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University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus

University of Colorado Denver
 

Undocumented Immigrants and Racism

Barbara Goodrich, Ph.D.


Note: This little paper is very much a work in progress, and I'm writing it on the fly.   If you have suggestions, corrections, etc., I would be grateful to receive them.

The historical and economic overviews here are very broad.  Normally I wouldn't cover such topics unless I had room to cover them in detail.

But  U.S. news media and pundits have done such a good job of censoring this information that many people want a clear introduction to it, even if it has to be in general terms.

B.G. Goodrich, Ph.D.  

Golden, CO

June, 2010

Undocumented Immigrants and Racism

Are laws such as Arizona's controversial 2010 law, S.B. 1070, racist?  This law permits law enforcement officers to stop and check the documentation of anyone they have "reasonable suspicion" might be in the country illegally.   In practice, it is cover for racial profiling, since being or appearing Hispanic, or speaking Spanish or with a Spanish accent, would presumably be the only grounds for "reasonable suspicion," at least in the vast majority of cases.   

But what about the increasing numbers of undocumented immigrants, and what about the increasing fury against undocumented immigrants?   Is this a question of law and order being subverted, and people justifiably angry at lawlessness?   Is it just a question of racist people not being "nice" to newcomers? 

In order to make sense of this hotly disputed issue, we need to understand both the causes of the immigration from Latin America, and the rage against the immigrants. 

(Incidentally, I'm putting quote marks around "illegal" in the phrase "illegal immigrant," since this phrase has been misused to make it sound as though the human's existence was somehow illicit, rather than just his/her immigration status – a classic way of dehumanizing people.  The phrase "illegal immigration" seems legitimate, though, so I won't use quote marks there.)

Contents:

PART ONE: BACKGROUND

1. The Modern Nation-State

2. The Corporation

3. An Example of Corporate Influence over Nation-States: The North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, NAFTA

4. Immigration and the Underlying Problem

PART TWO: ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION, RACISM, AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

5. Some Racist (And Possibly Racist) Criticisms of Illegal Immigration

6. Some Non-Racist Criticisms of Illegal Immigration

7. Possible Solutions?

PART ONE: BACKGROUND

1. The Modern Nation-State

The modern nation-state is actually very modern, i.e. very recent.     Different and earlier political units include:

* the tribe,

* the city-state (e.g. the ancient Greek cities Athens or Sparta, each with its surrounding countryside, often sharing languages and some customs with nearby cities),

* the empire (a political entity including many cities and often many cultures and languages, often gained by violent conquest, usually with one ruler or group of rulers based in one wealthy capitol benefitting from   resources from its provinces, as in the Roman empire, the British empire),

* the manorial feudal hierarchical system of local landowners owing fealty to more powerful aristocrats and royalty (as in the European Middle Ages). . .

 * The nation-state only really developed as a political entity in the 19th century, when geographical area and more or less unified culture began to converge with a larger political and economic system. 

Thus, the current nation-state of Italy is the product of a unification (il Risorgimento, the resurgence)  of disparate Italian areas that happened throughout the 19th century.    Some areas had been claimed by the Austro-Hungarian empire, and the "Nationalist" movement of Carbonari (inspired by the French revolution) responded to this occupation by aiming to end the imperialism, and instead to increase power by joining with other local Italian areas.   

The great Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi was a prominent anti-imperialist, and often included political themes in his operas.   The stirring chorus of Hebrew slaves in Nabucco  (see here for a fabulous 4-minute version) became an anthem of oppressed peoples everywhere, whatever their ethnicity or religion.   And his treatment of the captive Ethiopian princess Aida is a moving plea for justice and for compassion to strangers.    

The Carbonari were also termed "patriots," as in loyal to their (whole) country (even though it was divided up among different foreign rulers), not to the powerful imperialists.   

Note that this use of "patriot" is not the same as how "patriot" is sometimes used these days, as a euphemism for xenophobia.  

And "nationalist" meant that one wanted to be affiliated with the whole cultural-social-ethnic "nation" of fellow Italians, as opposed to the oppressing upper class rulers, of whatever nationality.   

It did not mean, as "nationalist" has come to mean since the rise of Nazism, that one approves of one's own nation only, and belligerently regards other nations as inferior. 

The Irish nation-state is still in process.   The Republic of Ireland has gained independence from the United Kingdom (i.e. Britain, i.e. England, Wales, Scotland), but it has still not won Northern Ireland back from the British, despite Northern Ireland's being historically and culturally part of the Irish people's territory.    The English conquered Ireland for its natural resources centuries ago.  (Its once abundant forests were cut down to build the famous English fleet, and Ireland is only now recovering enough of its wealth to replant them).   

