No Worker Is Illegal!

Where would one read all this at one point?
1. Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, JF Kennedy, Mother Teresa, Freedom & Unity, You!, and Me!
2. Chicano Power!
3. We did not cross your borders—The border crossed US!
4. Dignidad!
5. Bush is the real criminal. Not us!
6. Bush & Fox Build a North America with Open Borders! Reform USA, Mexico, Canada.
7. All Americans are immigrants to this country—USA! Increase peace and love to all people of color
8. Arnold—Back to Hollywood
9. We are the People
10. My Hands built America Each Day. I am not a Criminal. We are not terrorists
11. You say Immigrants, like it’s a bad thing!

At today’s rally where more than a half a million people took to streets to denounce the HR 4437 (aimed at amending the Immigration and Nationality Act to strengthen enforcement of the immigration laws, to enhance border security, and for other purposes).

What the president says on Thursday as “I urge people who like to comment on this issue to make sure the rhetoric is in accord with our traditions” is being interpreted on Saturday as violating the real American tradition of being a country of immigrants. What’s the real issue then?

Well the issue is actually beyond the rhetoric. The President in 2004 had proposed a change to the existing immigration laws. And this was even way before the polls. He said: “If an American employer is offering a job that American citizens are not willing to take, we ought to welcome into our country a person who will fill that job… We should not give unfair rewards to illegal immigrants in the citizenship process or disadvantage those who came here lawfully, or hope to do so.” He proposed then that the workers should be asked to leave. Not as an entirely ungrateful gesture, the workers should be given incentives. For example, retirement benefits in their land of births.

The heartening thing here is that the highest officials in America realize that there are certain jobs that “American citizens are not willing to take”. Like cleaning the dishes, standing by the fast food counters, handing gas stations, working at 7-Elevens, selling goods to immigrants speaking their language, road constructions, building repairs, or even installing cables for telecom giants.

And yet, these are the strenuous jobs that build any country. Without these works being done by the “illegals” and “aliens” that provide food, clothing and shelter to “American citizens”, this country would not be imaginable. The image of America worldwide is synonymous with huge roads, big buildings, and trendy people. This image would have changed long back if not for the ablest helps coming from the immigrants—legal and otherwise.

Of course, the country is not unequivocal about it. As the post 9/11 experience clearly showed, America was no more the country of the immigrants. It was suddenly a country blessed by God meant for Americans. Large scale distrusts were permitted to flow towards people who did not affix that bumper sticker with “God Bless America” despite the fact that people had to shave their beards so as not to look like followers of different types of Gods.

Today, many immigrants of the earlier generations have been convinced by a rhetoric of “what constitutes an American” that they—who form a majority among the minorities, more than 41 million people—are believing that they are now more Americans than the prospective immigrants. Simply because they have been recognized as thus, and are being rewarded for being thus. In an entire movement which should be directed at understanding the underprivileged 11 million “illegals”, today even their own counterparts are prompt to condemn them. These benefited immigrants now do not consider the issues of the illegals as an “American issue”. For them, it’s just an “immigration issue” which they have overcome already in their life! The common shared struggles of all people of color in this country is now being deliberately wiped off the collective memory by categorizing them into different resident status, thus weakening the already weak further. This divides not just a movement to reclaim what’s due to them, considering the arduous hourly jobs they have done with honesty and in return paid paltry sums, of which 40 per cent goes to unknown quarters, it also defeats any amount of potential discourse that can be held regarding the sensitive issue.

“Guest Worker” is the real rhetoric, and the country should have an understanding of it. If the president wants people to believe that being American is a lifelong experience, not a process of legal naturalization (“An understanding of what it means to be an American is not a formality in the naturalization process, it is essential to full participation in our democracy”), then it is obvious that living in America to tirelessly labor and serve is part of that lifelong experience. 11 million people residing in this country are being considered as illegal, which also means they have been living in a state of despair (low wage, no work benefits). The proposed law merely aims at “legalizing” them, not “Americanizing” them. Years of their cheap labor have always been perpetrated by the employers who have been full American citizens. The onus must not lie so much on the disadvantaged $6/hr worker as it should be on the billion dollars/year profiteering multinationals that have hired them at that. Agreed that’s little more than the minimum wage, but the minimum wage standards in this country have not been revised at par with the profit scales of the monopolists.

There are just two ways of working at it. One, to grant citizenship to the people who are willing to stay in this country and continue to work laboriously–of course after their minimum wages are increased. Or, two, to let them stay and work in their present status quo—where they have at least a liberty of social mobility without being discriminated against by a system that distrusts immigrants to begin with. (How many more Law and Order episodes will show immigrant hookers and how many more awards will Crash movie receive for stereotyping Chinese as “human smugglers”?)

