October 24, 2007
Much dialogue on marijuana in the last few decades has centered around the large rates of incarceration and the exorbitant cost of imprisonment. According to estimates in Eric Schlosser’s book Reefer Madness, some 20,000 inmates are currently imprisoned primarily for a marijuana charge. Proponents for legalization have a valid point when they argue that if marijuana were no longer criminalized, it would save the United States millions of dollars in lost labor and imprisonment fees.
What is more bizarre, then, is that very few politicians or advocates have spoken loudly or clearly on the topic of immigrant criminalization. With more than 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the United States, this number defies all logical enforcement and flouts our underfunded prisons.
There are essentially two types of bad legislation. Some failed legislation are good laws badly enforced, as in the case of the Emancipation Proclamation or school desegregation in the South. Both of these were good laws which lacked a concerted effort at universal, uniform enforcement. While some states succeeded in integrating students of all ethnicities, many states found loopholes and ways to thwart real enforcement.
The other sort of bad legislation are bad laws impossible to enforce. Prohibition, as laid forth in the 18th Amendment, was a good moral choice but bad legislation. State-mandated alcohol abstinence was impossible to enforce; it succeeded in little more than feeding mob activity and criminalizing thousands of people who up to this point had been law-abiding citizens.
Our current immigration system in the United States would fit into the latter category. With over 12 million illegalized citizens, it is fiscally and theoretically impossible to punish, discipline, fine, imprison, or detain every extralegal immigrant in the U.S. Its enforcement is impossible, but that has not stopped us from pouring $6.7 billion dollars into border security for 2007. Border security received more than a 3% raise from 2006, while education funds remained essentially the same and emergency funds were cut by 2%, even in the wake of the Katrina fiasco. With all these increased border security measures, the cost to apprehend a single illegal immigrant crossing the border has risen from $300 in 1992 to $1700 in 2002. And we still have over 12 million undocumented immigrants.
The only immigration reform which has been approved in the past few years has been in bulking up our border security. However, that is missing the crux of this situation – this is ultimately self-defeating, prohibitively expensive, and impossible to enforce.
Martin Luther King, Jr., in his outspoken speeched against Vietnam, stated that, “Justice is indivisible.” To have a law on the books which is unjust and not being enforced is to shake the very bastions upon which our justice system stands. Ultimately we must join with King in agreeing that, “no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.” While amnesty will not solve everything, offering a feasible path towards citizenship for potential illegal immigrants as well as undocumented workers currently residing in the U.S. will begin to address this article of failed legislation and this pock upon our moral countenance.
October 19, 2007
Posted by Matthew Webster under activism
, border patrol
, Border Wall
, criminalizing immigration
, human rights
, Martin Luther King
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“The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin [read disobedience] increased, grace increased all the more.” Romans 5:20 NIV
With the advent of a nation-based quota system in 1924, many immigrants found themselves found themselves on the wrong side of a new law. Because of the quota system, it became illegal for many Mexicans to cross a border which was less than 80 years old. As the popular slogan states, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” Many immigrants who had been pouring in legally were obstructed, and these quotas failed to take into account the growing and dynamic needs of our country and the globalizing world. With the creation of more laws, there will inevitably be more criminals, not necessarily more peace.
The United States of America must soon decide whether it wants to continue waging the costly and ultimately self-defeating war it has been waging against immigration. The border wall, estimated at $4-8 billion dollars, and the President’s proposed $13 billion for Border Security are huge costs to stave off a necessary immigrant pool. Just yesterday, the first Baby Boomer cashed her Social Security check; at a time like this, we should be encouraging young, qualified immigrants. Who else will foot the bill for our millions of retirees?
Immigrants have always been the lifeblood of our economy, and that is no different in today’s world. In fact, immigrants are even more important in today’s economy. Immigrants bring the world economy and global competition within our borders. At a time when America is ceding its position to China and the EU as the world’s prime economic regulator, our nation must realize that it is far better to bring people into our country than to export business outside our country. For years, our production companies have been sending jobs and values overseas. Immigrants are the main reason many key “American” industries are still profitable and still centered in the continental U.S. To continue criminalizing immigrants is to ignore the rough lessons of globalization and to accept a position as an economy in decline.
