Vol. 1, Issue 5: Immigration
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Immigration Built this Nation
The massive protests around the country in response to HR 4437 are bringing attention to a population that is often ignored by the mainstream media and public officials. Due to the lack of voting power and subsequent disregard for the immigrant population, misconceptions abound. Immigrants are often viewed as leeching off our public welfare and health systems; however, undocumented immigrants still pay taxes. For many jobs, undocumented immigrants will make up Social Security numbers and contribute to a system from which they will never gain anything. According to the New York Times, these Social Security contributions average about $50 billion per year. Immigrants also fill low-paying jobs that are vital to support our economy, which is why the claim that they are leeching is not only unfair, but also completely ignorant.
In any case, HR 4437 is a dire obstacle for far more people than just immigrants. Championed by Representative Sensenbrenner (R-WI), in its original form, it would make all illegal immigrants felons. It also would punish anyone who in any way aided an immigrant or helped them stay in the U.S. This bill, a “compassionate” effort from the party of family values, would hurt teachers, doctors, employers and many other good Samaritans. Even more outrageous than the bill itself is the fact that our Congressman, Representative Tim Johnson, supported it. Not only do immigrants make up an integral part of the Champaign-Urbana community, but many undocumented students would suffer as a result of this legislation. Although concerned groups such as La Colectiva have been actively trying to gain his attention and support, Rep. Johnson has refused to even set up a meeting about his policy stance.
Hopefully, the pro-business stance George W. Bush has taken on the issue will divide congressional Republicans enough to prevent this bill from becoming law. However, it is still obvious that the White House is not on the side of immigrants. In January of this year, a Halliburton subsidiary was awarded a $385 million contract to build immigrant detention centers (www.halliburton.com). These centers would be reserved for an emergency influx in immigration. They call to mind the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s and are a very dangerous step for the country as well as another example of the Bush administration placing profits before people.
Students should be particularly worried about this bill because it will change the composition of their campus by removing many undocumented students and shutting out many more hoping to attend. Obviously, these students had no say in their immigration, and it is especially shameful to punish them and separate their families, which is exactly what this bill would do. It is one thing for the Orange and Blue Observer to thoughtlessly “out” undocumented immigrants, but for a credible public figure to act in this way is despicable.
While jailing immigrants or killing them as they attempt to cross the border may seem like terrific and humane ways to deal with immigration problems, there are better options. Senators Ed Kennedy (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) have proposed a bill most commonly known as Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The legislation proposes a path to citizenship. It ensures that immigrants with background checks have access to work permits, travel documents and educational opportunities. Furthermore, it would establish a worker visa program protecting the wages and working conditions of not just immigrants, but all workers.
Finally, it would provide English lessons for immigrants, prepare them for civic participation, and allow them job opportunities. In the House, Illinois’ very own Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) have sponsored a similar bill. Unlike Sensenbrenner’s legislation, these bills would reunite families and focus on enforceable, realistic immigration laws. Immigration built the United States and it is the job of our government to promote responsible legislation that reflects our history.
Politics, Scapegoating, and Racism
There are many methods of politicking, one of which is the tried and true art of providing a scapegoat to trick voters into supporting legislation by distracting them from reality. Such tactics often hide a more complex problem that cannot be solved by legislation alone. With the Dixiecrats dead, the current Republican Party has brilliantly monopolized racist scapegoating, from the Arab population to blacks and now Latinos. In order to perpetuate the self-serving economic myth of “trickle-down” economics and policies that reward big corporate donors at the expense of their constituents, Republicans rely on racist exaggerations and xenophobia to lure working-class white Americans into actually voting against their own economic interests.
But what are the facts? It was not until NAFTA became law in 1994 that we began to see a massive influx of Latinos seeking work in the United States, and that is because they have been left with no choice; NAFTA has destroyed the agrarian economy of their home countries. We’re importing cheap, subsidized food, which makes food cheaper but reduces the work available for farmers and their workers.
And if you think immigrants are the reason why you aren’t getting a fair share of the pie, according to USA Today, the median 2005 pay among the chief executives running most of the nation’s 100 largest companies soared 25% to $17.9 million, dwarfing the 3.1% average gain by typical American workers. But your NASCAR dad isn’t going to know that. He’s more likely to know what Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern told him. Ultimately, immigration reform is not about race—we’re all immigrants or descendants of them—or political party, but the ongoing manipulation by those who take advantage of people who are too busy working to inform themselves about why their overtime pay is being cut and their children’s schools shut down.
Leading the surge of recent xenophobia in the Republican Party is U.S. Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado. The New Republic quotes him: “If you want some attention in this town, take on the president [of] your own party. All of a sudden when I did it, I was on Fox [constantly]. They must have looked at the weekly schedule and said, ‘A minute here, three minutes there, let’s get Tancredo. He’ll say something outrageous.’” He breaks into a wide smile. “And I try!”
So just what are these outrageous claims Tancredo is eager to advocate publicly? He believes that threatening to destroy Mecca in retaliation for future terrorist attacks is a deterrent. I beg to differ – it’s the typical squawk of a chicken-hawk. Without moderate Muslims, we will never bring Al-Qaeda to justice, thus prolonging the danger to our country and to our soldiers. Every Muslim who hears Tom Tancredo’s blather is going to think we’re no better than those who retaliate with terror. He even admits to saying these things to get on television, and that’s great and all, but I thought the people of Colorado elected a teacher to represent them – not an egomaniac.
Theatrical careers aside, Tancredo’s brand of rhetoric distracts the American public from the real issues they are facing and heightens racial tensions in the country. Not only is blaming minorities for the country’s problems morally repugnant, but it is also a terrific cover-up. Who holds the power in the United States to fix problems -- the most marginalized populations or the federal government? The failures of this administration have been covered time and time again – it has turned the Unites States against itself and against the rest of the world. The anti-Muslim sentiment spewed by so many politicians and pundits clouded the American public’s thinking and allowed the administration to pursue a war based on faulty intelligence.
The Republican Party is once again trying to infuse the immigration dialogue with racism as a distraction from the polarization of wealth in the country. Americans must look beyond scapegoats to the core of the problem: the current administration and Congress are working for business interests, not the interests of the American people.
Conservative Humor Corner!
From a radio interview with Rep. Tom Tancredo (mp3):
Tancredo: ...you know, you could take out their holy sites.
Interviewer: You’re talking about bombing Mecca?
Certainly that was a momentary lapse of reason? Uh...
“But should we take any option or target off the table, regardless of the circumstances? Absolutely not, particularly if the mere discussion of an option or target may dissuade a fundamentalist Muslim extremist from strapping on a bomb-filled backpack.”
If you want to help usher in a fair system of immigration, join Generation Democracy for America! We’re working to fix some of the problems in Washington on a local level, and we’re having fun in the process! We meet every other Sunday, and our next meeting will be next semester. For more info, visit www.dfalink.com/uiuc
THE LIBERAL MEDIA STAFF:
Writers: Tarah Williams, Edmund Gray
Copy Editor: Jon Monteith
Designer: Chris Perardi