The middle ground, which is being proposed now, is quite fishy. Maybe by documenting the illegals now, it is easy for the administration to keep a track of them. But at the same time, since they are not going to get privileged by their “participation in American democracy” (of casting a vote, basically—many of which as we know were not even counted at crucial juncture that would have saved all these posts today), they are clearly going to be discriminated against–‘systematically’ this time. Once someone is branded as an entity that’s not going to evolve into higher stages of humanly dignified life of being acknowledged in the country of work, the employers sure know how to throw their weights around. Not that the case is any different now. Now the undocumented ones are clearly facing wrath. The politicians who do not come out of the Hill should take a public transport sometimes just to see the state of those people—standing in a queue for daily wage works at Langley Park squares—15 minutes from the Downtown DC! But if the undocumented ones are allowed to work undocumented, the only difference would be that they keep their money in their own pockets, and not in a bank for direct withdrawals.

Apart from the emotions involved in this issue (which is why it is so sensitive)—and the emotions must be considered while dealing with deprived human beings (oh come on, I know capital, not society that takes precedence here, but with all the talks about God, at least it should be a good ethical try)—there are direct economic issues at stake here. There are no guarantees that once these people go back to their countries, they will receive their ‘incentives’. I mean, not only are there no previous examples of this kind, but there are ample evidence to suggest that not all regimes everywhere in the world actually are friendly with the current Bush administration to agree to its proposal. And certainly not the opposition parties in those countries, who after coming to power will stop recognizing any such deals. Thirdly, if those countries were wealthy and willing enough to accommodate these people, the people would not land up here. Fourthly, and the most basic one, is the rightful claim of the workers. They have so far toiled hard in bettering this country, by managing, repairing, amending this country. They have always tried to learn how to make sense of different accents of American English spoken with variety of tones, often laced with racial slurs, slangs and sexual overtones. The least claim they can make is to get a parity. A full participation in the democratic process of the country, as the President said. The question is if they are made devoid of eventual citizenship, their legal claims to grey areas will still remain inaccessible. Without citizenship, any of their claims can land them in a way that may still lead to their deportation. And now, all the baseball and basketball fans of the land know, that is not fair. Heads they lose, tails they lose?

The movement of more than 500,000 people at LA is a symbolic protest against the long line of unfair treatment. However, it’s not such a Catch22 as it is made out to be. The choice is clear in this case. People, who are already citizens, who are otherwise legal immigrants, and the clearly privileged yet sensitized Americans must realize that the accrued benefits do not need to be at the cost of inflicted injustice. At that point, silence becomes unethical.

A flyer on my table top reads: “We put food on the table and clothing on people’s backs and do the work most Americans don’t want to do for less money than many Americans will work for; and now they want me to say I’m thankful because they’re giving me amnesty, even though most of the people I know won’t get it. Just because I am legal all of a sudden doesn’t mean I’ll forget those who aren’t.”

This should wake the fellow immigrants to make it a 41-million legalized support for another 11 million illegals. And the rest of over 250 million people who realize that we all are immigrants to the country at one point or another (and in not so distant past!) should lend a strong support to either completely naturalize the unfortunates, or let them not pay as taxpayers to prolonged hawkish causes.

And for the fellow jubilated privileged immigrants who every now and then feel they deserved to get the ticket to the polling booths, they should realize it’s merely incidental. So incidental that they cannot even “fully” participate in democracy to challenge a presidential candidate simply on the grounds that they were not born in this land. Now if that’s incidental, why can’t the “illegalities” of the “aliens”? Because it’s written on the wall of a system?

No Worker can be Illegal. Its the ones who do not work and instead live off the labor of others who need be put to test. “First they came for the illegals, but we were not one!…?” Look out!

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

9 thoughts on “No Worker Is Illegal!

  1. First of all, my ancestors came to the United States from Northern Ireland, and Slovakia. We are a nation of immigrants. However, illegal immigration must be stopped and we must adhere to the laws in effect. I am in favor of granting green card status to illegal immigrants who have no trouble with the law, and respect their neighbors and neighborhoods. Alot of these folks are hard-working individuals who came here for a better way of life. And I do not have a problem with that.
    On the other hand, there are alot of illegal immigrants in this nation WHO HATE THE UNITED STATES AND COMMIT ONE CRIME AFTER ANOTHER. AND IN THE PROCESS, THEY INFLICT BODILY HARM AND EVEN DEATH UPON INNOCENT LAW ABIDING AMERICANS. These are the immigrants that we the people DO NOT NEED! They should be deported. And once we get rid of these trouble makers, and issue green cards to illegal immigrants who have no trouble with the law then we should CRACK DOWN ON IMMIGRANTS WHO COME TO THIS COUNTRY ILLEGALLY. The immigration laws in effect must be strictly adhered to and the borders must be sealed. Why? To discourage the entry of illegal aliens, AND TO SAFEGUARD OUR NATION FROM TERRORIST ATTACKS. It is not inconceivable for a terrorist to enter this nation undetected, and then goes to one of our cities and detonates a portable nuke. THIS SCENARIO IS SCARY AND HORRIFYING AT THE VERY LEAST. And if you consider me a bigot for my opinion, that is your opinion. I am a concerned American citizen of foreign descent. I welcome people from other nations who are decent and law abiding and want to come here for a better way of life. BUT I OPPOSE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS WHO HAVE NO RESPECT FOR OUR NATION AND OUR LAWS, and they are out there!