Our nation is bogged down with the expense and legislation of fighting a battle that we must not and should not wish to win. China is just now re-emerging as a true world power after years of shutting its doors and walling in its borders. With its new legislation, the United States appears to be turning back the clock and starting down that same path of isolationism and xenophobia.
These are the economic and legislative reasons our nation must opt against the continued criminalization of immigrants. What follows are ideas for ways in which to nonviolently voice opposition to this philosophy. As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in “New Day in Birmingham” from his book Why We Can’t Wait, “It is terribly difficult to wage such a battle without the moral support of the national press to counteract the hostility of local editors.” (53) This tenet still holds true. Save for a few feature stories and the publicity surrounding the May Day protests 2 years ago, the media has been largely silent or silenced on this subject. It is the duty of the active citizenry, both legal and criminalized, to inform our nation’s media sources about the true heart of the immigration issue. If every informed reader would take genuine concern and write an OP-ED piece to his local newspaper or her college newspaper, this issue would again become the conversation piece it was before it was voted down in our nation’s lawmakers. If concerned citizens in our nation’s borderlands and cities would write articles or suggest immigrant stories to editors, newspapers and magazines would cover these stories because their readership demands it.
As I write, Mayor Ahumada in Brownsville, TX, is seeking to impose a court injunction against the construction of an unsightly, ineffective, and retrogressive border fence. Whereas in the times of Martin Luther King, Jr., the court injunctions were resisting positive changes in the realm of civil rights, this court injunction and others like it are seeking to use legal means to stop our country from continuing to make an unwise decision. Support for his efforts, and the efforts of all politicians and attorneys who are fighting for immigrant rights, is much needed at this time of dire urgency.
It is time for all God’s people to echo with one voice that anti-immigrant laws and quotas are immoral and retrogressive. It is time to say “Basta! Quotas were a bad idea in the 20s, and they are just as bad now.” We cannot afford to put this off until the next election. We must not just “sit” on this issue, because it is the backbone of our nation’s future. While 12 million illegal immigrants work and reside in this country without rights or legitimacy, none of us can rest assured of our inalienable rights. While 12 million “illegal” immigrants remain unjailed, unprosecuted, unprotected and disrespected, we must ask ourselves and our politicians if our nation can long endure with this many working citizens on the wrong side of such a law. If illegal aliens can be alienated because of an unjust quota system, then the very rights of citizenship itself are unjust. We must work in every facet and every means to nonviolently inform, persuade, and insist on true immigration reform. Our country desperately needs to rediscover grace.
October 13, 2007
Today I bought Former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox’s book, Revolution of Hope, and started reading it. At this point, I know almost nothing about President Fox. Just 9 pages of his book have taught me more than I knew beforehand. Before today I knew he was generally in favor of immigration. Little did I know.
President Fox’s grandfather is from Ohio and never spoke a word of Spanish, even after immigrating to Mexico. He left Ohio for Mexico in his search for the American dream. I know the feeling. Last spring I started searching for housing in Matamoros. In a solo trip driving through neighborhoods, a sentimental feeling came over me and I put in one of my Simon and Garfunkle CD’s I keep in my car. I found the track and let Paul Simon’s familiar humming hypnotize me into that often felt longing for an elusive something I’ve long sought. “Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together. I’ve got some real estate here in my bag,” the singing began. “Kathy I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping. I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why. Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all come to look for America,” the song concluded. I realized right then that the sentimental, even nostalgic feeling I was experiencing was that same familiar searching for what America ought to be that I have been doing all my adult life. I felt this same way as I was walking down the darkly lit stretch of Dyer Street that connected the Logan Heights portion of Ft. Bliss, where my barracks were, to the gritty Northeast section of El Paso where I bought the only lottery tickets of my life at a Circle K. This was the feeling I felt during my first tour of duty to Saudi Arabia when I opened my family’s Christmas gift of a box of cold cereal. A family of eleven children, and living in poverty, we had started a family tradition of each child receiving a box of cold cereal for Christmas–a luxury not experienced during any other season. It was that same feeling that I felt as a non-traditional student in college trying to shrug off poverty’s psychological effects and accept a view of myself that included a bachelor’s degree. What I felt, listening about the search for America in my car in Mexico (and these other times), was a heart agape and emptied of everything but hope, but longing.