During the British occupation in the 19th century, one moving political anthem, "The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale," (a nickname for Irish reformer Charles Parnell during his imprisonment by the British), ends with the line: "and God grant that my country will soon be a nation, and bring back my blackbird to sweet Avondale."  Here's a link to  vocalist Linda Lipscomb's  version: Tracks including The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale

(Also note that in these historical cases, native residents and their descendants are not necessarily the same as citizens.    In the ancient Roman republic, male native Romans born to married couples would be granted the legal rights and privileges of citizenship, though these rights and privileges could be revoked.   This continued into the Roman empire.   Women, slaves, and "illegitimate" native Romans were not given all these rights.   Individuals born in the rest of the empire's territory could sometimes be granted some of these rights in a kind of citizenship.  

The modern notion of citizenship is based on the notion that even common people have status in their countries.   For example, take the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, which dates back to the French Revolution.  Like many old political anthems, it can strike our modern ears as pretty bloodthirsty. Aux armes, citoyens, Formez vos bataillons, Marchons, marchons! Qu'un sang impur Abreuve nos sillons!  I.e. "To arms, citizens, form your battalions, Let's march, let's march!  May an impure blood water our furrows!"   Yep, that's what those nice French anti-Nazi dinner-club-goers were singing in Casablanca

Here's a youtube with English translation.   It's got typos, but the music's good and you get the idea. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4K1q9Ntcr5g

Incidentally, there are strong historical connections between the U.S. and post-revolution France.  The middle-class revolt of the American colonies against England helped inspire sympathetic French middle-class intellectuals to join with the French working class in the 1789 French revolution against King Louis and his queen, the Austrian princess Marie Antoinette.)

The United States of America, originally a colony of the British Empire, soon came to function as a nation-state, despite the fact that most of its territory was obtained by violent conquest (of the indigenous population, of other violent conquistadors and their descendents), and that much of the actual labor of building the country was done not by Anglos but by slaves of African ancestry.     It had a unifying government, and a more or less unified culture, and despite expansion into other areas speaking other languages (e.g. Native American languages, and Spanish) – expansion frequently by violent conquest – and despite waves of immigrants from very different cultures around the world, there remain unifying shared values and expectations. 

The Mexican children's song, "De Colores," is a lovely song celebrating the colors of nature that functions as the anthem of the UFW – Cesar Chavez's union.   I can't find any files of fabulous tenor Placido Domingo (a Spaniard, with ties to Mexico) singing it, which would be optimal.   On the other hand, it has been recorded by countless singers, including Raffi and Joan Baez, which explains why I'm happy to have found these two versions instead.  (Okay, I'm a fogey.)  Here's a lively one sung by a group of church tourists in Rome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwjVsvUdwRY&feature=related.     Here's a more stately formal choral version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tMzA8fxOQk&feature=related

Nowadays, we tend to think of the globe as divided up into a patchwork of nation-states, with all regions claimed by some government or other, and normally all permanent residents of a country as citizens.    Each country, with its own government – and some governments are even representative – has its own laws, economy, natural resources, etc.,  and the government has authority within its national boundaries, with international law for resolving many disputes.  We often think of a quilting of nation-states as the "natural" way the world is set up, but it's not.  It's very recent, and may be very transient.

The institution of the modern nation-state is currently being undermined both by imperialism and by the new institution of the corporation.   Many purportedly autonomous nation-states or countries are in fact pressured or controlled by other countries.    (For example, since WWII, with the beginning of the Cold War, the U.S. and the old Soviet Union developed competing global alliances.  Each super-power intervened so heavily in its "client" countries' internal lives – and in non-allied countries' internal lives -- that it was described as forming an unofficial empire.    With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, the U.S. was left as the remaining empire.)  Thus the policies of less powerful countries' governments are less likely to reflect the desires of their own residents, and more likely to reflect the desires of more powerful people outside. 

However, the more powerful countries are often not acting on the desires of their own citizens, or in the interests of their citizens, either.  Wealthy corporations based in the U.S. or in other western countries have wielded more and more power since WWII, as wealth (and thus power) has become more polarized.   Thus, U.S. foreign policy is largely determined not by the U.S. electorate, but by multi-national corporations which may not even be based in the U.S..  

2. The Corporation

The corporation is a relatively new institution.   It was originally a handy legal category created so that a business could survive individuals' lifetimes, and, later, so that people could invest in a business without being legally liable for the business's actions or debts.   In the last two centuries, it has gained more and more rights, now functioning in most countries as a legal artificial "person," with legal standing of its own.    Because corporations can combine wealth from many people and businesses, while being controlled by a few people, they can achieve a size that earlier economists would never have dreamed possible.  

