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The Least Among Us

Apr 07, 2009

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Matthew 25:40 (King James Version)

Arguably, the least of our brethren are our nation’s undocumented immigrants. We currently hold over 30,000 of them in jails, prisons, and other confinement structures, more than three times the number held just 10 years ago.1 They may languish there for months or even years without judicial review, in violation of international human rights standards.

Though every story is different, these people have fled from hopelessness in search of promise. They have braved perilous waters in unseaworthy ships or suffocation in closed vehicles traveling thousands of miles. Once here, they are forced to work for criminal employers at the lowest of wages, live in constant fear of harrassment and arrest without rights or public services, and survive at the mercy of a few friends and dumb luck.

And woe unto them if they are caught. Tossed into a legal gulag of Kafkaesque proportions, they may languish for years without access to representation or the judicial system, far from family and friends, and deprived of the simple due process guarantees we afford any petty criminal. Read Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying for an eloquent and detailed account of the hapless fate of just one of these individuals.2 Read Amnesty International’s report, Jailed Without Justice (.pdf, 662Kb, 56 pp.), to gain a fuller picture of just how far short we as a nation fall that prides itself on welcoming the downtrodden, in our treatment of “the least among our brethren.”
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1 Immigrant Detention, from Amnesty International, undated, accessed Apr 4, 2009.
2 Brother, I’m Dying, by Edwidge Danticat, at Amazon.com, accessed Apr 4, 2009
tags: Immigration

The Globalization of People

Sep 13, 2008
Immigration is a thorny issue, unless you’re one of those holding the opinion that the only good immigrant is a dead one. We need our immigrants, fully as much as we need our wide-screen TVs (made in China), our Nikes (made in Indonesia), and our underwear (ours is made in Canada).

Our immigrants don’t cost us wealth—they create it. They create it with their college and university tuitions: Over half a million foreign-born students attend U.S. higher education institutions.1 They create it for the employers who exploit them with substandard wages that are then spent locally on housing, food, and transportation. The legal ones who partake of social services such as education for their children pay their share in taxes; the illegal ones are harried and hounded and hunted, and cost us millions in wasted enforcement and wasted opportunity.

Like so many social issues today—health care, criminal justice, and family values to name but three—other western democracies are way ahead of us in their attitudes toward immigration matters. An enlightening September 2008 report2 from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank, shows just how hard those democracies are working to incorporate what MPI calls circular migration into their societies. It is a win-win situation when a receiving nation can work together with a sending nation to accommodate each other’s needs, and there are over 300 bilaterial agreements in place to prove it.

The U.S. needs to improve and expand upon programs such as the H-1B3 and H-2B4 worker visa programs now in place, and we need to stop wasting money on pretending to control illegal immigration. As we noted in a recent ATN piece,5 we could end illegal immigration overnight by punishing employers instead of their hapless employees. That we don’t do that should be evidence enough that we don’t want to do that. We want rather to fill our corporate masters’ pockets with contracts to build futile walls along the Rio Grande (with large holes to accommodate rich folks whose estates are situated along the way).6

Worldwide economic development awaits sane policies supporting circular and one-way immigration. Our European and Canadian friends are showing us the way. It’s time to get on board.
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1More Than 565,000 International Students Enrolled In U.S. Institutions of Higher Education, from the Institute of International Education, November 14, 2005 (Accessed September 9, 2008)
2Learning by Doing: Experiences of Circular Migration, press release and link to the report from the Migration Policy Institute, September 4, 2008 (Accessed September 9, 2008)
3 H-1B Visa, from Wikipedia (Accessed September 13, 2008)
4 H-2B Certification for Temporary Nonagricultural Work, from the U.S. Department of Labor, December 12, 2007 (Accessed September 13, 2008)
5Give Them Your Tired, from All Together Now, September 7, 2008.
6Border Wall Slashes Through Texas' Soul, by Elizabeth Stevens, from the News Center at CommonDreams.org, undated (Accessed September 9, 2008)
tags: Immigration

Give Them Your Tired

Sep 07, 2008
Sometimes our country seems to have the soul of a soccer hooligan. The beating death of Luis Ramirez a few weeks ago1 is just the latest in a long history of horrors inflicted upon those who would find a footing in this, “the last best hope of the world.”

We are building a 200-mile-long wall on the Mexican border now,2 as the Israelis continue to build a “separation wall which writhes as a snake into the body of the West Bank.”3 Walls don’t work. They did not work for the Chinese, though they built a Great one; they did not work for the Soviets, though they built a fairly puny one. How many walls do we need to build before we realize this?

In the past few months, the mega-raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) against plants in Laurel, Mississippi,4 and Postville, Iowa,5 have wreaked havoc on the lives of hundreds of poor workers without affecting the lawbreakers who hired them. If we truly wanted to end illegal immigration in this country we could do it overnight, by punishing the employers. However, the employers and the politicians they finance need these immigrants in order to keep wages down—way down. Until an administration is in place which demands a living wage for all full-time workers, we will continue to see ICE cherrypicking the occasional high-profile raid opportunity as a sop to elements of their base (the frightened, undereducated, and embittered) who have been so thoroughly gulled by the current administration as to actually think the latter are doing their bidding.

We were put in mind of all this domestic horror by a statistics-laden and oh-so-unemotional report from representatives of CRA International and Harvard Business School. “Economic Impacts of Immigration: A Survey,“ by Sari Pekkala Kerr (CRA) and William R. Kerr (Harvard) provides a sober examination of the economics of legal immigration, concentrating on the European Union countries, the U.S., and Canada, in that order of emphasis. Their conclusions are a combination of the expected and the not so expected:

  • Recent immigrants earn less, but the gap tends to diminish over time;
  • The assumption that immigrants are more dependent on social assistance programs is not uniformly confirmed by the literature;
  • Most studies find only minor displacement effects on the native population, even following large immigrant flows, with most of that displacement affecting the less educated and previous immigrant populations;
  • “[I]mmigrants appear to have a minor positive net fiscal effect for host countries.”
We are—first, last, and always—one world, one people, traveling one road. And the extent to which our fellow travelers leave their native soil for the uncertain cultivation of another, to that extent have we failed to secure for them the rights and privileges that are their due at home.
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1“So far like the present...” from All Together Now, July 30, 2008.
2Conservationists warn of border fence’s impac, from The Houston Chronicle, August 22, 2008 (Accessed September 4, 2008)
3Qurei denies any progress in peace talks with Israel, from the Xinhua News Agency, undated (Accessed September 4, 2008)
4After ICE Raid Mississippi Workers Labor to Overcome Racial Division, from Pacific News Service, September 3, 2008 (Accessed September 4, 2008)
5Postville raid prompts immigration reform rally, from the New York Daily News, July 14, 2008 (Accessed September 4, 2008)
tags: Immigration

Copyright © 2008 All Together Now.

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