President Fox put it this way:
South of the Rio Grande, which we call the Rio Bravo, we consider the entiere hemisphere to be the Americas. America is the New World, where ancient civilizations like the Maya and the Aztec mingled with the bold and the enslaved and the desperate from Europe, Arabia, and Asia. In this sense we are all Americans, and from Canada’s Yukon to Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego we all share the dream of a better life.
It is from this expanded understanding of America that President Fox sees immigration. “Hungry and desperate, seeking refuge from disease, war, persecution, and poverty,” Fox says, people are uprooted by “the four hoursemen of desperation who drive immigrants to the gates of hope.” (Why don’t we acknowlege poverty at home and a willing employer abroad as a valid reason to classify someone as a refugee?) These immigrants’ “dreams belong to all of us, becaues needs that basic, values that common, and a hope that divine simply cannot be limited by borders. America is in this way not so much a country but an ideal.” The American dream, Fox says, “remains the last, best hope of mankind on earth.”
If you are a Besteiro Middle School student writing about Dr. Martin Luther King, you might notice the similarities between Dr. King’s dream of a world where black and white, north or south of the Mason Dixon Line would share in a common humanity, a true community, and President Fox’s dream for the same for Latino and Anglo, north or south of the Rio Grande.
President Fox continues,
The world needs this dream of the Americas, now as never before…. Most of all we pray for a revolution of hope to restore the founding spirit of our hemisphere, where the Statue of Liberty once welcomed the eager dreams of the poorest, bravest, and most desperate people of the earth.
I know very little of the Americas outside the United States. Ultimately I did not move to Matamoros. I could not find a roommate and although I found an excellent apartment, I couldn’t afford it on my own. My total experience in Latin America is limited to roughly 10 weeks living and studying Spanish in Monterrey. But it is this sense of hope and opportunity and this idea of equality, combined with a lifelong commitment to public service, that has led me physically from the Mountain West to the Midwest, to the Middle East, the West Coast, and the Texas Border. This hope, this faith, this love, and this commitment led me intellectually and spiritually here to the border–to the limits–of that hope and equality.
There is more Martin Luther King to come on Sunday. There is more Revolution of Hope comming too. My prayer tonight is that with them will come more readers, more believers, more optimists, and more searchers.
October 8, 2007
Posted by John Moore under activism
, Civil Disobedience
, Declaration of Independence
, human rights
, Legal theory
, Martin Luther King
, Open Borders
, plenary power
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The next three week’s readings come from Martin Luther King’s most influential book, Why We Can’t Wait. In this week’s chapter, “The Sword That Heals,” Dr. King discusses many of the same principles that we have discussed in earlier weeks. This time, the principles of nonviolent civil disobedience are told in their historical context.
One of the most persuasive passages I’ve read about civil disobedience comes from this chapter. Dr. King wrote,
There were no more powerful moments in the Birmingham episode than during the closing days of the campaign, when Negro youngsters ran after white policemen, asking to be locked up. There was an element of unmalicious mischief in this. The Negro youngsters, although perfectly willing to submit to imprisonment, knew that we had already filled up the jails, and that the police had no place left to take them.
When, for decades, you have been able to make a man compromise his manhood by threatening him with a cruel and unjust punishment, and when suddenly he turns upon you and says: “Punish me. I do not deserve it, I will accept it so that the world will know that I am right and you are wrong,” you hardly know what to do. You feel defeated and secretly ashamed. You know that this man is as good as you are; that from some mysterious source he has found the courage and the conviction to meet physical force with soul force.
So it was that, to the Negro, going to jail was no longer a disgrace but a badge of honor.
When I read these paragraphs, I am completely convinced that nonviolent civil disobedience—when practiced widely—has more power to break the psychological shackles of unjust laws crippling our community than almost any other principle. Moving across international borders to pursue happiness is not wrong! We must stop acting like it is. We must challenge (not just ignore) the laws that prevent that pursuit.
