5.25.2008

immigrants everywhere are under fire

All over the world, people are scraping together whatever they have and leaving their homelands, seeking a better life.

It has ever been thus. My grandparents and great-grandparents were part of a mass migration from Europe to North America, masses of people hoping to find religious freedom and economic opportunity.

In the first half of the 20th Century, millions of African-Americans moved from the southern United States to the north, which might as well have been a different country at the time, creating a sea-change in US history.

Indeed, the United States and Canada were both founded by such seekers, first called colonists, then pioneers, later immigrants. (Leaving aside, for the present, the millions who were brought to the US by force, and the millions already there who were massacred or displaced.)

Since its founding, the US has never been particularly welcoming to immigrants, each immigrant group, now settled, trying to bar the next one from "their" country. But at various times in the country's history, the need for cheap labour shaped a more tolerant immigration policy.

Right now, if all the illegal immigrants in the US suddenly disappeared - as so many Americans seem to want - the entire economy would shut down. Not a meal would be prepared in a restaurant. Not a room cleaned in an office or hotel. Not a blade of grass would be mowed. Professionals couldn't go to work because they'd have no one to watch their children. You get the picture.

Vast populations the world over are trying to move from impoverished, resource-poor and repressive lands, to any place else. Any place they imagine they might be free, and not hungry. Many Americans think the whole world is trying to get into the US. Of course that's ridiculous. Much of the world is trying to get anywhere.

It can't be easy in the best of times, but right now, it's sheer hell. Anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise in Canada and Europe, and raging almost everywhere else. Conditions are very bad - everywhere - for illegal immigrants right now. Only it's worse where they come from.

From OneWorld.net:
As thousands of immigrants to South Africa piled onto one-way buses home to escape widening anti-immigrant violence, civil rights groups in Texas deplored a new initiative they charge endangers the lives of immigrants and their families.

The new procedure would place U.S. Border Patrol agents at hurricane evacuation sites in the Rio Grande Valley to check the documents of those boarding buses, with the aim of ferreting out illegal immigrants. Those who can't produce citizenship papers would be put on separate buses, bound for deportation.

"This is a shocking and dangerous initiative, which will undercut the authorities' efforts to keep everyone safe during a crisis," said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), an immigrants rights organization based in Washington, DC.

Karen K. Narasaki, president and executive cirector of the Asian American Justice Center, called the plan "unconscionable," since it may discourage immigrants from seeking protection during emergencies.

If immigrants fear evacuation and remain in place, the plan will endanger immigrant communities, as well as placing an additional burden on local agencies charged with evacuation, rescue, and relief operations, Narasaki added.

John Trasvina, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, pointed out that when emergencies strike many people don't have time to sort through their documents and bring them along. The Texas plan means that many U.S. citizens are likely to experience unwarranted harassment, he said.

Marguia announced that the National Council of La Raza has written to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff demanding that the new initiative be suspended immediately.

Coincidentally, the United Nations' special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, DouDou Diene, is currently on a U.S. fact-finding mission, although Texas is not on his itinerary. Diene's visit is being welcomed by civil rights groups around the country; a report should be completed by early 2009.

Xenophobia, defined by Webster's dictionary as "hatred of foreigners," is said to be behind the escalating attacks on Zimbabweans, Malawians, Mozambicans, Pakistanis and other foreigners in South Africa, along with the impact of sharp price rises for food and fuel.

Tensions over the presence of large numbers of foreign immigrants, which have simmered in the past few years and occasionally resulted in violence, boiled over last week, leading to at least 42 deaths when armed mobs attacked residents of immigrant neighborhoods and looted foreign-owned stories in Johannesburg.

The violence spread to Cape Town and Durban Thursday; at least one immigrant, a Somali, was killed.

Not unlike the United States, South Africans complain that immigrants deprive local citizens of jobs and absorb precious public resources.

