Towards a Pro-Migrant, Pro-Worker Platform

As I noted earlier, a coalition of South Asian organizations (spearheaded by SAALT?) released a national policy platform for South Asian American progressive politics.  I want to use that here as a jumping off point for talking about migration politics in the U.S. - but I think that this conversation will have uses beyond the U.S.  Although the specificities of conditions differ, I would speculate on the basis of what I've read and seen that there's a lot that "guestworkers", undocumented people, and others who are performing low-wage labor have in common in the United States, the Gulf, Lebanon, Europe, etc.  Global migration with its accompanying abuses, norms, economics, and all is just that -- global -- so we should try to  understand it in that context, even as we pay attention to the specifics of the national, the state, the local, the family, the individual.

To recap, this was the summary of the suggestions for migration policy by the coalition:

Immigrant Rights: Promote immigrant rights and just reforms to the immigration system
• Ensure a just and humane approach to reforming the immigration system at the federal level
• Expedite immigration application background checks related to security-related delays
• Ensure the naturalization process is accessible to all eligible immigrants
• Ensure that the immigration system promotes the reunification of families
• Support immigration policies that protect the rights of immigrant workers
• Support immigration policies that protect and empower domestic violence survivors
• Support immigration policies that protect and empower all dependent visa holders
• Cease enforcement initiatives and national security measures that disproportionately
affect immigrants and promote profiling
• Ensure that immigrants are not deported from the United States for minor violations of the law
• Cease sharing information among various law enforcement agencies for immigration
purposes
• Oppose policies denying public services to non-citizens or permitting state and local law enforcement to carry out federal immigration law
• Ensure compliance of detention standards and provide alternatives to immigrant detention
• Strengthen due process protections within the immigration system
• Standardize the adjudication of asylum-related forms of relief

While I noted that this would represent a major step-up in terms of U.S. immigration policies, I don't think it goes far enough as a benchmark for what would constitute a real break in the way in which migrants are treated:

It doesn't call for equal rights for all people in the United States regardless of immigration status (whether "legal" or "illegal").  It shouldn't matter whether you're a citizen, a green-card holder, a legal migrant worker, or undocumented altogether - you should have the same rights, period.   I would prioritize the right to freedom of belief, to organize worker movements, to be part of political activities more broadly; but the idea is to allow people to live lives without fear of deportation as a threat that is used to limit freedom. The labor organizing component is very important because usually the way the political support for anti-migrant policies is mustered is by the elite turning the "native" working class against the migrant workers - whether through race, citizenship, religion, or other means.  If pro-migrant policies are not anti-worker, including workers who are not migrants, you get stuff like the pro-corporate McCain-Kennedy bill, which then generates the opportunity for racist politicians to mobilize the American working class against immigrants while simultaneously continuing to fail to support the right to organize effectively.

It doesn't emphasize the links between trade and immigration enough--for example, guaranteeing free movement of labor and non-interference with less powerful countries' economic policies is important (and this applies whether you're talking about the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan or the relationship of India to Nepal).  Ultimately the way to end the damaging personal and anti-democratic aspects of migration is to reduce the disparities between wealth in different countries.

It doesn't call attention to the historical relationship of imperialism, race, and migration.  This is a moral argument that needs to be made.  The REASON people from poor countries have to migrate, and indeed the reason that poorer countries are poor is significantly due to imperialism - formal or informal.  This argument is about altering the discourse on migration to take account of the how and why of migration, and to create more space for the more radical policy suggestions laid out above that will be described as "unrealistic" or "crazy" in today's conversations -  the same way that affirmative action for racially disempowered people might have been viewed as "unrealistic" or "crazy" in 1857.

It doesn't focus strongly enough on delinking migrant rights from alleged "national security" concerns.  These national security arguments are basically a way of legitimizing the policing of migration and migrants.  If flows were more unregulated, then the business of trafficking would be far less violent and criminal in nature.  There is simply no justification for linking migration with "national security" - under any guise - and a preliminary step would be to move migration out of the Orwellian "Department of Homeland Security" back to the Department of Labor or something along those lines.

