this country. Is it fair that qualified doctors and engineers from Asia or Europe are rejected visas while Hispanics are all but encouraged to cross the border? They too seek the American way of life. Is it not demeaning to their hard work and effort?

    The question posed on the poster hardly trivializes the lives of illegal immigrants. Rather, it comments on the failure of previous immigration policies and invites a frank assessment of government policy. Legalizing illegal behavior, especially without first ensuring a long-term solution or tackling pressing questions, is not a responsible or justifiable course of action.

    Sincerely,

    Y
    President, College Republicans

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  3. And a student responded again:

    Dear College Republicans,

    In light of the boycott that is under way today, my thoughts center around how we, as individuals, as groups, and as a society, communicate amongst ourselves. The rally, a communal strike against employers, classes and the like, are all means by which we are trying to impress on our society the importance of giving fair treatment to all immigrants seeking greater opportunity in this country. We congregate in non-violent protest, despite knowing that many Americans lash out violently against those who have come from abroad to work and live in the United States. This violence can be literal, such as this last week's racially-motivated violence against a Latino youth in Texas. It can also be more covert, nestled in social and economic policy that attacks immigrants rights to live in decency and without fear.

    Nevertheless, the boycott is a peaceful demonstration. I encourage everyone involved to recognize how fortunate we are to be able to participate. We involved are lucky to have this forum in which to voice our opinions. We are lucky to have the self-agency that allows us to elect to participate in this days events. As we speak though our actions today, remember that we are also speaking for the many "illegal" immigrants who cannot miss work today, because they know that doing so would drastically jeopardize their job security. We speak for the immigrants who cannot afford to miss the day's wages, because at their pay rate, they already barely make ends meet.

    On this college campus, we enjoy a level of safety to speak our opinions as well as access to many venues for expression. However, what I would like to point out is that even here, we are not free of bias, of discrimination, of ignorance. Even at Dartmouth, where America's best and brightest college-aged minds and America's premier academics come together in a quaint New England town, we have not reached a point where our ongoing conversation about immigrant rights is conducted respectfully. If we cannot expect or attain that respectful dialogue here, much less can we expect or attain it at large in this country.

    The good thing is there is a conversation going on. There are protests, forums, formal and informal discussions, lectures, and so on. The bad thing is in the midst of this there is are also racial and ethnic slurs, prejudice, insensitivity, and the literal defacement of our expression.

    This back-and-forth correspondence between myself and your organization was in response to a flier you created. Postering is, of course, one of the many ways college students communicate. The poster has served as a premise for a debate about the issues underlying current immigration policy, as well as the appropriateness of the advertisement itself. Your organization chose to portray a graphic that I remain confident at least part of your membership realized is considered an inhuman rendering of undocumented immigrants. The road signs that can be seen in Southern California showing a family running across the road. Created for the purpose of alerting motorists of such a risk, they are well-known as a source of offense to many immigrants. When confronted about how your poster was offensive to many members of the Dartmouth community, your response came to little more than saying that you could have chosen even more offensive materials had you wanted to. This does not undo the fact that the original poster was offensive.

    The poster posed the question: "Remember when illegal meant illegal?" under the offensive graphic. I voice here again what we ask that those that share this nation remember about our immigrant communities.

    1. Nativist' arguments center around (a) protecting job availability for citizens, and (b) decreasing the use of resources by non-citizens.

    With that, we must remember (a) many of the jobs taken by immigrants are jobs that citizens are unwilling to take, for wages that citizens are unwilling to work for, and undocumented immigrants often pay social security and other taxes to false document numbers, which they cannot later claim, and thus provide the government with money that is left to surplus.

    2. The comfortable lives we are fortunate to experience as American residents are made possible by American exploitation of undocumented workers in the US, and exploited workers in foreign countries. The clothing on our bodies and other produced goods would not be as affordable if not for American exploitation of workers. The price of food would increase dramatically if not for undocumented immigrants working in American agriculture. Would it not make more sense to advocate for the rights of these exploited workers? Is it appropriate to criminalize those that make the American standard of living sustainable in the first place?