When Adam Smith defended capitalism (the owning of investments in businesses that one didn't work in), he thought the free market would benefit most people anyway.   Owners would tend to keep a business local,  and close at hand, to keep an eye on it, and local workers would benefit from the jobs.   But technologies have now circumvented this: Just as text can flow around the globe, so can investment money, and so can jobs, to areas with cheaper labor and resources, or to areas using a different currency, so that different rates of exchange can be exploited.   (This also means that workers and consumers will be penalized or rewarded by whether their currency happens to be strong or weak – something over which they have no control.) 

Smith and others also assumed that investors and managers would have the long-term profitability of their business as a goal.  Yet technology now allows for day-trader speculation, and executive turnover is so fast that executives will pursue quarterly profits, for their own advantages, at the expense of a business's long-term survival.   

(A current local example: The historic post office in downtown Golden, CO, is up for sale, as of 2010.    The building is a designated landmark, and thus can't be changed.     Thus, it is probably only useful as a post office.   The only likely reason someone would buy it is to lease it back to the U.S. Postal Service.    In this case, the Postal Service would be losing quite a bit of money over the long run, for no reason.   The only likely motivations for the decision to put the building up for sale are to have a good bottom line for a year or two, at the expense of the long-term business, or to be seen to be doing something in response to the current recession, even though it's not a sensible thing and will injure the business over the long run.)

When David Ricardo and other early economists formulated the "law of diminishing returns," they thought that they had discovered a "natural" limit to how big businesses could grow.    This would mean that the capitalist free market would "naturally" maintain something like a level playing field, so that fair competition would occur, and thus most people would benefit.    But this has been entirely discredited.   Bulk buying and selling gives larger businesses a huge advantage, and the larger they are relative to their competitors, the more power they have.   This advantage can far outweigh lower quality, slack safety standards, objectionable business practices, and so on, that in theory would get punished by a free market.  Instead, any polarization of money tends to get magnified. 

(In 2010 I heard of a new financial business: the business version of payday loans.    Large, powerful corporations now systematically hold on to checks for smaller contracting companies; they pay the contractors as late as possible. The smaller contracting companies can't afford to refuse to do business with the sleazily late-on-paying-bills corporations; the larger corporations now control too much of the market.  However, the smaller businesses, understandably, may need timely payment for their own activities.   Now they can get month-long loans on payments to be received, while the check from the mega-corporation is, as it were, in the mail.   The business "pay-day loans" go for about 5% interest.  Per month.)

And with size comes the possibility of public shares traded on a stock exchange, at which point individual people who are stockholders have such a tiny percentage of the corporation that they have no say in how it is run.   Non-shareholders of course have no power whatever, short of lawsuits, however much power a corporation may have over a town's environment and economy.  Only the largest shareholders – typically other corporations – do.   This means that executives have enormous power; they are de facto barons in a merely nominal republic.

Now, according to traditional neo-classical economics, managers would be competing for executive positions, so that there would be a meritocracy.   However, the meritocracy seems to reward not those most efficient, most reliable, most ethical, but those who are best at exploiting power to their own ends.   (Anyone who's worked for a large corporation probably has plenty of anecdotes about this.)

Thus, we have corporate fiascos such as the Enron accounting fraud scandal of 2001, and the current Wall Street crisis triggered by structured investment vehicles hiding risky mortgages, and other financial misdealings.  

Nonetheless, in 2004

  • �       the average pay of a retail clerk was $22,930, and
  • �       the average pay of a physician was $138,490, and
  • �       the average pay of a CEO was about 70 times the pay of an M.D., at $9, 600,000.   (Yes, M.D.s are middle-class, not corporate-class.) 

And this polarization has been steeply increasing for the past thirty years. 

Far worse, this extreme polarization of wealth tends to corrupt political systems.   Because of the U.S.'s system of financing elections, lobbyists and corporate donors exercise a huge influence on what becomes the law of the land.  In many cases big business can just dictate large chunks of what will become the law.  

E.g. the Environmental Protection Agency was simply neutralized, simply removed in all but name, by corporate polluters in the 1990s and 2000s. 

E.g. a large part of the 2010 health care reform bill was actually written by health insurance company lobbyists, presented to the government by lobbyist Karen Ignagni, and adopted word for word. 

The institution of the corporation has thus been perverted from its original intent by technology, by polarization of wealth and power, and by corruption of legal and political systems.   Instead, it has become just yet another means of the very wealthy becoming even wealthier and more powerful, at the expense of everyone else. 

The world's largest corporations control wealth greater than the entire gross national product of many nation-states.  

For instance, in 2003, ExxonMobil had sales of $223 billion, more than Indonesia's GNP of $208 billion (Indonesia is a large economy.)   And BP and Walmart each had sales even larger than ExxonMobil's.  

