Last week, President Obama announced his intention to address immigration reform in the next few months in a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The statement came as a relief to many, especially with recent reports of human rights abuses within the U.S. detention system. But, as most of the President's statements seem crafted to appeal to warring political constituencies, his actual intentions are still elusive.
Jorge Rivas of RaceWire, for one, wasn't wholly won over by the President's speech during a town hall meeting in California, and noted that Obama got "a little nasty." Stressing ethnocentric arguments such as "You will learn English" while pointedly avoiding any comment on the suffering tied to the detention process makes for a poor juxtaposition:
"You've got to..say to the undocumented workers, you have to say, look, you've broken the law; you didn't come here the way you were supposed to. So this is not going to be a free ride. It's not going to be some instant amnesty. What's going to happen is you are going to pay a significant fine. You are going to learn English. You are going to -- you are going to go to the back of the line so that you don't get ahead of somebody who was in Mexico City applying legally. " —March 18, President Barack Obama, Orange County, California
Perhaps his strategy is to soften opposition to migrant rights, but lines about language fuel the anti-immigration culture war. Do all immigrants have a problem with English? Or is he talking specifically about the demographic that Sheriff Joe Arpaio targets? If so, why?
President Obama is no Joe Arpaio. But, in this climate, anti-immigrant sentiment does not need to be fed. Our President is a smart and oratorically gifted man. In light of the current economic crisis, he could speak about how the current immigration crisis is tied directly to our trade practices.
Obama also spoke about joining militarily with Mexican President Calderón in efforts to stamp out the violence flaring up since his attacks against the deeply entrenched Cartel families. Democracy Now! has a roundtable discussion on the implications of further militarizing the border.
But the implications aren't fully drawn out for the American public. In the modern world, borders do not separate families, nor commerce, nor soldiers, nor bank accounts and their owners. We need to begin addressing cross-border issues. For example, if NAFTA is supposed to help Mexico's economy, why are Mexican farmers on tractors in the streets protesting the policy, as Michelle Chen reports. NAFTA has allowed Mexico's corn crop to be so devalued that Mexico—the land where the plant was born roughly 5,000 years ago—now imports corn. Streams of campesinos have migrated north...where we lock them up.
Just as the economic crisis is very real to the people losing jobs, the Immigrations Customs and Enforcement (ICE) raids are very real for a large faction of America. New America Media reports on the President's second town hall meeting in California, where immigration reform activists showed up to "remind him we're still here," according to Nativo Lopez, state and national president of the Mexican-American Political Association. The President did not address immigration issues at this event, however.
President Obama speaks of beefing up security on our border, but avoids the growing immigrant detention industry and the problems that accompany it. At the same time, Mexico is flooding the country and its border cities with troops. But what does all the enforcement get us?
Mother Jones covers the resurrection and subsequent destruction of one town's economy due to ICE raids in A Year Without A Mexican:
"The 389 arrests [in Postville, IA] eliminated more than one-third of the meatpacker's workforce and nearly one-fifth of the town's population. It also prompted an exodus of hundreds more Hispanic residents who were either afraid of being targeted or simply opted to escape the town's inevitable tailspin. Postville's businesses began to suffer almost immediately."
The article paints a grim picture of a warm, thriving community that is decimated. Postville is now a strange, "open-air prison," with various residents wearing visible electronic shackles. Rowdy citizens have been bused in to fill the place of the deported workers.
The Nation highlights a documentary on detention called "The Least of These." The video explores the T. Don Hutto Residential Facility, "a for-profit prison", where Latin American families live in a converted prison environment. They don't get enough sun, they don't get enough exercse, and the children draw crayon pictures of the American flag, with tiny, fragile letters spelling out Please help us. How long should they wait?
In Up Against The Wall, RaceWire reports on the growing indications that the Obama Administration may not break with Bush policies regarding immigration. In fact, it may increase enforcement measures while siphoning money away from worker protections in the U.S.
And all this "just days after huddling with Latino members of Congress on immigration issues." If Obama isn't careful, he will give the Republican party a foothold to regain trust with Latino voters. I suspect that in any approach to Immigration, compromise is inevitable. But, if the Latino community feels used or betrayed by unkept promises, it could be disastrous for Democrats.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration.
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