citizenship


Follow the link below to hear NYU Law Professor Cristina Rodriguez’ lecture at Yale Law School entitled Burden Sharing in an Age of Migration.
Graphiti Art in Bethlehem

Graphiti Art in Bethlehem

www.vmlaw.us

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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.

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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.

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     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.

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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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From this week’s reading assignment, I have just two points and a question. First, I will reexamine how King determines what makes disobedience civil. Then I will make an argument about segregation and tokenism as it regards immigration. The question I’ll leave you with is about whether we are in a time of sowing or reaping.

In contrasting the differences between civil- and uncivil-disobedience, Dr. King says:

“In disobeying such unjust laws, the students do so peacefully, openly and nonviolently. Most important, they willingly accept the penalty, whatever it is, for in this way the public comes to reexamine the law in question and will thus decide whether it uplifts or degrades man.

“This distinguishes their position on civil disobedience from the “uncivil disobedience” of the segregationist. In the face of laws they consider unjust, the racists seek to defy, evade and circumvent the law, and they are unwilling to accept the penalty. The end result of their defiance is anarchy and disrespect for the law. The students, on the other hand, believe that he who openly disobeys a law, a law conscience tells him is unjust, and then willingly accepts the penalty, gives evidence thereby that he so respects the law that he belongs in jail until it is changed. Their appeal is to the conscience.”

King lists the qualities of civil disobedience as: peaceful, open, nonviolent, and accepting of penalty. King lists the qualities of uncivil disobedience as: defiant, evasive, and circumventing of the law; and unaccepting of penalty. King lists the outcomes of civil disobedience as: public reexamination of the law, and increased respect for law. King lists the outcome of uncivil disobedience as: anarchy, and disrespect for law.

 

King’s lifelong fight was against a system that prevented all people from freely associating with those of a different race in all aspects of life. In the United States of America from (roughly) 1896 to 1965, that system was called segregation. In South Africa until the mid 1990s, that same system was called apartheid. In the United States of America, that exact system is called restricted immigration. I cannot freely associate with those who I choose to if the government tells them they do not have a legal right to be here. I think we should come up with a name for restricted migration that makes this reality clear. Perhaps the term “national segregation” could work. I’m not sure, what do you think?

 

Understanding restricted immigration as segregation makes clear that a system which gives a few people permission to enter the United States, while denying hundreds of thousands of others, is a system of tokenism. Tokenism is also giving amnesty to the undocumented immigrants currently living in the country while blocking the way for others. Ours, instead, “is total commitment to [the] goal of equality and dignity,” and not just for those currently here. This is why Reagan’s amnesty plan failed.

Abraham Lincoln and the Reconstruction Congress well understood this principle. Tokenism for them would have been emancipating a generation of slaves while maintaining the institutions of slavery and the slave trade. Our situation is no difference. We are not fighting for the Mexican; we are fighting for the Chinese, the Japanese, the Indian, the Irish, the Italian, the Mexican, and whatever ethnic group will come next. To paraphrase Dr. King, God is not interested in the freedom of movement of black men and brown men, but in the freedom of movement of all men. Our goal must be unrestricted migration, not just because it is necessary for democracy, but because it is morally compelling.

 

My question comes from this line. “The current breakthroughs have come about partly as a result of the patient legal, civil and social ground clearing of the previous decades.” While there has been social ground-clearing, there hasn’t been any legal ground clearing (not for 125 years at least). My questions are these. Would civil disobedience be premature right now? Does the legal have to preceed the social? Dr. King’s movement came after the major legal battle to end segregation (Brown v. Board). Is something similar required before civil disobedience will be effective and useful, especially given that disobedient immigrants are not jailed, they are deported? Civil disobedience is designed to change unjust laws. Dr. King used it to change unjust local laws that were out of compliance with newly implemented federal standards. Immigration law is an unjust federal law. Do we need to advance international law before we use civil disobedience to challenge the more local, federal laws?

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