The most complete list I've found comparing the wealth of nation-states and large corporations is the following one, but it dates back to 1991 when the problem wasn�t nearly as bad, and it is not clear what's being compared.  I assume it is the gross sales of the corporations and the GNP of the nations, but it isn't specified:  http://www.ratical.com/corporations/NvC.html

Democratically elected heads of state have been assassinated with U.S. help, or even directly by the U.S..   U.S.-backed coups have been very numerous, and so on.  

Shockingly, many of these have occurred at the behest of private corporations.   Just a few examples:

* Prime Minister Mosaddegh of Iran, removed in a 1953 U.S.-British coup at the urging of British oil companies wanting to keep exploitative oil agreements. (The U.S. and U.K. installed the repressive Shah Pahlavi instead, leading to the 1979 Iranian theocratic revolution.  Many of the more secular dissidents, e.g. Marxists, had been killed during the Cold War, leaving a power vacuum filled by the Iranian Shiites.) 

* Democratically elected President Arbenz of Guatemala was planning land reform, giving unused land to landless peasants, when the notoriously corrupt U.S.-based United Fruit Company (now known as Chiquita) talked the U.S. government into leading a coup against him in 1954.

* Salvador Allende was democratically elected President of Chile by an electorate angry at foreign corporations exploiting Chilean natural resources and industries.   He was removed in a 1973 U.S.-led coup, and was probably assassinated with the help of the U.S., after planning to nationalize Chile's copper mines (U.S. corporations Anaconda, and Kennecot Copper owned much of these) and other industries, including some IT&T property.   IT&T helped to fund the coup leaders, and used the Chilean newspaper it owned to try to undermine Allende.   (U.S. corporations owned over $1 billion in investments in Chile, which in 1973 was a huge amount.)   Allende was replaced by the infamous Gen. Augusto Pinochet, one of the worst human rights abusers of the 20th century.   (International Telephone and Telegraph, incidentally, had done business with the Nazis, and even won millions of dollars in compensation for the loss of a German plant due to Allied bombing in WWII.)

More recent similar cases include fruit companies in 1980s Nicaragua, oil field conflicts triggering the first Bush administration's invasion of Iraq against the U.S.'s one-time client Saddam Hussein, and probably the current conflicts in Iraq  (oil resources probably being one of several motivations) and Afghanistan (mineral resources probably being one of several motivations).   Information about these isn't yet fully public, though.  

Overt violence isn't always necessary, though.  The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are frequently criticized for lending vast amounts of money to non-representative governments in developing countries.  The money is frequently used to benefit only the ruling class, rather than used for sustainable economic development.   Then, when the country of course has difficulty repaying the debt, these institutions can impose conditions of "free trade" or a "free market," which in fact are just prohibiting national economic autonomy, such as the right to impose tariffs or exert control over national resources.   Instead, these "free market" conditions are only a means of forcing the country to allow exploitation by U.S.-based and similar corporations.  The country's rulers benefit along with multi-national corporations, and the rest of the people are forced to pay the bill.   One example: http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/webfeatures_viewpoints_colombia/

Unsurprisingly, mainstream – i.e. corporate-controlled – media in the U.S. don't cover this. 

More surprisingly, much of this history has also been censored out of U.S. schools.

3. An Example of Corporate Influence over Nation-States: The North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, NAFTA

Short 2006 paper from the Economic Policy Institute showing how NAFTA has devastated the Mexican economy

NAFTA hasn't helped working families in the U.S., either.     Many U.S.-based corporations (GM, Whirlpool, even Hershey, etc., etc.) have moved factories to Mexico under the sweet deals they were offered by NAFTA.   Well-paying manufacturing jobs in the U.S. have decreased dramatically, and as a result, desperate unemployed and underemployed workers will agree to worse and worse deals, and unions have been decimated. 

Who's benefitting here?  It's not one nation-state against another, or a nation-state in a win-win collaboration with another nation-state. 

It's one small group of corporate decision-makers and their key shareholders. 

"What do you mean 'we'?"  

U.S. news shows often refer to U.S. armed forces, particular U.S. diplomats, administrations, teams, and corporations as "we," as in:

"So what will our response be to the latest events in Afghanistan?" 

"How do we compare to the Chinese currency?" 

"But we torture a lot less than the North Koreans." 

"Will they still let us drill in Iraq?" 

"We're still addicted to petrochemicals."  

"Are we still on track to win the World Cup?" 

"Well, it's our responsibility to clean up the oil spill in our waters." 

And so on.  

That language of the vague "we" is deeply misleading, and deeply anti-individual.   

