Immigrants: The New Boogeymen

Most of this I wrote over the summer when the Ground Zero mosque issue was going on and sent to the NY Daily News as an Op/Ed which they did not publish.  I added some new things and hope you enjoy.

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Xenophobia has replaced racism as the chic outlet of discrimination in modern-day American society.  Don’t get me wrong, good old-fashioned “I despise you for the color of your skin” racism has not kicked the bucket yet.  It has only been superseded in popularity by the notion that foreigners, their customs and their “funny” languages are not only inferior but morally wrong and at odds with patriotism.  It is arguable whether we live in a post racial society because we have a black president, however the idea that foreigners, regardless of their immigration status, are on equal footing with Americans regardless of ethnicity is not. 

 Two events have been catalysts in this trend: 9/11 and the recent media bombardment of issues pertaining to illegal immigration.  During war, social tensions always spike and these tensions are only exacerbated by the lackluster economy.  These feelings manifest themselves in absurd and pathetic attempts at defensive nationalism disguised as patriotism.  A prime example of this would be the opposition to a mosque at Ground Zero.  New York City, microcosm of the world and melting pot of cultures, is for the most part against building a center of faith for the Islamic religion in the vicinity of Ground Zero, however a rational opposition does not exist.

America was attacked on 9/11 by radical Muslims, there is no question about that, however to associate all practitioners of a belief system with its most radical, dangerous and unethical followers is exceedingly irresponsible.  It would be like a Jew opposing a German social club in their neighborhood because of the Holocaust. 

There are those in the Tea Party who believe that the government is conspiring to limit their freedoms and who just can’t live without their guns.  By that superficial definition would not have Timothy McVeigh been welcomed into the Tea Party with open arms?  Should we now consider the Tea Party as a whole to be abhorrent and should we seek to limit their assembly?  The lumping together of people in this regard is an attempt to collectively punish and associate all of the people of a group for the actions of a segment of its population.  The great irony in this is that the Intolerable Acts, a series of laws passed by the British government in colonial times in response to the Boston Tea Party, sparked outrage as it was seen as a form of collective punishment and was an impetus to the American Revolution.  Thus collective punishment is to its very core Un-American.  Arizona’s SB1070 is another affront to immigrants whose aim in part is to collectively punish all peoples of a certain appearance and heritage for things which a segment of others which share their characteristics did.   Ditto opposition to the DREAM Act.

 9/11 was a huge inciter of xenophobia, however the prime igniter right now is illegal immigration and it is because of a twisted sense of what is “American” and a miscalculation of how undocumented workers affect documented residents.  For starters, I do not consider any kind of immigration to be criminal activity, regardless if the individual has the government’s permission to enter or not.  Rape, murder, robbery – those are examples of criminal activities.  Crossing a border in hopes of benefits to one’s family is simply not criminal.

Even though there are undocumented residents of every color and from practically every country in the U.S., Mexicans are the face of illegal immigration due to the substantiated number of undocumented Mexican nationals living in the U.S.  Additionally, even though the vast majority of undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. are law-abiding and hard-working, as a group they are thought of as criminals, making Italian associations with the Mafia pale in comparison.   And while we are talking about Italians, let’s not remember that in the early 20th century uninvited Italians came to this country and revolutionized criminal enterprise with their baby, the Mafia.  To an extent, Italians literally brought organized crime to the US.  Let me ask you, what is responsible for more crime in the US, drug cartels in Mexico or Colombia or the Mafia?  Let me ask you another question.  What group is more hardworking, undocumented Mexicans who routinely work 12 or more hours a day 6 or 7 days a week for unlawful pay in jobs you would never touch or the slew of Americans living off of public benefits?

Instead of thinking of undocumented immigrants as criminals and at best dishwashers, people never think one of them is the next great inventor, doctor or artist.  Animals act crude and do physical labor and that’s how undocumented immigrants are considered.  It’s a lot easier to subjugate something when you eradicate its humanity.  Why aren’t we looking at each and every one of these kids as the next potential great figure in history who will change the world?

 It seems the U.S. can acknowledge say religious refugees, as in the case of Jews immigrating to Israel from all over the world to avoid persecution, but it does not acknowledge economic refugees.  There is no grand conspiracy of why Mexicans choose to enter the U.S. without permission: it is to obtain a better life and it is a push/pull factor which is contributing to this issue.

The economic conditions pushing Mexicans into the U.S. are caused by the long ago caused decimation of the indigenous peoples and their society of Mexico by European imperialism.  One can act as if the people of the country of Mexico simply do not have a grasp of how to build a prosperous society or is too corrupt to flourish like the U.S., however it would simply be foolish to believe the effects of imperialism are not still being felt today.  This imperialism is not limited to the Spanish, the actual conquerors of Mexico.  In the mid 1800’s the U.S. started the Mexican-American war with no other intent than to conquer parts of Mexico in a southwest tint on Manifest Destiny and thousands of Mexicans who already lived there were “repatriated” to Mexico, or at least the new partition of Mexico. The majority of undocumented immigrants enter into the U.S. through the southwest border.  So let’s see, Americans are up in arms about Mexicans essentially returning to what used to be Mexico before it was won in armed conflict, to places to this day which have Spanish names, like California?  That’s kind of like a tourist robbing me at gunpoint for my ticket to the Yankee game and getting mad when they find me in it nonetheless.

What is glossed over the most is the pull factor allowing Mexicans to enter the U.S. illegally, namely American businesses which benefit from the exploitation of undocumented workers.  American companies can simply refuse to hire anyone they suspect to be an undocumented worker and commit to over the table compensation, however the benefit to them is too much for them to pass up.  These shady businesses do more to incite illegal immigration than any single factor.  Remove them and the incentive to come vanishes.  These corrupt companies are the criminals, not the individuals who seek refuge from economic conditions which in a large discernible way were levied onto them by previous imperial greed.  The fact that these immigrants ask to be exploited does not justify their exploitation, however when labeled as criminals it is easier for the public at large to turn a blind eye or simply warrants their ambivalence; viewing something with contempt enables indifference to its suffering.  Americans need to own up to their complicity in this issue.

 Xenophobia is permeating our society and immigrant’s rights is nothing short of the preeminent civil rights issue of our time.  As much as even George W. Bush’s detractors could at the very least praise his steadfastness on issues, his vision of a pathway to citizenship for the millions of hard-working, law-abiding undocumented residents remains unfulfilled.  Likewise, Barack Obama has said the right things but his actions say nothing at this point.  These human beings are not going anywhere as there is no plausible way to simply flush our country of those who are here without papers.  As a result, our inhumane immigration policies are creating a second class shadow citizenship for the plethora of undocumented individuals who call America home.  Misguided legislation like SB1070 and the inaction of the federal government in reforming immigration are fostering the idea that all undocumented residents deserve contempt as opposed to humanity, scorn instead of compassion.  It is completely disheartening that in New York City, origin for so many immigrants who shaped our country, disdain for immigrants can proliferate.  What’s next ChinAmerica Town?

The DREAM Act is the first step in righting what is going on.  Let’s remember this is for individuals who came to this country as minors.  They were forced to come here as minors and did not have their own volition.  To deny them the potential for prosperity in the only country they know as home is downright cruel.  What some do not realize is that the undocumented students are constitutionally allowed education up untill high school anyway.  Why not take the brightest, who have shown clear progress towards a positive future, and enable them the ability to live to the fullest of their potential by allowing them access to a full education and then the ability to apply their talents in their home country.  It’s not a “reward” for breaking the law, they didn’t do anything wrong.  It’s about equity.

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