Immigration’s “Good News” — A Return to Reason

After the shadowy Bush years, the emergence of reasonable policy can be a little surprising. Immigration law has suffered from a lack of planning and is often influenced by fear rooted in the Sept. 11 attacks. But the national dialogue on immigration has begun to grow healthier. Activists, immigration advocacy groups and Latino and Asian American communities dug in and are working toward reform. Right wing and anti-immigration voices have less sway. This week we see two tangible and positive developments on this front: An announcement from the White House regarding detention policy reform and a letter against aggressive enforcement sent to the White House from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.


The White House’s latest announcement on immigration detention reform is encouraging, as it finally addresses the abysmal conditions of the detained, who include families and children. Though, asMichelle Chen muses for RaceWire, what is the overall purpose of these proposed improvements in detention facilities and policies? Are they simply to make the general public more comfortable? After reviewing the latest reform proposals for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers, Chen finds a lot of hype and not many details. She writes that despite any makeover, “the central, defining reality of detention remains the banishment of hundreds of thousands for violating a system of rules that is itself guilty of systematically violating rights.” So reason may be returning, but in some cases, it may only be turning the corner, and hardly arrived as of yet.

On the heels of a recent letter to the White House that demanded an end to aggressive enforcement policies, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has weighed in. The lawmakers sent President Barack Obama  a letter that underlined the connection between racial profiling, civil rights abuses, and the 287(g) program, which deputizes local law enforcement with border patrol powers. The caucus called on the administration to “immediately terminate” the program. They wrote that in their collective experience, “state and local law enforcement officials actually use their expanded and often unchecked powers under the program to target immigrants and persons of color.”

The “tough” angle of U.S. immigration policy can be traced, of course, to the national response to the attacks of September 11. This was when enforcement began to take an aggressive, combative shape. But does it serve us today? Instead of viewing the changing demographics of the nation as a phenomenon deserving a military response, it is more helpful to have a dialogue like The American Forum’s Rev. J. George Reed and Chris Liu-Beers, who discuss the root causes of immigration. Harsher enforcement has little value, according to Reed and Liu-Beers. The conversation must include “American trade policy (including NAFTA),” the economic conditions and lack of opportunity in “sending” countries. They also assert that the idea of somehow deporting 12 million people from our country is but “ugly fantasy.”

Sometimes reasonable conversation on the immigration issue arrives as studied fact, taking the form of reports such as the recent Principles for an Immigration Policy to Strengthen and Expand the American Middle Class: 2009 Edition, which Michele Waslin reports on for Alternet. “The myth that immigration is bad for U.S. workers has sulled the immigration debate for far too long,” writes Waslin. And the study reinforces one of the more benevolent notions in the U.S. national identity: that our social body so often nourished by immigration, benefits from this cycle. Immigration reform, properly planned (based on reason, and not fear) can “harness the positive contributions of immigrants, thus improving the lives of middle class Americans.” However, under the current system, “undocumented workers are vulnerable and exploitable, living at the mercy of their employers,” and to the detriment of all of us.

Last month, Lindsay Beyerstein pushed back against a bogeyman used by those of the Joe “You Lie” Wilson ilk for In These Times.  She asks “Why Not Cover Undocumented Migrants?” Beyerstein explains why allowing the undocumented to buy into insurance would be better for all of us. “As a group, migrants tend to be young and healthy,” and this is a desirable demographic to insure, on the part of the health insurance industry. Migrants often “return home before they get to the inevitable ‘old and expensive’ phase of life.” Additionally, inherent to how insurance works, it simply makes economic sense to spread the risk to a larger group of people. All in all, Beyerstein writes, “there’s no good economic reason to make eligibility contingent upon immigration status.”

The changing dialogue benefits from independent reporting, like Wiretap’s coverage of FBI informant Ahmad Afzali. The facts are not all in, but according to the FBI, Afzali, who had been working with the U.S. government agency for over a year, is accused of tipping off alleged terrorist Najibullah Zazi. Afzali’s attorney claims this would be a ridiculous action to take on a line he knew was tapped. Meanwhile, the Muslim community where Zazi lived feel that he is not being fairly treated, his own words being “distorted and used against him.” Whichever way this goes, we can only hope that Muslim communities in the U.S. are afforded a bit more peace of mind in the years ahead. It certainly is one group that has suffered at the hands of wartime hysteria and aggression.

We can’t exclude reasonable consideration from any one group of humans. We can not withhold humane treatment, nor an identification with any group in our nation. That is how national ID laws get passed—an “othered” group is used first. Then, it comes to the rest. This is also why certain youths are punished, even though laws were passed long ago to protect other youth from such fates. We see where the insistence of anti-immigrant irrationality leads us: To building “national security” walls in the desert that eat up billions of a national budget just to patch the holes, and accomplish just as much death on that lonely trail to opportunity.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by membersof The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.



David Weitzler
David Weitzler8 years ago

To avoid deportation local, undocumented Brazilians usually stay out of trouble and drive even more cautiously than we do, but across the country homicide and DUI manslaughter committed by illegal immigrants are inordinate to their numbers.