It serves to blur responsibility, blame, and credit.   By doing that, it gives an illusion that we're each powerless, if we're each to be held to blame for something outside our control --  e.g. what an unelected U.S. administration does despite massive public outcry, or what a U.S.-based corporation does, or what unelected U.S. financial decision-makers do.   

(Receiving punishment despite what one does is the classic way of inducing "learned helplessness," from lab mice on up.)

Of course, we can decide to help fix a problem that we are not to blame for.    But our taking on that responsibility does not mean that any people who are to blame should be permitted to repeat the problem.  

That language also serves to manipulate people into feeling a team-loyalty to one side in a conflict that they might not agree with or support.    If an opposing government practices torture, and it is revealed that a U.S. administration practices torture, someone who rejects torture as unethical can still reject torture as unethical, and criticize both governments for serious violations of ethics and law.    The "team-loyalty" approach obscures this possibility, though.  

That language promotes a psychological phenomenon known as "groupthink," in which dissidents are ostracized, and legitimate doubts regarding the prevailing policies are suppressed.   (One useful link with a video: http://www.crmlearning.com/groupthink-2nd-edition .)

And that language defines a sort of geography of "teams," e.g. nation-states, that may conceal an entirely different and incompatible delineation of groups, e.g. economic classes, ethnic groups, religious groups,  sexes, etc..  It may be that to understand a conflict, we need to recognize divisions along e.g. economic class, rather than divisions along e.g. ethnic groups, or rather than divisions along national boundaries.  

(I've discovered to my surprise that sometimes among a group of people who are mostly omnivores, socialist atheist vegetarian animal-lovers and Republican Christian vegetarian animal-lovers instinctively form strong alliances!   Now, there's a division – vegetarian versus omnivore – that I would have thought would be minor, but it may not be!)  

Lousy but instructive old joke:

The Lone Ranger and Tonto are riding off into the desert sunset after saving a little town from evil bank robbers with menacing moustaches.   Suddenly from behind rocks appear rifles, and they are surrounded by implacable Apache warriors. 

The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says, "Golly, Tonto, what are we going to do?" 

And Tonto calmly replies, "What do you mean 'we,' Paleface?"     

4. Immigration and the Underlying Problem

Common causes of (legal and illegal) immigration from Latin America to the U.S. include poverty and unemployment in the original country, political instability, and war, and, as we've seen, much of this is due to the exploitative influence of U.S. policy and U.S.-based large corporations.   

 A brief article from 2006 connecting NAFTA's Mexican damage to Mexican immigration to the U.S. (Note that this article was written in 2006, and ironically, the example of Greece in the EU has turned out to be far worse than the authors anticipated, partly due to the profiteering involvement of notorious American corporation Goldman Sachs.)

The underlying problem:  U.S. national borders and foreign policy are not consistent.   Corporations and investors get special treatment, and can exploit developing countries.  Individual humans don't get special treatment; they get exploited.   Then, when they flee to a country where there are jobs for them, their lack of official residency makes them more attractive as workers for unscrupulous employers, since they can't fight back against exploitative wages or treatment.  Notice that here "law and order" doesn't mean much, since the corporations write the laws so as to allow their most profitable practices.

PART TWO: ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION, RACISM, AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

5. Some Racist (And Possibly Racist) Criticisms of Illegal Immigration

1)  Only angry at Hispanics?   Most undocumented immigrants the U.S. are from Latin America, indeed, most are from Mexico.    But not all.   So if someone is enraged at Hispanics living illegally in the U.S., but not equally enraged at the charming Irish waiter whose green card expired a while back, and who is still waiting to get a response from immigration officials, that rage at Hispanics would seem to be racist.

2) Only angry at immigration violations?   Legally, if someone is living and working in the U.S. illegally because of not having permission to be here, that person is committing an administrative violation, in the same category as violating zoning codes.  That person is not violating criminal law, and is thus not a criminal just by being and working here without legal permission.  

If someone is outraged at undocumented workers' violation of "law and order," but not equally outraged at equivalent violations – say, by a neighbor who didn't bother to check out zoning codes before making minor changes to the back of his house – then the problem for this person does not seem to be violations of law per se.  

(Driving past the speed limit is regarded by the law as more serious. – it isn't a mere administrative offense, but a misdemeanor, and in some places, at certain speeds that constitute a serious danger to safety, a felony.)

Notice that the "law and order" sound-bites are not really about law as such, but only about one part of it, the punitive part.  Yet law also serves, equally importantly, an "enabling function," allowing people e.g. to make wills that will be honored, to form businesses, to rent or buy houses, to marry, adopt children, etc..   But the emotional, punitive coloring of these anti-immigrant talking points seem to reflect more a scapegoating attitude than a genuine interest in law and civil order. 