To conclude that's a basic critique; it's not complete, and it's not meant to detract from the specific use of a policy document, which serves a different, short-run function.  Ideally, the kinds of "radical" long-term goals that can't be implemented today or even in ten years would be complementary with the bounds of the shorter term goals while pushing them to better medium term goals.  Even as you work towards specific ways of improving lives today, it's important to note that ideas of what's acceptable, what's legitimate,  what's potentially normal shape this conversation.  Those ideas are in turn shaped by contemporary politics and economics, which, as we know, are f@#ked up.

Essentially, this is my defense for why the arguments I'm making above are, far from naive, actually vitally necessary in specific and not simply as a statement of values to be given lip service to, if things are actually going to be different in the future.

Trackback URL for this post:

http://www.passtheroti.com/trackback/727

Comments

Let me boil it down for you-

Let me boil it down for you- some people (i.e. anyone who's not a citizen) can be deported. Other people (i.e. citizens) cannot. This constitutes a basic discrimination in rights (which then carries over into other rights and welfare situations) and should be eliminated. All people in the United States should have exactly the same rights.

I'm not saying that they should deport SOME people (which as of last count is at about 2,000,000 people since 1996) - I'm saying they should deport NO people and end the practice.

I think the US constitution

I think the US constitution allows for equal rights for all people on US soil. It is a different story altogether if they’re found to be illegal and deported but everybody in the US has a right to petition the government and be treated according to due process.

This is exactly what I object to. If everyone has equal rights on US soil (which is not true, by court decision and in practice but what I'm advocating for), then no one should face deportation. Ever. Otherwise, everyone does not have equal rights (i.e. some people can be deported by the government, and other people cannot).

It doesn’t call for equal

It doesn’t call for equal rights for all people in the United States regardless of immigration status (whether “legal” or “illegal”).

I think the US constitution allows for equal rights for all people on US soil. It is a different story altogether if they're found to be illegal and deported but everybody in the US has a right to petition the government and be treated according to due process.

I would prioritize the right to freedom of belief, to organize worker movements, to be part of political activities more broadly; but the idea is to allow people to live lives without fear of deportation as a threat that is used to limit freedom.

Same as above except the last part of the sentence. Illegal immigrants live under the shadow of deportation which makes them voluntarily mute and fearful of the authorities. I have mixed feelings about this issue. On one hand you have the law which I think ought to be followed but on the other hand this situation makes life miserable for an illegal immigrant in the US. As a construction manager I have personally witnessed the living conditions of these laborers who live like animals in small apartments on less than minimum wage. The right wing of this country is against what it calls "amnesty" however in my opinion recognition of these people as fellow-humans and grant them equal livable conditions is the right thing to do.

It doesn’t focus strongly enough on delinking migrant rights from alleged “national security” concerns. These national security arguments are basically a way of legitimizing the policing of migration and migrants.

Absolutely correct. The Bush administration has transferred many domestic policy decision making to the Department of Homeland Security. The neocons have a pro-military agenda which gained its foothold out of fear mongering after 9/11. "If our borders with our neighbors are so porous how will we defend ourselves from Al-Qaida" - as if all those jihadis visit Cancun before coming to the US. The tactic of tying every problem in this country with security has worked for the past 7 years so much that managing natural calamities also falls under DHS; we're under attack from God for all those queers in San Fransisco!

Amy Goodman conducted this interview regarding the issue of police treating domestic issues as "Terrorism threats"

http://www.democracynow.org/2008/6/30/police_firefighters_utility_worker...

People migrate to different

People migrate to different countries throughout the world. ALL countries have a right to maintain the status of their own population versus migrants....I’m an immigrant myself but I do not agree with a blanket acceptance of all immigrants as citizens.

I know. That's where we disagree. I think there should be NO distinction between the rights of citizens and noncitizens, ideally :) At minimum, we should talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the idea as a practical proposal rather than dismissing it as a flight of fancy simply because it's not how things are done today.