    3. The reasons why many immigrants find ways to enter the country illegally center around economic and political turmoil in their home countries. All too often, the United States and/or American industry has played a known, active role in perpetuating the dire living conditions that undocumented immigrants are fleeing from in the first place.

    4. Is it appropriate to ask wry, tongue-in-cheek questions that effectively trivialize the experiences and deaths of so many immigrants and immigrant families seeking greater opportunity, in the "Land of Opportunity", at the same time the Land of the Dollar that grows off exploitation of underdeveloped nations? Is that a mature forum for political discussion?

    Finally, in response the the question posed,
    5. The literal meaning of 'illegal', or course, has not changed.

    Now, despite the initial offensive approach, we can at least expect an articulate response to these assertion made. Having received such a response, I, with all those who also participate in the boycott, must demand that society, government leaders, and today's student leaders, meaning tomorrows social, political and economic leaders, also note the following.

    You assert that "the rhetoric behind the rally for the rights of illegal immigrants [echoes] that employed when the Immigration Reform and Control Act was passed in 1986." You argue the Act only spurred greater illegal immigration into the United States, with nearly 11 million illegal immigrants now residing in the country as compared the the nearly 3 million who received amnesty at the time. However, these figures so presented imply that that there were only 3 million undocumented immigrants in the US at the time, a gross understatement. Only about that many were willing and able to apply for amnesty. Many did not have the necessary documentation to prove 5 years of residency at that time. Many others simply feared deportation if they revealed themselves. This argument does not hold together.

    You say that most Democrats and some Republicans advocate a similar approach today, and that such a strategy doomed for failure. Surely, you say, I "can agree that the United States cannot afford to have a completely open border." I am told that "if we are truly serious about curbing illegal immigration, we must first secure the border... Curb the problem at its source... and then engage in a discussion about the undocumented immigrants left in the country."

    In response, I urge us all to consider the irony of our open economic borders in the face of closed human borders. Our faulted, self-serving economic border which is undermined by American protective tariffs is presumably acceptable as long as we can reap economic benefit but keep out the actual people. At the very least, that it what our actions as a nation tell the world.

    You further assert that the "contention and the common perception that illegal immigrants take jobs Americans are not willing to take is false." Rather, I've been informed, "Americans are unwilling to take these jobs at the artificially reduced wage rate. The supply of cheap labor, in the form of illegal immigrants, reduces the market wage rate. In the absence of cheap labor, market forces would push the wage rate up to a level at which Americans would be comfortable working."

    However, your argument completely overlooks the appropriation of agency in that situation. Who controls how much undocumented immigrants are paid? Surely not themselves. I am confident that if they had the means by which to demand health care, dental, and perhaps a retirement plan, they would. Who is breaking the law when paying less than minimum wage for services received? All the reasonable agency that controls wages for undocumented immigrants falls in the hands of the employers. Employers exploit the fear of deportation, the lack of English language skills, and the dire necessity of undocumented immigrants to pay them less than living wages. The workers themselves, work for this versus having no income at all. Furthermore, the occupations taken today by undocumented workers have traditionally always been held by "non-americans." Needy immigrant communities have always been a source of cheap, easily exploited labor. So there is no precedence for the argument that Americans would flock to these jobs. Realistically, if companies and corporations were willing to decrease their wide profit margins, the positions taken by undocumented immigrants could offer fair compensation and appropriate benefits. This in turn would be fair to the immigrant workers, and perhaps encourage American citizens to apply for the jobs as well. The actors, the lawbreakers, the reprehensible here are those controlling wages, not those working for them. In this case, despite what our friends who fly planes overhead contend, Americans are criminals, not the immigrants.