3) Want only English, even where it's not the tradition?  If someone is offended at hearing other languages than English spoken in this country, to the point of considering those other languages "un-American" and wanting an "English-only" country, not only for recent immigrants but also for the pre-U.S. Hispanic communities in the American Southwest – which predate Anglo settlers by centuries --  that would seem to be motivated not by loyalty to tradition and hopes of a shared national culture, but by something more like plain xenophobia and/or racism.   (The original Colorado Constitution had three official languages: English, Spanish and German. )

image001.jpg 

This is the church of San Jose de Gracia in Las Trampas, New Mexico.  The town was established in 1751, and the church was built in the next few decades.


4) Guilt for a stolen continent spun as fear of a "reconquista"? A more unambiguously racist response is the claim that Hispanics will become the new ethnic majority in the U.S. if permitted, and immigration from Latin America will speed this up.  This is often connected to the claim of a deliberate "reconquista," with Hispanics of partly (or wholly) indigenous American descent purportedly aiming to "reconquer" the territory that historically belongs to them.   One apoplectic writer at http://www.illegalaliens.us/ claims, "Illegal immigration on the scale US is experiencing is invasion, not immigration."  Of course, what he has in mind is "reconquering" peacefully, by immigrating, working, and buying land under the current laws, rather than invading, as the U.S. often did, so it's just malicious empty rhetoric on his part.

The purported "reconquista" can trigger quite a bit of such frantically defensive double-speak, apparently aiming to spead fear among people of northern European ancestry.   (And they remind me very strongly of the anti-civil-rights arguments I heard as a child in rural Texas from people defending 19th century slave-owners.)  Try out this selection from a periodical as supposedly objective as the Christian Science Monitor: "Imagine a huge, growing Hispanic underclass in America with a grudge, a burning sense of having been victimized by the 'gringos.'" (http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Walter-Rodgers/2010/0330/Illegal-Hispanic-immigration-is-undermining-American-values , accessed May 31, 2010).    But does Rodgers think we non-indigenous Americans should feel bad about the stolen continent, should we try to redress this injustice, and actually solve that problem?    No, and he gives the flimsiest excuses. 

Historically, this concept [of historical entitlement to the territory] is wide of the mark. Most Hispanic ancestors of immigrants owned no land. Their forebears were serfs of the Roman Catholic Church, once the largest landholder in Latin America and the world. Other ancestors labored as landless peons for Spanish colonial landlords who were later relieved of their lands by 19th-century Anglo-Americans. (http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Walter-Rodgers/2010/0330/Illegal-Hispanic-immigration-is-undermining-American-values , accessed May 31, 2010). 

Of course, Rodgers is deliberately ignoring the real territorial claim – that the land was occupied in pre-Columbian years by people who didn't use European-style land titles or European-style serfs.   And of course, the fact that Spanish conquistadors had exploited Native Americans and Native Mexicans before the Anglo-Americans did is irrelevant to the argument.  

But Rodgers's main goal doesn't seem to be persuading by giving reasons.  It's to use the sense of injustice at a stolen continent not to motivate some kind of redress, but to inspire fear of revenge, and then to give just enough veneer of justification to assuage the guilt a little, enough to lash out at the perceived threats, enough to blame the victim

(Is Rodgers some kind of fringe crackpot, to be using these disgraceful tactics?   No, he's a retired senior correspondent for CNN. 

Yes, sadly, CNN, despite its reputation, is one of the most biased and corporate-censored networks.)

Rage at illegal immigration:  The salient point of all these positions is not any content, but the puzzling rage with which they're expressed.   In fact, it seems that the content is secondary to the rage.   In many cases, it doesn't seem to be the content causing the rage, but the rage generating the content as after-the-fact justifications.   If this is true, then it's a plain old case of scapegoating – a society in transition, with some people being exploited, whose anger and confusion get channeled to some even more vulnerable group who will be blamed for all the problems, no matter how unfairly, and even though it may be that group that is the main victim of the problems.   In fact, the dehumanization and fear that this rage causes can actually help solidify groupthink, since it defines a "them" group against which the angry "us" group can define themselves.  

But who is instigating it, and who benefits from it?   It seems to be relatively few media personalities in corporate-owned media who are pushing this kind of racism.   But what would their motivation be?   Aren't large corporations benefiting from illegal immigration?  

Yes, and they are benefiting from these immigrants remaining undocumented, and thus vulnerable to extortive wages and treatment.   Keeping up public anger at Hispanic immigrants is one tactic in preventing amnesty programs that could give immigrants more power.  Further, the solutions that these demagogues suggest are not real solutions aimed at stopping or reforming immigration by, e.g., revamping NAFTA, or decreasing corporate power in the U.S. or Latin America.  The suggested solutions instead are token, ineffectual suggestions that would simply increase scapegoating of Hispanics without halting the flow of immigrants, e.g.