In this chapter, Dr. King gave a summary of the various approaches for equality since Emancipation. He started with Booker T. Washington’s admonition to work hard, moved on to W. E. B. Dubois’s call for education, explained Marcus Garvey’s ideas about racial pride and a return to Africa, and ended up describing the NAACP’s recourse to Constitutional litigation. It is then that Dr. King said, “Nonviolent action, the Negro saw, was the way to supplement—not replace the process of change through legal recourse.”
This quote brings me back to a problem I have been wrestling with for quite some time, without sufficient success. What success can we hope to see in a civil disobedience campaign without Constitutional litigation? This is difficult because of the plenary power doctrine, which says that Congress has absolute power of the area of immigration and the courts cannot overturn its legislation. If the Supreme Court is unwilling to apply the Constitutional guarantees to immigration law, how damaging is that for us? How necessary is litigation in the fight for rights in the United States?
Nonviolent vs. Violent Reform
I love King’s quote here in pages 27 and 28, and just have to share it.
Angry exhortation from street corners and stirring calls for the Negro to arm and go forth to do battle stimulate loud applause. But when the applause dies, the stirred and the stirring return to their homes, and lie in their beds for still one more night with no progress in view. They cannot solve the problem they face because they have offered no challenge but only a call to arms, which they themselves are unwilling to lead, knowing that doom would be its reward. They cannot solve the problem because they seek to overcome a negative situation with a negative means…. The conservatives who say, ‘Let us not move so fast,’ and the extremists who say, ‘Let us go out and whip the world,’ would tell you that they are as far apart as the poles. But there is a striking parallel: They accomplish nothing.
Let us not be guilty of the same accusation. When I am properly trained, I plan to actually do what I’m talking about. I plan to break the law and submit myself to arrest. I am trying to get in contact with a law student who is organizing a civil disobedience campaign for this summer in the Arizona desert. He plans to defy the law that makes it a felony to aid someone that a reasonable person would consider to be an “illegal immigrant.” Given that people are dying in the desert, he plans to provide food, water, and a car ride to anyone who needs it. I’m hoping he plans to get arrested. If so, I’ll likely join him.
The African American Example
Dr. King knew this day would come. On page 31, King said, “The Negro saw that by proving the sweeping and majestic power of nonviolence to bring about the beloved community, it might be possible for him to set an example to a whole world caught up in conflict.” He often said some variation of,
When the history books are written in the future, somebody will have to say ‘There lived a race of people, black people, fleecy locks and black complexion, of people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights.” And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and of civilization.
When I study history, I am compelled to say it – to quote it just like King said it. When I study history, I am compelled to look at the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands who marched, the thousands who were jailed, the hundreds who were beaten, and each person who was killed, and say ‘I will not let your lesson go unlearned.’
October 8, 2007
The United States of America needs more than a wall. The proposed border fence, whose environmental impact will be studied this month in Brownsville, TX, is mere “tokenism,” and negative tokenism at that. Admittedly, the wall will only slow illegal immigration, not end it, so it is little more than a token of politician’s desire for immigration reform without any direct action. Martin Luther King, Jr., writes that tokenism is, “an end in itself. It’s purpose is not to begin a process, but instead to end the process of protest and pressure.” All dialogue has been silenced regarding whether or not we actually want to keep illegal immigrants out of this country, and our politicians have been mute about the 12 million extralegal immigrants already working and living productive lives in our country.
Our country of immigrants needs more than a wall, and it certainly deserves more than useless discourse about mass deportation. Deportation is a costly, ineffective, and dehumanizing way to provide “token” immigration reform. Currently, we have thousands of adults and children awaiting deportation in our centers around the U.S. The mass deportation discussed in the Senate and the House would cost almost the entire annual budget of Homeland Security, some $40 billion dollars annually over a span of five years, and all for something which has unclear warrant and efficacy.
Deportation, then, is a costly and ineffective form of dealing with extralegal immigrants. Most tragic, though, is the dehumanization deportation inevitably brings. Illegal immigrants can be deported at any time, with scant means of legal recourse. Families are routinely separated,the length of internment often indefinite, and the prosecution subtle and secretive. It must be the aim of any nonviolent movement for immigrant rights, then, to target deportation and bring these individuals out of the shadows. We must imbue immigrants, both legal and extralegal, with a sense of “somebodiness,” the same self-realization Dr. King discussed was integral to the African-American civil rights movement.
