Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Illegal People" by David Bacon

Of the 34 or so million immigrants in this country approximately 11 million are considered 'illegal". They have social security cards and numbers- as every resident in the U.S. must if they are to obtain employment- but theirs are either faked or 'stolen'. It is important to understand, however, that the use of such appropriated numbers does not damage the individuals from whom they were taken or 'game' the system as a whole. The social security taxes that 'illegal' immigrants pay simply go into the general fund of the system and are used to pay the benefits which the immigrants themelves can never hope to recieve.

For the most part this is also true of all the other taxes such as income, sales and property taxes that are paid by "undocumented" immigrants, although some States and local governments do make provisions for the health care, education and even legal defenses of immigrants. Never-the-less, even in these rare circumstances, immigrants themselves have no opportunity to participate in the electoral processes which ultimately decide how the revenues they contribute are spent. Furthermore, if immigrants are discovered to be without proper documents they are subject to immediate detention, deportation or even long prison sentances.

"After all, the slogan of the Boston Tea Party was "no taxation without representation", those who make economic contributions should have political rights. With visas or not, 34 million migrants living in the United States, without whose labor the entire economy would collapse, cannot vote to choose political representatives who decide basic questions about wages, conditions of work, the education of their children, healthcare, public and personal safety."

These are huge and very significant numbers because if all these individuals WERE allowed representation it is highly probable that they would vote for an end to NAFTA and the neo-liberal economic policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund which help to create the conditions in their countries of origin which drove them to the United States in the first place. They would would vote to protect the right to organize labor unions, to improve and enforce protections in the workplace, raise the minimum wage, institute a national health care system, empty our prisons of non-violent offenders, end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to otherwise engage the government in the interests of working people against the large corporations and the financial, real estate and insurance sectors of the economy that exploit their indentured status and plunder the fruits of their labor. This would be a win-win situation for immigrant and native workers alike, as would any collective action that resists and seeks to overturn the egregious system of 'employer sanctions', guest worker permits and contract labor arrangements used so profitably by Hotels, Meat Processors, Silicon Valley, Laundry Services, Halliburton and its subsidiares.

Although Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee's bill HR 2092 did not go so far as to propose full political representation for immigrants it did provide a way for undocumented workers to gain permanent-resident status and enforce migrants' rights in the workplace, and found other common grounds for workers of all stripes: black, white, Asian, Native American, Latino, native born or immigrant, none of whom can live without work.

"Yet this basis for an alliance of mutual interest has largely fallen off the liberal agenda. Unions were the support base for the Humprey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of the 1970's, which said that the federal government should provide jobs to eradicate unemployment. Today, however, the so-called liberals only pay lip service to this idea. In the Democratic Party, free market ideologues ridicule the idea that government should guarentee employment, as it it tried to do in the New Deal. Instead, both parties propose exploitive guest-worker programs, draconian enforcement measures which invariably hurt employeees more than employers and exacerbate competition between worker groups whereby everyone shares only increased insecurity, being forced to live for work (at low wages, without benefits and in dangerous conditions) rather than working to live."

Although Jackson Lee was ranking Democrat on the Immigration Subcommitteee of the House Judiciary Committee, she never got a hearing on her bill while the Republicans controlled Congress. When Democrats won a majority in the 2006 election, her bill didn't get a hearing either.. Never-the-less, it comprises the long-term vision which immigrant and labor rights activitist around the country want.

Whose 'New World Order" is it anyway and which side are you on?

1 comment:

  1. Illegal People; How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants" by David Bacon; Beacon Press, Boston, 2008.

    Michael D. Yates reviewed this book in Vol. 61, No.2 of The Monthly Review; "Don't Pity The Poor Immigrants- Fight Alongside Them"(June, 2009).

    He rightly suggested that the best parts of this book were the individual cases the author (primarily a photo-journalist) presented. This is the way to see how the current system really works i.e. witnessing the degradation and exploitation through biographical narrative.

    Otherwise the book can be difficult to follow. Each chapter stands more or less alone as a seperate essay, in confused and over-lapping time frames.

    I did the best I could to convey the central argument without using extensive quotations, as pulling all the threads together in a comprehensive way would have been very time-consuming and produced a report which I judged would be far too lengthy for this blog.

    Many of the new books on the shelves of Fletcher library here in Burlington cover similiar themes in recent economic and political developments in the U.S. as is manifestly evident to those who might be following my blog closely. However, I am still quite unfamiliar with the situation of immigrants and the effects of recent legslation upon them. I hope to remedy this ignorance in the following weeks and months.