* focus on individual families employing undocumented immigrants – not large businesses,

* spread misinformation designed to keep people resenting immigrants for seeking public education or even medical care (30 years ago, this attitude would have been attacked by all Americans as barbaric),

* push an anti-traditional English-only agenda that punishes the many centuries-old Spanish-speaking communities in the U.S.,

* agitate to build Berlin-type walls between the U.S. and Mexico,

* pass police-state laws designed to dilute the U.S. Constitution and to intimidate all Hispanics.  

Meanwhile, corporations profiting from Mexican factories can continue profiting, while the public is distracted by hatred of the very people being most exploited.

Take a look at this local political flier from circa 2006, playing on this scapegoating:

image003.jpg 

I've expanded this side so that you can read the misspelling in "themselves and there [sic] families. "  Apparently this candidate's own staffers aren't fully fluent in English, though presumably that's their only language. 

Here's the other side, "our" side:

image005.png 

6. Some Non-Racist Criticisms of Illegal Immigration

1) The U.S. as "full"?   Another criticism of illegal immigration sometimes given is that the U.S. is "full," and doesn't have enough jobs or health care or schools to go around with more people in it.   But in most societies with competent policies, additional people will not only be taking up jobs, health care, and school chairs, but will – partly by taking up jobs – be providing health care and education.  And by earning a wage and paying rent and buying food, etc., they will be providing a market for housing and commodities, thus creating a need for more jobs.   (Notice that things work out better for everyone if everyone has a fair living wage, so that they can afford to be consumers, and thereby comprise markets for the others.)

Short mythbusting fact sheet on how immigration impacts the U.S. economy    In fact, according to some reports, there are plenty of undocumented immigrants risking their lives defending the U.S. in the military: "Illegal Immigrants: Uncle Sam Wants You"    And even the delinquency rate on mortgages is much less for people using individual taxpayer numbers rather than social security numbers than for the average sub-prime mortgage borrower:  http://dollarsandsense.org/archives/2007/1107toon.html

Of course, there is a vitally important and urgent limit to how big our whole human population can get without driving most other species extinct, and without running out of important natural resources, and without crowding to the point of war and/or disease solving our overpopulation in their own needlessly brutal ways.   But this is an international and species-wide problem, not a national or ethnic one.   And to solve it, our own citizens too, Anglo-Saxons as well as others, will need to have fewer children.

2) Unfairly easy?  Sometimes official immigrants and naturalized citizens who had difficulty getting U.S. citizenship are angry that others have bypassed the system that they conscientiously slogged through, or angry at the idea of an amnesty if they think would mean that the by-passers would get an easier time of it than they did.    This is understandable, though if it's a desperate situation that the undocumented immigrants are fleeing – as is often the case -- it would seem resentful and envious to begrudge them an easier time than one had oneself.

3)  A path for real criminals?   There are of course real and very urgent criminal law-enforcement concerns, such as having such a large coyote-mediated traffic flow that actual criminals, e.g. violent gang-members, can easily come and go, and that contraband such as illicit drugs can easily be moved.   Further, because different governments are involved, violent criminals may not always be extradited for trial to the country seeking them.   And when the victims are other undocumented immigrants, as they often are, the victims or their survivors may be too frightened of deportation or anti-immigrant anger to report the crimes, so that the criminals remain free.   http://www.cis.org/articles/2001/crime/toc.html

4)  Suppressing workers' rights and wages?   Large corporations within the U.S. have undoubtedly benefited from hiring undocumented workers rather than documented ones.  For example, in 2006, one of the Swift (based in Greely, CO, by the way) meat packing plants, in Texas, was raided by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, with about 1,300 undocumented workers being arrested.   In the resulting publicity, some former (documented) workers sued Swift for $23 million in damages and back pay, accusing Swift of deliberately hiring undocumented workers as close to one-fourth of its workforce in order to depress wages artificially, by about 1/3, a racketeering crime.   In this case, legal and p.r. pressure has decreased Swift's hiring of undocumented workers, and the wages and benefits have rebounded.   http://www.workingimmigrants.com/2009/03/the_economics_of_the_swift_mea.html

But note that an easier, cheaper way is simply to move factories overseas, as many corporations have done. 

7. Possible Solutions to the Problems of Illegal Immigration?

The current situation of NAFTA, Mexico's economic crisis, workers and the environment being mistreated on both sides of the Mexican-U.S. border, border-crossing possibilities for criminals, and harassment of vulnerable undocumented people here, are all genuine dangers associated with illegal immigration from Mexico.  

