October 2006

Are the references to the civil rights movement valid?

John Lewis, the once president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, friend and associate of Dr. King, and current congressman, says absolutely.

Jim Lawson, the man to train John Lewis and the other SNCC members, says absolutely.

Jesse Jackson, the president and founder of the RainbowPUSH Coalition, says abolutely.

Both Jackson and Lawson made references to immigration and slavery, so I’m done being careful about sharing my awareness of the similarities. Here’s Jackson’s quote:

“Our nation became addicted to slave labor, hating the enslaved and leaving great scars on our culture…. Now we have become addicted to immigrant labor, without an effective plan for citizenship. There are those that are resenting those whose cheap labor subsidizes their privileged lifestyles.”

And here’s Lawson’s:

“Justice, freedom, equality, and liberty, and the beloved community for immigrant workers in our nation is an issue… too long a part of plantation capitalism…”

The greatest living heroes of the civil rights movement are actively involved in the immigrants’ rights movement.

website metrics


Myths about immigration dispelled.


website metrics

Immigration Policy: A New Approach
Jennifer Roback, Yale University
CATO Policy Analysis No. 5

Since economic migration is an investment, migrants tend to be young, ambitious, future-oriented, and, ultimately, economically successful. Immigrants, as both laborers and consumers, increase the country’s total wealth. The illegal-alien “problem” is largely a creation of current policies. Open immigration would help the American economy, save tax dollars, enhance America’s image abroad, and substantially reduce our foreign-policy costs.

President Reagan has proposed a new immigration policy for the United States that includes a slight increase in the number of immigrants permitted from Canada and Mexico, a ten-year waiting period for permanent resident status for illegal aliens already in this country, a revival of the guest worker (“bracero”) program, and stiff penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens. The proposal has been roundly denounced by Latino groups as well as by many members of Congress. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said there was no demonstrated need for Mexican workers while Americans remain unemployed, and Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) questioned the need for employer sanctions and asked why a counterfeit-proof identification card was not required.

In all the debate over immigration, no one seems to be considering the possibility of returning to America’s traditional open immigration policy. Yet that policy, which served us so well until the introduction of the quota system in 1921 and which allowed many of our ancestors to enter the United States, has much to recommend it. Both the theory of migration and our experience with immigrants suggest that an open immigration policy would be in the interests of U.S. citizens.


website metrics

ACLU Press Release

(9/1/2006)NEW YORK – An unconstitutional ordinance passed by the Hazleton, PA City Council will not be allowed to go into effect according to a coalition of the American Civil Liberties Union, Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Community Justice Project, the law firm of Cozen O’Connor and local attorneys George Barron, David Vaida, and Barry Dyller. Federal District Court Judge James M. Munley signed an Order, agreed to by the parties, that Hazleton will not enforce its so-called “Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance” at this time.


website metrics

Columbia University

website metrics

The founder of the Minutemen Project recently attended Columbia University to give a lecture. Several protesters stormed the stage and unfurled a banner that said in several languages, “No Human is Illegal.” A melee broke out when members of the Minutemen attacked those carying the banners.

My thoughts on the violence at Columbia are these. The Minutemen have claimed that because their speech was interrupted, their civil right to free speech was violated. From a legal perspective, and of course I’m not a lawyer, this is silly. The First Ammendment guarantees that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, it does not guarantee that if you have something you want to say, that a private university has to let you use its forum to say it, or that no one can interrupt you or yell so loudly that no one can hear you speaking.

Furthermore, I obviously believe the Minutemen are completely wrong, not just in their legal claims against Columbia, but entirely wrong on the immigration question. But I’m guessing that no or few Minutemen supporters are reading this blog. I’m guessing most readers have egalitarian beliefs about immigration policy. So I would like to speak to the other side of this altercation, those who stormed the stage to declare something I believe, that no human is illegal.
The Minutemen may be racist, they may be xenophobic, they may even be murderers, as you claimed. But this kind of hyperbole is divisive, sensational, and ultimately will do more damage than good. So will the way you conducted your protest. Please read Satyagraha by Mohandas Gandhi, Why We Can’t Wait by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau, and Walking with the Wind, by John Lewis before conducting another demonstration like the one you attempted last week.

Regarding language, Gandhi said that during a nonviolent campaign, we should speak about our opponents as little as possible, and when we do, we should be as mild as possible.

Furthermore, unlike your demonstration, nonviolence is not a disorderly, disorganized practice. Satyagraha (nonviolent resistance) has several prerequisites. Gandhi put them this way. In order to be a Satyagrahi, you must 1-have a faith in a living god, 2-have a faith in the goodness of human beings, 3-take a vow of chastity, 4-take a vow to be free of all intoxicating substances, and 5-take a vow of poverty. Gandhi, the person who brought home rule to India and inspired Dr. King to end segregation in the U.S., believed that nonviolence was a discipline, a way of life. Or as Dr. King put it, not merely a method, but a philosophy, and a way of being.

Regarding nonviolence, Dr. King said that nonviolence means more than refusing to kill a man, it means refusing to hate him. At the very heart of nonviolence, as taught by those who perfected it in the U.S. civil rights movement, is the belief that the perpetrators are also victims. The nonviolent activist is not acting against the perpetrator, s/he is acting against a system where all are harmed. Dr. King repeatedly affirmed that the segregationists were victims as well as the segregated. Understanding this excludes the possibility of name-calling, ridiculing, and hate. Pity the minutemen, if you must, but never hate them.