A South African intelligence official Friday accused pro-apartheid elements of stirring up the anti-immigrant violence, suggesting a renewal of the pre-1994 alliance between far-right whites and Zulu workers to discredit the ruling African National Congress.

From the US:
Hundreds of legal and illegal immigrants in Arizona are being sent back to their home countries, sometimes against their will, for medical treatment because they lack insurance.

In some cases, the FBI and police, responding to allegations of kidnapping, have been called in to halt such forcible removals, according to patients' lawyers. In one recent case, a sick baby who is a U.S. citizen born to an illegal immigrant was being transferred by helicopter to a waiting air ambulance for a flight to a hospital in Mexico when Tucson police intervened and brought the child back to the hospital.

The forcible removals are the result of federal and state law mandating that only U.S. citizens and legal residents are eligible for Medicaid. As a result, state hospitals are pressured to transport noncitizens, even if they're legally in the U.S., at the hospitals' expense, back to their home countries, at a cost of up to $100,000.

The alarming scenario has come to light in recent weeks with the dramatic case of Sonia Iscoa Del Cid, a house cleaner in the country legally under temporary protected status, who woke up from a coma last week only to realize that she was going to be forced back to her native Honduras because she lacked insurance for long-term care. The case galvanized the immigrant community in Phoenix.

On May 9, hours away from being flown to a small hospital in Honduras, where Del Cid no longer has any family or friends except for an elderly father, her lawyer filed a temporary restraining order preventing the move. Family and friends raised money through car washes, and received significant financial assistance from dozens of trial lawyers in Arizona, to pay the $20,000 bond ordered by a local judge.

Groups like No One Is Illegal (Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, UK) offer a different vision for the future.
No One Is Illegal (NOII) UK challenges the ideology of immigration controls and campaigns for their total abolition. We oppose controls in principle and reject any idea there can be "fair" or "just" or "reasonable" or "non racist" controls. We make no distinction between "economic migrants" and "refugees", between the "legal" and the "illegal". These are political categories invented by politicians. We campaign to break down these categories and support free movement for all and unity between all.

First, we must share the bounty of what we have, and welcome contributions from every human.

But the entire undeveloped world moving to the developed world is obviously not possible or practical. So until we view the world as one community and all people as humans - not identified by some accident of geography or birth - and address poverty on a global scale, these desperate attempts at immigration will continue.

We need all societies to be open to immigration. But in the long term, we need all human populations to be properly sustained.

7 comments:

James said...

each immigrant group, now settled, trying to bar the next one from "their" country.

Jon Stewart had a great rendition of this in his old stand-up routine, in which he depicted his (great-?)grandfather stepping off the boat onto Ellis Island, going through the processing, then turning around and yelling at those behind him in line, "Get lost, you immigrants, and stop ruining my country!"

L-girl said...

I remember that! Very funny.

I really liked Jon Stewart's stand-up.

AMneverperish said...

Just two things on this, from Great Britain.

1. A few years ago there was a Thai refugee boat in Australian waters. One of my colleagues (an accountant) said it should be blown up.

2. In 2005 a Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, was shot eight times in the head at close range in London, in a case of mistaken identity regarding a suicide bomb plot.
Mr de Menezes, it transpired, was an illegal alien. A couple of days ago (opposition prep, I believe 'Sam Seaborn' called it) I found some right-wing site which banged on and on about his immigrant status. The author was not justifying the police action, but was clearly attempting to diminish/smear the victim and remove the tag of 'innocent'.

I have lived (in Britain) with an Italian, a Chilean, a Thai, a German, and socialised with many other nationalities. The least tolerant people in my experience are the British, conservative middle-class. One housemate agreed with an MP who described Britain as a 'mongrel society'. I won't bother outlining the obvious connotations, or what that weasel phrase really meant.

I wouldn't generalise based on my own experience, but it seems to be those with greatest power and least information who fear 'the other' most.

L-girl said...

I can't disagree with you there. Most things I've seen would support it.

I bogged about Mr. Menezes's death when it happened. I'm under the impression it wasn't just mistaken identity - that there was malicious intent on the part of the shooters. But I don't remember the details anymore.