But illegal immigration isn't a stand-alone problem.  It creates these dangers because it reflects an inconsistent U.S. policy towards its national boundaries

This may be why many moderates, liberals, and progressives who aren't economics-oriented have had difficulty articulating a position consistent with their worldviews.   The wonderful notions of fair play, or inclusivity, or instinctive support for the underdog that often define these worldviews have only addressed illegal immigration as if it were a stand-alone problem, and, not surprisingly, they can't solve this problem in their terms alone.  Fair play, inclusivity, and compassion are necessary for improving the world.   By themselves, they're not sufficient to do it in a case such as this.    On the other side of the political spectrum, conservative Evangelicals face similar difficulties.   They call for pro-immigrant reform on the basis of compassion for strangers, only to be told by some other conservatives (holding an unclear notion of national autonomy and corporate needs) that they are dooming the U.S. economy.

The root of the problem: The U.S.A. has national boundaries that are inconsistently permeable.   Corporations get through, both U.S.-based corporations moving out factories to other countries, investing in (and thus controlling) businesses and natural resources in other countries, exporting their products to markets in other countries, and foreign-based corporations importing the same to the U.S..   And the U.S. government itself is certainly wielding much control over other, purportedly sovereign nations through military force, economic pressure, or even just traditional ties, as some other countries influence the U.S. in turn.    Wealthy or prominent individuals can often find legal immigration avenues easily, as countries solicit immigrants who will bring money or business into their economy.    (Check out immigration requirements for different countries..  It's eye-opening.)   And many individual laborers whose lives are impacted by all this mobility are not legally permitted to move in response to, say, the moving jobs.  

The inconsistently porous national boundaries could be made consistent in any number of ways.   Here are the three most obvious.

1) A consistent isolationist policy: One traditional conservative approach is "isolationism," maintaining strict national boundaries for humans and businesses, and trade.  Setting up protective tariffs, penalizing U.S.-based corporations that move factories outside the country and that invest in other countries would help level the playing field, and help prevent exploitation within and without.   This would be aimed at restoring the nation-state, protecting its integrity by fighting off corporate pressure from within and by forfeiting the attractions of imperialism abroad. 

2) A consistent trans-national movement for environmental protection, worker rights, governments' transparency:  Another, more left-wing approach would be to address the whole international economy and political system, but in a way that promoted more local control: to encourage reform within developing countries so that corporations would be less able to exploit workers in other countries, and would be more likely to stay home rather than chasing unfairly cheap labor around the world.   Such reform for developing countries would include reliable law enforcement, legitimate representative governments, and anti-pollution laws, worker-safety laws, union-organizing laws, and child-protection laws as strict as those in developed countries.   Developing nations would have a chance to grow their own economies.   (The World Bank and WTO would have to be dismantled or radically reformed, so as not to give western corporations advantages, and so as not to seduce developing nations into needless debt and then use this power to demand economies that these countries reject.)   This would be aimed at building a global populist/environmental movement to counter global corporate power as well as political corruption and imperialism.  (Attractive to people who don't trust nation-states to be strong enough or honorable enough to carry out the first possibility, but it would have to be an immense and many-faceted movement.)

3) Reforming corporate law, both in domestic and international law: Yet another approach, that might get supporters from all over the political spectrum, is to redesign the corporate entity, in international law as well as domestic law.    The corporation is a creation of lawyers, designed to allow investors to invest in a business without being legally liable for the business's actions.  There's no reason why, with our changed circumstances, we shouldn't decided that this legal creation needs to be changed and reined in, so that human individuals can have more power over their destinies via their governments.   After all, if we have a representative government making the decisions, we each have a vote.   If, instead, it is corporations making the decisions, we have no vote unless we are one of the major stockholders in each corporation.   And if corporations are making decisions and dictating those decisions to a government that only appears representative, our votes are mostly meaningless.   This reform would be aimed at tackling one of the biggest underlying global problems head-on, and it might help restore nations' autonomy, as well, though that's not guaranteed.

Here's a link to one anti-corporate, pro-local small business site that, from what I can tell, is right-wing libertarian:  http://reclaimdemocracy.org/independent_business/  

On the left-wing side, for one example, here's part of David Ratcliffe's website focusing on reforming the corporation: http://www.ratical.org/corporations/

There could be some fruitful if head-spinning alliances on this issue!

Note that these three different solutions all involve economic solutions.    Also note that while the isolationist solution isn't fully compatible with the trans-national populist/environmentalist solution, the corporate-reform solution is compatible with either of the others. 

More solutions?   The country, and the planet, could use ideas that you brainstorm, too!

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