Friday, July 06, 2007

On the Immigration Debate, pt. 2

Peace and blessings,

As promised, I wanted to follow up on my previous post regarding the immigration debate. What's interesting to me is that we have a long history in this country of engaging in or allowing certain things to happen as long as those things benefit us economically. However, once these things become a burden on us, we want to do away with them completely. The way I see it, the current immigration debate is no different.

In addition to contributing to the social and cultural fabric of the U.S., most would agree that immigrants (legal and illegal) have contributed most signifcantly to the U.S. economy. Furthermore, economic prosperity (better jobs, wages, schools) is one of the main reasons that people come to the U.S. The argument that the amount of illegal immigrants in the U.S. is becoming "problematic" because they are using services that are intended for U.S. citizens holds weight, but viewing this argument, and the whole debate through a historical lens may shed some light on what should be done to address this issue.

This country was founded on, and is maintained by, capitalism. In other words, America came to be as a result of a minority of people exploiting and gettting wealthy on the backs of the majority. The very first manifestation of this was slavery, which was the most extreme form of capitalism. In contemporary society, capitalism generally refers to the idea of maximizing profit from cheap labor. Slavery was an extreme form of this because slaves (especially those working in the fields) did not get paid anything.

It is my belief that this capitalist mentality, or this notion that there's nothing morally wrong with a few getting extremely wealthy off of the backs of those who are barely making enough for themselves to survive, let alone their families, that is mostly responsible for the large numbers of immigrants (legal and illegal) in the U.S. In other words, the "promise" of jobs and the fact that capitalism requires increasingly cheap labor to increase profits and remain competitive contributed to this widely held belief that America is the place to be if you are looking for a job. As a result, people from other countries, expecially those from countries where they are oppressed and in dire poverty, come to America to seek employment and a better life for themselves and/or their families.

For instance, not to sound stereotypical (and I apologize to my readers if this statement is interpreted as such), but most would agree that there are certain sectors and jobs that appear to be primarily occupied by immigrants. It seems like allowing immigrants to come to America and employing them to work for cheap is "cool" with major corporations and the government (they are actually one in the same) as long as the primary "consequences" of this decision are increased profits, maintenance of vital institutions, and the perpetuation of the capitalist ethos. A "consequence" that America did not expect, however, was the realization that immigrants are not just workers but human beings, and that they felt entitled, citizen or not, to utilize the services of the country that is prospering from their labor.

Now i'm not saying that nothing should be done about immigration in America because there should be. What I am saying is that in order to fully address the issue in a way that values the humanity of each immigrant and of all those involved, America must take a hard look at the cultural ethos which helped create the situation that Americans are complaining about now. Trying to address this issue by only focusing on what to do with the illegal immigrants in this country and prevent more from entering the country will not suffice. Capitalist ideas are a huge part of the problem, and thus addressing these ideas are an integral part of the solution. It's not just a political and economic issue, but a moral one.....

What do you think? What role (if any) do you think America's promotion of capitalism plays in the massive flow of immigration the country has seen in the past 20 or so years? Weigh in and speekonit...


Anonymous said...

I was talking with the fourth grade teacher from the school I used to work at about guest worker programs. His family came here as migrant workers, moving around often. However, he is not in favor of guest worker programs, because all that have been proposed anywhere involve a surrendering of basic rights. So, what little rights an illegal immigrant has, a guest worker surrenders. So, while some will come as guest workers, many will continue to come illegally. Guest workers must have rights, and should not be told they must leave just because they had to take a sick child to the doctor. I am not sure what the actual law would entail, but it would actually be harder for a guest worker to stay here than for an illegal immigrant to cover his or her tracks and stay undetected.
So what is the solution to the problem? No idea. Many immigrants from Latin America simply want to send money home to family. They still consider themselves citizens of their homeland, but are unable to make a life there. It is difficult to wait for a legal way in, and coming illegally leads to living in fear. All it took for my ancestors to get here was to climb on a boat and sign their name, after prooving they weren't sick. If it was still the same the country would be pretty full, but I have a hard time telling someone that they are out of luck because they didn't get here soon enough.
Any ideas of how to make this work?

Unknown said...

I wasn't really sure on what were some of the consequences/effects of the guest worker program, so I appreciate you hightening my awareness of that issue. To answer your question, I don't know what the solution would be, but I feel that illegal immigrants must be included in the process of developing and implementing whatever solution(s) that come to bear. I think everyone needs to take a step back and re-evaluate our conceptions of human rights and of valuing ALL humanity before we develop more policies that only serve as "bandaids" but don't really address people's needs (Americans and illegal immigrants alike). One question that must be asked is: Do we value the humanity of non-U.S. citizens in the same way as U.S. citizens?

This is just my opinion. In light of this question, how do u think your former co-worker would respond?

Anonymous said...

I never asked him why they went back to Mexico the first time, and teachers have to provide proof of legal residence (a passport or social security card and drivers license) so I don't know whether they were legal when his family came when he was very young or not. I know of at least two parents of students who are undocumented. The daughter of one came to help in my class, and the son of the other was in my class. I'm not sure if you heard down there about the del monte immigration bust, but our principal ended up with foster kids for a couple days until kids could be reunited with parents. I think this is one of the biggest issues. If a child is born here to illegal parents, the child is legal and cannot be deported. Any solution we try to implement would have to keep families together. From the immigrant standpoint, key points would be:

Access to medical care through private insurance from the employer or whatever system the state of residence has for low income families
Being able to send a percentage of their income home to family in their country of origin
A reasonable amount of time after a job ends to find another before being deported...can we deport those who have been on welfare for 3 generations too? They should pick a country an ancestor came from and go be their problem...more on that later
The ability to leave and come back depending on seasonal labor without having to reapply
After a certain amount of time, passing a basic English proficiency exam, and prooving that they can contribute to society, they should be given the option, but not obligation, to become citizens.

That is what I have seen that immigrants would want...i'm probably missing some things. Also, any longstanding solution would have to deal with the reason why illegal immigrants are coming in the first place, which is that they don't have opportunities for adequate education or living wage jobs. The place to start rebuilding or equipping a society is in the schools, with adequate teacher training and sponsorships for children to go to school, including not just supplies for school, but perhaps even a stipend for families who allow their children to stay in school past age 13, when many children are asked to help support the family, effectively sabatoging their chance for a future. One thing people will never understand is that there is NO quick fix that will keep immigrants out of our country, and insisting that they stay in a bad situation would completely reject their humanity. Why should our declaration of independence, promising life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, apply only to those who were lucky enough to get here early?

The only way lawmakers are going to see the other side of the issue is to have a face to put to it, which they will never get sitting in their offices.

Unknown said...

I totally agree, especially with the importance of keeping families together. It seems like we are quick to view things as political and economic issues rather than moral ones.