    Nativists, and you in your response, argue that "while illegal immigrants may pay some taxes, their economic toll, above their contribution, on local and state governments is well established." My correspondent tells me that "the financial burden on hospitals, schools, and other local and state welfare services surpasses $15 billion a year by conservative estimates, easily covering any economic contribution undocumented immigrants may make." I invite you and others to read Julian Simon's "The Economic Consequences of Immigration." Simon, a Professor of Business Administration at the University of Maryland, will therein explain how the net contribution of undocumented immigrants to the American economy is about 10 billion dollars annually. This is after considering the costs coming from the resources they utilize.

    You contend that "even more central to the debate, however, is whether or not economic motivations should be a sufficient criterion for U.S. citizenship. Many of the "illegal" immigrants come here solely for jobs," you say, "with no incentive to learn English, read American history, or adopt the country's most precious values - a process of assimilation that has defined this nation's immigrants for decades." I quote first Lady Liberty, who said "Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses." Now I ask, if they are here, working long hours for below minimum wage, when are they going to take the needed history lessons to appease those who feel entitled to define the term "American." I am very curious to know, does this "American" history include the experiences of immigrant groups, such as Asian American history, Mexican American history? Or are we falling back to the hegemonic, racist understanding of American history as told exclusively from a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, male perspective? The irony in much of this is that it has been demonstrated many times over that many natural-born citizens of the United States cannot answer the questions presented on citizenship exams. But some feel entitled to demand such knowledge of immigrants without the luxury of time to learn it.

    Your correspondence suggests that I should take equal offense to the blitzes about today's walkout for the rights of immigrants, because they do not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants, as I did to your organization's poster. You said, "Of course this is a nation built on immigrants - after all, we are all immigrants in one sense or another. No one can ever take away the sacrifices and contributions immigrants have made to this country. However, to use this as cover for the rights of illegal immigrants is pathetic and quite frankly, cowardly. Any sort of amnesty or fast track for illegal immigrants' path to citizenship is offensive to legal immigrants who waited years, often decades, to come to this country. Is it fair that qualified doctors and engineers from Asia or Europe are rejected visas while Hispanics are all but encouraged to cross the border? They too seek the American way of life. Is it not demeaning to their hard work and effort?"

    No. I have not been offended by the posters or blitzed for today's event. I have family members who overstayed visas and then eventually received legal residency here. As undocumented immigrants, they were told they they should go home, be deported, go back where they came from. But then I, as a second generation immigrant, and a natural-born US citizen, have also been told when speaking my native language in the streets of my hometown, that I and my people need to learn English or go home to where we came from. But I thought I spoke English decently, I was just not speaking it at that moment. And I thought I was from "here," I was born here wasn't I? In short, while recognizing generational and conditional differences between documented and undocumented immigrants, we share a cause. And for that reason I am observing today's boycott, and for that reason as well I took no offense.

    I think its a huge inaccuracy to say that Hispanics are all but encouraged to cross the boarder. If that were the case, we wouldn't need road signs to warn for Mexican immigrants trying to run across the California freeway in hopes of entering the country, nor would we find bodies of those who pass away in the desert trying to enter the nation. I think what is demeaning is that we treat undocumented immigrants poorly in their own nations, hence making them need to leave, and then treat them poorly here as well. I think our nation's exploitation of these groups is demeaning, and that much common rhetoric against us as immigrants is demeaning. The sign I was responding to was demeaning, as is the sign that has flown overhead this afternoon. Also, you seem to be discounting that poor Europeans and Asians, as well as professional Latin Americans all immigrate to the US.

    To bring us back to posters and communication, signs for this rally were defaced in the last several days. The disrespect continues. Please, to begin, lets not demean one another with knowingly offensive propaganda or deface posters. Lets assess all the underpinnings of immigrant struggles that we began to touch on today and realize that their experiences are continually demeaning. I am glad for the opportunity to rally and speak collectively through our protest. Let us demand a respectful and fair dialogue on these issues, and that just treatment, fair compensation, and human rights be protected for immigrants, whom we all agree - seemingly - are a cornerstone of this nation.

    For more information on these issues, and an engaging student discussion moderated by professors with scholarship on this field, be sure to attend the Immigration Policy Forum in Rocky 2 tonight at 6 PM.

    Respectfully yours,

    X

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