Thanks for your comments, AMNeverPerish. I've been replying them... don't know if you've been checking back.

AMneverperish said...

Well, not until now I haven't.

(I was up into the small hours reading various sections and have not been out of bed long)

I have no definitive opinion on whether there was something more sinister than mistaken identity, though the nature and timing of what came out of the media and what has been made clear since, makes me feel ill.

As did the reaction of two colleagues at the time (based on limited information) which very casually justified the action. I have to confess that the two things that made me bite my tongue were the victim's 'bulky coat' and 'vaulting the barrier'.

Neither proved to be true.

The other issue is that by focusing on this incident, one is swiftly accused of somehow cheapening the actual 7/7 bombings which killed over 50 people. In much the same way as any anti-war protest supposedly diminishes 9/11. My response to this is far too nuanced, and informed by history, to speak out loud in such situations, as one gets the impression that you are being tagged as a dissenter or 'anti-British' whatever your argument.

L-girl said...

Good morning. :)

I've left replies at most of your comments. How did you find this blog? Just curious.

The other issue is that by focusing on this incident, one is swiftly accused of somehow cheapening the actual 7/7 bombings which killed over 50 people. In much the same way as any anti-war protest supposedly diminishes 9/11.

Don't let them sell you that. The only thing that cheapens those victims' memories is using them as an excuse to wage war against innocent people.

Besides, you're talking to someone who feels strongly that 9/11 was the equivalent of the Reichstag fire, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the Maine, etc. We can talk more about that some other time. :)

AMneverperish said...

I am not a 'blogger' or big net user, and already I can't remember how I found this blog. Serendipity?

A few weeks ago a UK tabloid columnist wrote a short piece basically saying that the crazed Austrian individual who locked up his daughter for 24 years and fathered 7 children with her (Herr Josef Fritzl) was reflecting 'something rotten at the heart of Austria' and used it as a diatribe against Austria, Germany and Europe. I got very angry and wrote a huge letter which I never sent, and wrote to my old professor (the world's leading authority on Nazi Germany) as well as a leftist journalist. Nothing happened as it's clearly seen as a freedom of speech issue and not a humanitarian issue.

Anyway this triggered a bit of searching around media sites for left and right bias in the UK, and I found some surprising things, mostly that the liberal media hates attacks from the left and gets all uppity and not intellectual at all.

Then I started looking at Chomsky and so on, and America, and somehow arrived here. The day before arriving, I had already started to think in terms of a sort of proto-fascism re. you-know-who, and my opinion of capitalism was pretty low anyway after my professional disillusionment. Then I learned about certain books and read around the theory, and that was that really.

Nobody sells me anything (apart from Adidas) by the way, which is why I was a mediocre accountant.

In 1994 - the year that Blair became leader of the Labour party and therefore uncrowned 'next PM' - I do recall saying in a history seminar that the country had already moved far enough to the right for a socialist, or even traditional Labour, government to be unelectable. I didn't really anticipate him doing what he did, though.

A few weeks ago our most esteemed right-wing journal 'The Economist' ran an article headlined 'We Need Right-Wing Think Tanks To Loosen The Left's Grip On Our Universities'.

I mean, they really are convinced they can do what the hell they like. Brown is already being advised to 'consider his legacy' and after last week's by-election in Crewe (a small railway town) Mr. Cameron (Tory leader) is PM-elect. It is 1994 again, but the other way round, and with the dispiriting knowledge that New Labour became a Trojan horse for neo- you know what.

I was quite serious about moving to Europe! I feel more European than British now.

What I really don't get is: if capitalism is supposed to be the system closest to human nature (as its proponents argue), then why do they jump from that to an assumption that unfettered capitalism is of greatest benefit, when unfettered human nature - is clearly not desirable? Who killed Keynes?

Have you read the description of unfettered corporatism being equated to a 'psychopath'? It might be funny if.....