My guess as to why my local experience differs from the national is that:

Brazilians come here with neither a sense of our being indebted to them nor one of shame in being poor. Our forefathers and even not so fore fathers did not deprive theirs of anything and, in their homeland, there is a greater willingness of the wealthy to live but a stone’s throw from the poor. Nor did Brazilians grow up along cocaine’s corruptive trail through Central America.

I believe that in the U.S.A. it is not poverty that sets one off to steal bread money or in time to still a life; it is the disstatusfaction beheld in one’s poverty; and unfortunately for some Mexican immigrants that poverty began long before they could have contributed to it: in fact, long before they were born.

Mexicans, Brazilians and U.S.Americans may all star off equal but Mexicans then endure all these burdens plus the added delusion of security in mega-families.

roberto c.
robert m8 years ago

I'm am just sick and tire of all this racism ect.. now when we all say our pledge of alligence of our country we all forget the phrase "in justice for all" now lets take a momment and think what it means and yes people do break the law but for reasons not because they want to i just hated when people don't understand their situations i can imagine how horrble your lives must be because everithing is about you WE ARE ALL A NATION OF IMIGRANTS and this is their home just because we took over their land does not mean anithing this was and still is their home i don't wish this to any of you but i wish one day... you could experince how it feels to tear someones family apart and you will see how it feels THIS is not the solution to imigration separiting families no WAY now whats going to be next, they are here for reasons those who commit crimes THOSE should be out not a good family thats trying to work their but off for minimum wage in farms feed their kids Come on

Lorna Paisley
Lorna Paisley8 years ago

I have second hand knowledge from friends and people at my Church that welcomes immigrants that they do not want to take advantage of free English lessons and they do not want to learn about becoming citizens as our Church offered a workshop.
After much conversation I think many immigrants want the American dream but not American citizenship. They want rights but not responsibilities. I know this is a gray area but many times true. In my city where we have many illegal immigrants I think there are more situation where they get away with more unlawful activity and breaking of ordinances than there are incidences in which they are treated unfairly.
When I walk out my door I hear Spanish being spoken everywhere. I am a stranger in my own country. I am adding that some of my Hispanic neighbors are very nice and we struggle to communicate. And how can they be good neighbors when we can not look out for each other or warn each other about what might be happening in the neighborhood. They can barely ask me for help and I can not ask most of them for help. And when there are crimes committed they tend not to report them for fear of police which is certainly not warranted. I am part of a neighborhood watch and sometimes they come to me. I am always willing to help.
I do not wish any of them harm but I think they need to learn English if they wish to be here and play by the rules of being a good neighbor and a good citizen.

gary richard jo Thompson

peaca to all,if your not English,see ya later

Catherine O Neill

When my Grandparents came to the U.S. fro Ireland they went to Ellis Island & worked hard to become American Citizens. They didn't sneak into U.S. They paid taxes worked their back off & raised a family LEGALLY!! When I go through security at an airport I need ID to prove who I am. Where's theirs & most of them are convicts etc Give me a break!!

Nellie K. A.
Nellie K Adaba8 years ago

They are not trying to break the law they are seeking better opportunity! I'm a legal immigrant and I know what it's like to want a better life and success! If they had everything in their home country, they wouldn't be coming here!

steven h.
Steve h8 years ago

THEY should not be here if they are breaking the LAW!!! Bottom line!!!

cecily w.
cecily w8 years ago

I agree with Paul Diamond's first statement--severly fine and imprison businesses and individuals who employ illegal alients. I would add provision for assets seizure.

Also, I do not understand why people who are here illegally are
"detained" unless they have committed additional criminal offenses. Why are they not fingerprinted and immediately deported?

John T.
John T8 years ago

We can make this real simple. Instead of us writing new Immigration Laws, we can just adopt the laws/requirements that the country the person is emigrating from uses. I.e., if you're Mexican, what ever the law is that I would need to comply with to immigrate TO Mexico becomes the requirement YOU need to comply with to immigrate to the United States. Since Mexico feels no compulsion to run dual language schools, we can save a bundle by ceasing to do that here.
The same goes for Cubans, Ecuadorans, or any other immigrant. They can't accuse us of being unfair since we're just following the same law their country employs.
To the argument that we're tearing families apart when we send illegals back; that was the choice/chance THEY gambled on when they decided to sneak across the border and have their child in the USA.
If somebody decides to break into my house in the middle of the night and gets killed, don't yell at me. HE was the one who decided it was worth his life to try and steal what I worked for.

David Weitzler
David Weitzler8 years ago

I felt terrible with what Serbia did to Croatia, especially after the thankless nurturing extended to Tesler, pride of Serbia. However with your comment, "To avoid coming across as racist, I focus on my own ethnic community" you are clearly missing the point. In a land of singular ethnicity, it's a bit like walking around with mirrors all over the place. The U.S.A. and Brazil are the most diverse nations on earth, but when we connect with each other, it is nowhere like a morning shave.

By the way the next time you focus on our genocidal past forget not Croatia's. Fascism tapped into its ethnic oneness big time.