Approximately 36 million immigrants live within our nation’s assumed borders, divided nearly equally between naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, and undocumented immigrants. Independently of each other, each of these sub-populations is a hefty constituency in these United States and can directly influence immigrant policy through determined nonviolence. Taken together, though, this enormous population which is constantly growing could and must shape our nation’s immigration policies. Immigrants on both side of the current law must join together in claiming their somebodiness as well as their human rights. Both the woman who has passed her Visa clearance and the teenage man who has been denied must join together in affirming that our current immigration quota system is broken and retrogressive. Both the high-school student with birthright citizenship and his father unable to pass his citizenship test must blend their voices in protest of a system which would keep families separate. The African, the European, the Asian, the Mexican – all immigrants past and present must unite in a nonviolent resistance to this stagnation of American immigration reform. This is a problem which must be addressed, which must be dealt with morally and politically and socially. Together we must demand fair immigration policies and accessible means to citizenship for all.
October 8, 2007
Posted by jamesdylangoldstein under Uncategorized
John asked me to post this, so I will:
Well, to say the least, I don’t agree with much. 🙂 I’m just too much of a pragmatist. I would say my biggest problem with the posting is that the downsides are never presented in any of the posts. It’s as if we could have free migration without consequences. I know Matt and Kiel are both liberals, and yet they pretend as though the state functions by itself. It’s as if this whole discussion is missing reality. So it’s very difficult for me, or anyone else, to listen to this talk of “justice” and “rightness” from all of these individuals who aren’t at the same time asking for an objectivist, minimalist state. You can’t have both.
I know you understand what I’m talking about, but I’m not sure anyone else on the boards does. I know, I know, I sound like I’m trying to break down your wall. 🙂
October 5, 2007
After reading Dr. King’s “The Time for Freedom Has Come”, I wrote some notes about how social and racial identity affects the activist and her/his perspective toward civil disobedience. After reading only the introduction, that the “new generation of black youth…came to view arrest for the sake of liberation as a mark of honor”, I began to think about the activists I knew in college who annoyed me with their willingness to be “arrested for a cause.” Some took pride in their daring, their police confrontations, their close calls. There was a defiance in their attitude that doesn’t come across in the activists that King describes. And the biggest difference, I believe, is that most of the activists I was remembering were white.
As a white activist, civil disobedience has a whole different meaning. Many white activists have grown up without fear or distrust of police. If I am arrested, I am not worried that I will be treated unfairly because of my race. If I am arrested for an act of civil disobedience, it will probably result in a few hours or maybe a night in a jail cell, charges will most likely be dropped, and life will go on.
How different for the college students King is describing! How vastly different for the illegal immigrants living in the U.S. today! Racial privilege must be considered when reading about and discussing civil disobedience. Disobeying a law with the risk of arrest has different weight for different people. It took me a few paragraphs to appreciate the heavy risk undertaken by black college students in the 60s. It took me a few more paragraphs to think about the risk faced by “illegal” activists today.
Anyone can be a supporter of the rights of immigrants and the movement associated with those rights, but who should be the leaders of the movement? Not a bunch of white people with good jobs and laptops and full, unquestionable citizenship. If the means are as important as the end, the leaders of the immigrant rights movement should be immigrants, legal or otherwise. So what can I do to make it safe for others to speak for themselves, to disobey an unjust law without risking everything?
On another train of thought, I enjoyed this chapter especially because it is a tribute to young people. It honors SNCC activists by describing them as serious and dignified leaders. Rarely are college activists seen in this light today–they’re kids. They’re naive. They’re idealistic. They jump on whatever hip issue comes along.–I have felt that tone directed at me and others, and so King’s tremendous respect for young people was especially refreshing. Dr. King never presents himself as a primary figure or icon, but rather gives credit where it’s due. In that spirit, to conclude this post I’d like to give a shoutout to a fantastic feat of organizing that happened back in 2003—The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, which of course was a deliberate echo of the Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights Movement.
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