Growing out of this understanding, Gandhi and King taught that nonviolence does not seek victory, it seeks reconciliation. When you claimed that this demonstration was an act of nonviolent direct action, Dr. King’s phrase, you belittled the commitment of Dr. King and a generation of the most moral people humanity has ever produced. John Lewis wore a coat and tie to the lunch counters he picketed. And he walked, not ran, calmly toward his attackers on “Bloody Sunday.”

Recently I reread Les Miserables and found this statement by the Bishop who forever changed Jean Valjean’s life:

“If you are leaving that sad place with hatred and anger against men, you deserve compassion; if you leave it with goodwill, gentleness, and peace, you are better than any of us.”

This statement well describes the Satyagrahis in India who responded to Britain’s colonial violence with nonviolence. It well describes the civil rights activists of the 1950s and 60s who met the hatred and violence of people like George Wallace and Bull Connor with love, compassion, and nonviolence. And I hope in 50 years, we look back to see that it describes this generation of immigrants who met xenophobia, nativism, racism, vigilanteeism, exclusion, and dehumanization with love, hope, empathy, and most of all nonviolence, in the fullest sense of the word – not as you have co-opted it in your disorderly protest.

Let us try to find a way to reconciliation, not to “victory,” for so-called victory requires that someone be a loser. In our hearts, let us come to beleive that the Minutemen are as also victims of immigration restrictions that creates a legal distinction between people based on their place of birth.

Let us come to believe that these Minutemen are not Thenardier, they are not vilains; they are Javert–men and women of principle who currently have more integrity to the law than to the truth. That was always the difference between Javert and Valjean in my reading. Valjean held fast to truth–the direct translation for Satyagraha–while Javert held fast to the law, regardless of whether the law was correct or not. But Javert was no villain, Victor Hugo gave that role to Thenardier, a self-serving man without principle. Of course, let us hold fast to truth, but that means we love, pray for, and do good to those who want to be our enemies.

website metrics

The popular debate in the media over immigration is almost always about what the ideal immigration policy should be, from the financial perspective of native born U.S. citizens. This is an awful way to debate an issue that is entirely a question of human rights, as I see this issue. But let me make it clear, this campaign is for those who reject the current debate and affirm that this is an issue of rights. Specifically, it is for those who would like to see the right for free movement of people across borders to be acknowledged and protected by the United States.Given that purpose, what about the wall? What about the National Guard at the border? What about the House bill to make crossing the border without permission a felony? Well, all of that gets sorted out in unexpected ways when you decide that your ultimate goal is to secure the right of free migration.

For instance, I personally hope that “illegal” immigration does become a felony, but for very different reasons than those who proposed the law. I would like to see so-called “illegal” immigration become a felony for two reasons. First, as Dr. King said, “I know that only when the night is dark enough can you see the stars.” I plan to use the methods of nonviolent civil disobedience as developed by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. to bring about a dramatic change in immigration policy, and I believe that those methods are more likely to be successful if the civilly disobedient activist is jailed rather than deported. Second, under the current legal tradition, immigration law is unprotected by the Constitution because the Supreme Court has abdicated its role as it relates to immigration law. But I feel very confident that if immigration were tied to criminal law rather than administrative law, the Supreme Court would have to take up the issue. If it did, the Court would have very little choice but to make drastic changes in the law because our current immigration law is explicitly sexist and implicitly racist. The Supreme Court itself has said as much, but has said that Congress is in charge of immigration law (the plenary power doctrine), so they can be as sexist and racist as they want to be. This is an abdication that I do not believe they would continue if immigration violations were made criminal.

Because the current debate encourages us to think in a very limited way, I invite you to do your own research on the right of free movement across borders.

website metrics

Let me give you an example of the ways that the current problems associated with so-called “illegal” immigration stem not from immigration, but from the illegalization of immigration. Many feel, and you will hear this common in the media, that because we are not in control of our borders, the United States of America is vulnerable to attack from terrorists who enter the country without permission.

Any honest person must admit that none or almost none of those crossing the border are terrorists. Almost all border crossers–whether they enter with documentation at a checkpoint or run through the desert in the middle of the night–are seeking a better life for themselves and their families. From an economic point of view, these migrants are supplying the labor our economy demands. But a few that cross are not so well-intentioned. A few cross, not to supply labor, but to supply drugs. Unlike the common references to the border and terrorism, drug trafficking through our borders is not hyperbole, but is in reality a huge problem for border communities, on both sides of the border. Whether you believe the hype about terrorists crossing the border illegally, or you consider the real problem of drug smuggling at the border, the basic problem is that there are so many “illegal” crossings that the border patrol cannot control the border. But while many argue that we should further militarize the border by building a wall, bringing the National Guard, etc., the solution to our problem is exactly the opposite.

If we did not prohibit laborers from immigrating, allowing all persons who could pass a criminal background check to enter the country at a checkpoint, where their belongings would be searched, then we could be certain that the only people running through the desert in the middle of the night are people who could not pass the criminal background check or who, if we searched their belongings, would not be allowed to enter the country. Rather than searching for a few needles in a very large haystack, we would get rid of the haystack and only have a few, well-exposed, needles. And that is a group that we could control. Furthermore, this is a group that we should want to control. In stead of being stretched thin by chasing millions of immigrant laborers through the desert, the border patrol would have enough resources to prevent every one of the hundreds of drug traffickers.

website metrics