20 August 2007

Immigration And The Real Issues

This was originally posted as a MySpace bulletin by the one and only Sweet Thursday this afternoon, and I like Mr. Cahn's article enough to re-post it here, for your delectation.

Thank you, ST, for originally posting this.

Be seeing you.

----------------- Bulletin Message -----------------
From: Sweet Thursday
Date: Aug 20, 2007 1:34 PM

With the arrest of Elvira Arellano it seems that the focus has been again
not on the real issues(NAFTA, ICE, corporations), but on how illegal immigrants, like her are causing our economy and healthcaresystems to fail (fear fear ). I think David does an awesome job at putting the REAL issues out there!

August 2, 2007
Refocusing the Immigration Reform Debate
by David Cahn, Community Organizer

Immigration reform died in Congress for a second time this past June and probably won't be approached again on a federal level until we have a new occupant in the Oval Office. Instead of quieting down though, the debate over immigration reform has only intensified and spilled over into cities, counties and states across the nation. The battle over immigration is now down to the local level as Minutemen-type groups are pushing for a variety of anti-immigrant ordinances

While some elected officials and right-wing pundits have distracted people with talk of individual border crossers being the root of our ills, few people have publicly talked about the much larger and actual threat of corporate border crossers. There is a direct connection between companies and jobs moving out of our country and people doing whatever they can to come in. When corporations can travel the world looking for the cheapest labor costs and lowest environmental protections, we all suffer. Those on the left and right, Mexican immigrants and Minutemen, teachers, baristas and truck drivers and everyone in between all suffer. Some want to blame immigrants for problems in our healthcare system, public education or lack of decent paying jobs. It might be easy, but it will not solve anything.

As U.S. citizens we need to learn about the effects of policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA and organizations such as the International Monetary fund (IMF) before we think we have any solutions towards "immigration reform." It is these free trade policies that put the rights of corporations and profits above the rights of people and it is these free trade policies, supported by Republicans and Democrats alike that need to be part of any debate on immigration today.

Since the passage of NAFTA in 1994 one of the results has been many U.S. companies moving production to Mexico to take advantage of lower wages and weaker environmental protections. The end result has been the loss of over 3 million U.S. jobs. A telling study in 1999 found that 90% of 400 U.S. plant closings or threatened plant closings occurred during union organizing drives. By 2002, the US Department of Labor had received claims for NAFTA-related unemployment assistance from over 507,000 workers. The Bush Administration's response to this was to simply order the Department of Labor to stop counting, since the job loss figures were an embarrassment as he was trying to get Congress to give him fast track authority to negotiate even stronger free trade agreements such as the Free Trade Area of the America.

Another major result has been U.S. subsidized corn flooding the economy of Mexico, pushing millions of small subsistence farmers and others in Mexico into severe poverty. Former union organizer David Bacon sums up the net result, "No matter how many walls are built on the border, no matter how many troops or National Guardsmen or helicopters patrol it, workers will still cross it looking for a future." U.S. foreign policies and the ways they wreck the economies of other countries have a direct bearing on people being forced to migrate here as a matter of survival.

Once folks do cross that border (or overstay their visas) we are led to believe that somehow attempts at barring migrant families and workers from employment, housing or healthcare are going to solve the socioeconomic problems of our society today. Deporting or denying work to migrant workers does not create a single job for anyone else. If anybody can show me an "illegal alien" who has moved U.S. factories overseas, spent millions of our tax dollars on failing war in Iraq or given major tax breaks to corporations I might give the claims of nativists a little more credence. Until then, this debate needs to focus on the real issues at hand.

Colorado is a great example of the effect of anti-immigrant legislation. Folks in Colorado were so effective on a state level in passing these laws and chasing immigrants away that they have found themselves with a serious work shortage in their fields. This past March the Department of Corrections offered a solution in the form of pilot program contracting prison labor to Colorado farms. Inmates will be paid about 60 cents a day and watched over by prison guards who will also be paid by the farms.

By the year 2050 it is predicted that white people will no longer be the numerical majority in the United States. I am sorry for the distress this might cause a lot of my fellow white citizens, but it is a fact that I do not think can be changed. Fortunately we have a choice: we can start to see some humanity in those we call "illegal aliens" and realize we are impacted by the same economic policies that have forced them to migrate to the U.S. and stand up to protect all of our rights to decent work, housing and education or we can remain divided while more and more U.S. jobs continue to be outsourced, healthcare becomes privatized, and social services continue to be slashed.

Regardless of the legislation to come, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the enforcement-arm of the Department of Homeland Security has promised increased raids, arrests, detention and deportation of migrant workers and families. Since 2003, under the stated goals of Operation Endgame, it has been ICE's goal to "remove all removable aliens" by the year 2012. From Bellingham to New Bedford, Connecticut and everywhere in between the result has been the separation of thousands of families, communities living in fear and countless reports of human rights abuses.

For others, the result is also profit. For example, migrant workers in our area, and really shipped from around the nation, are detained in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. The Center is a privatized, 1000 bed facility run by the GEO Group, Inc (recent news about GEO Group operations in other parts of the country). GEO Group is a multinational corporation and in the business of caging undocumented workers and U.S. citizens alike with over 50 facilities in the U.S. alone. While some folks are in a fit over people working in this country without documents, detainees are paid $1 a day for serving food and doing janitorial work within the facility. Immigrant detainees in general are the fastest growing incarcerated population in the U.S. and over half of all detention facilities are privately operated, charging the federal government on average $95 dollars per bed per day. It is no coincidence that our Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have been pushing for a new "guest worker" program, as a solution to immigration reform. Though the stated objective of Endgame is clear enough, the hidden agenda of the operation remains officially undeclared — that agenda is to deport the undocumented migrants working in the U.S. and recruit them back as serviceable individuals in a "guest worker" program that will reduce them to a condition of transient labor. Though this might be good for a number of companies, where will this leave the vast majority of U.S. citizens with so many regulated and transient labor in our communities? If we do end up with a guest worker program in the coming years, where are we going to focus our attention to look for a real solution? The people caught in this situation or the people who created it?

Community to Community Development is a women-led, community organization looking for justice in our food system and in all of our communities. We understand that attacks on immigrants in Whatcom County and Washington State are an attack on all of us and we are looking to work with anybody and everybody in finding real solutions to community problems. Through a number of community projects we are trying to build productive and proactive solutions to these issues and many more. Whatever solution comes forward to reform our immigration laws, it must be socially and economically sustainable for everybody. This opinion piece is written as ongoing invitation for constructive dialogue and collaboration in the future. This so-called "immigration reform" debate is not going anywhere anytime soon, and it is important that we refocus it on the real factors at hand. Let me know what you think!

David Cahn is a community organizer with Community to Community Development and a grandson of immigrants. He can be contacted at davidncahn@gmail.com

August 02nd 2007 Posted to Home Page, Press Releases & Announcements, Articles and Editorials, Immigrants in America


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