The solution to this problem is regulation of the free market economy that the west has promoted throughout the world which has destroyed local economies and forced people to migrate to lands where the grass “seems” to be greener.

I would reframe this slightly - the "free market" economy is hardly free - to read for a different regulation of the global economy that is more in the interests of poor countries. But we agree on the general goal here, though we might disagree on the specifics.

You are mixing up the issue.

You are mixing up the issue. Citizens have a RIGHT to be here because it's their country. Immigrants (illegal, legal etc) are here as a privilege. You can dilute the difference in status between the two.

Example: You don't have a right to own a driver's license. Its a privilege which depends on the condition that you follow the law. What's next then? Do you want non-citizens to vote too or get enrolled in the army?

People migrate to different countries throughout the world. ALL countries have a right to maintain the status of their own population versus migrants. There should be no discrimination between the two peoples as far as basic human and civil rights are concerned but there has to regulation of the migrant population. I'm an immigrant myself but I do not agree with a blanket acceptance of all immigrants as citizens.

The solution to this problem is regulation of the free market economy that the west has promoted throughout the world which has destroyed local economies and forced people to migrate to lands where the grass "seems" to be greener.

If everyone has equal rights

If everyone has equal rights on US soil (which is not true, by court decision and in practice but what I’m advocating for), then no one should face deportation. Ever. Otherwise, everyone does not have equal rights (i.e. some people can be deported by the government, and other people cannot)

I don\'t think it makes sense. By law you\'re allowed to petition the government to address your grievances even if you\'re illegal. You\'re also protected by law which prohibits the government to use immigration proceedings against you \"in response\" to you petitioning the government. So the question of equal rights is addressed right there in the Bill of Rights. You can always argue that it doesn\'t happen in practice which is what African Americans say all the time.

As far as \"some\" people facing deportation while others don\'t is concerned - you\'ve got to be kidding if you think they will deport everybody.

1) It\'s not feasible
2) It\'s not politically and economically expedient

Its like making an argument when you get caught stealing you ask the police why they haven\'t arrested others who committed theft and never got caught. You can\'t tell the government not to deport somebody if they find them to be illegal.

I know. That’s where we

I know. That’s where we disagree. I think there should be NO distinction between the rights of citizens and noncitizens, ideally :) At minimum, we should talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the idea as a practical proposal rather than dismissing it as a flight of fancy simply because it’s not how things are done today.

I really don't see the point here. There IS no distinction between rights of citizens and non-citizens except those related determination of government, welfare, etc. Other than that the Bill of Rights is available for each and every person who breathes on American soil. Citizens and immigrants are prosecuted alike for the same crimes albeit immigrants may get deported depending on the severity of their crime. So if you get involved in petty theft as an immigrant, you will receive your punishment but if you're involved in serious crimes you might get deported. Now you can say that the government exercises its right to deport immigrants in a non-uniform manner which is sad and should be changed. However, it is wrong and nonsensical to hope for ABSOLUTE equal rights between citizens and immigrants.

Your idea of equal rights for citizens and foreigners basically undermines the characteristics of a sovereign nation. People of every nation have the right of self-determination which isn't influenced by outside forces. We live in a world with lands divided by boundaries. In a Utopian world, we would all be ONE people living next to each throughout the world but the reality is - we are not. In theory if you demand such rights for immigrants here then all other countries will ALSO have to do the same which would imply elimination of boundaries and free movement of people across the globe. If you think this idea isn't far-fetched then I really don't know what is!

I think we agree on the nature of "free-market" economies and the demon of globalization which propels people into mass migrations so I won't comment further on it.

However, it is wrong and

However, it is wrong and nonsensical to hope for ABSOLUTE equal rights between citizens and immigrants.

1. Why is it "wrong and nonsensical" even if it means radical changes in the way that governance in the world is structured?
2. Why is it "wrong and nonsensical" to argue for in specific contexts if it's what you believe and it serves a productive purpose to do so?

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.