  2. I feel this reply has been written only based on opinion sans any research or deeper understanding of the immigration issues in the US, the courses that law & order takes on people of the minority communities, and the injustice that is inflicted on the ‘illegal’ immigrants on an every day basis. I feel that the opinions are based on mainstream views (of politicians and news channels) that are being hammered into the publics’ consciousness. Furthermore, he did not read the article carefully enough to understand the nuances that already have negated his statements.
    First off, he agrees that the hard working ‘aliens’ (they are not even considered humans!) should be given green card, as if there is a committee to look out for the ‘hard working illegal immigrants’ and do the needful. And then he says the illegal immigrants who hate the US commit crimes and should be thrown out of the country to restrict terrorist attacks (is it a joke!). He conveniently forgets that immigrants and non-immigrants without a history of crime were responsible for the recent terror attacks. Hatred for US does not turn people into criminals. Social, economic, and political conditions create the circumstances wherein people are more likely to commit crimes or adopt violent methods to assert themselves (like the terrorists). Following this he implies that US would be safer without the ‘alien criminals’, a logic that is so fallacious that no one needs to even elaborate as to why it is.
    Seal the borders, whose prerogative is that? If it is necessary, don’t you think a powerful and rich country like the US could have done that by now? And why should the borders be sealed for people who are desperately seeking livelihood after US crossed the borders into their countries and ravaged their means of survival? If the US industries and politicians have the right to get richer and more powerful at the cost of other countries, then it is the right of all the effected people of the concerned countries to come to this land and demand their rightful share (they are getting crap and still the US officials and concerned citizens have a problem with them).
    If someone should be a concerned citizen, the person has to be well educated first on the issues he/she is opining on.

  3. To Amrita. You are entitled to your opinion. You want to disagree with me, fine. But why don’t you address your remarks directly to me? Why refer to me in the third person? I consider that insulting and condescending!! And you also insulted my intelligence, which I find very offensive!!!!! I suppose agreeing to disagree agreeably is foreign to your nature. My advice to you is to have more consideration for others who don’t subscribe to your views. Obviously You don’t! You derided my point of view and condemmed it! You also distorted it. For example, I DID NOT WRITE THAT THE HARD WORKING ALIENS SHOULD BE GIVEN A GREEN CARD, afterwhich you remarked in parenthesis ( They are not even considered humans). I wrote, “I am in favor of granting green card status to illegal immigrants who have no trouble with the law and respect their neighbors and neighborhoods. Alot of these folks are hard working individuals who came here for a better way of life. And I do not have a problem with that”. How dare you imply that I don’t consider illegal aliens human! That remark is not only inaccurate, but arrogant and insulting! How dare you?! And I do believe that we would be safer without alien criminals. The ones who are committing violent acts of crime against innocent people. I forgot that you used parenthesis when typing “alien criminals”. So as far as you’re concerned, they’re innocent and above reproach. I beg to differ! You are obviously in favor of open borders and that the United States is to blame for what illegal aliens are going through. I got that impression after reading the following sentence you wrote “And why should the borders be sealed for people who are desperately seeking livelihood after the U.S. crossed the borders into their countries and ravaged their means of survival?”
    I totally disagree with that. I suppose the United States is to blame for the corrupt Mexican Government under Vincente Fox. YOU MAY BELLIEVE THAT, I DO NOT. If Fox truly cared about his people, and alleviated the poverty that is so widespread in Mexico, many of the illegal aliens would not be here, plain and simple. Again I do not have a problem with Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese and other people from other nations who want to come here for a better way of life. But it has to be done legally. I could go on, but I have written enough. Again, I am completely and totally insulted by your reply to my original posting. It is not necessary to be insulting. You really shouldn’t.

  4. One final thing, Amrita. You wrote that “He conveniently forgets that immigrants and non-immigrants without a history of crime were responsible for the recent terror attacks”. For your information, the 19 conspiring hijackers who carried out the attacks on 9-11-01 were affiliated with AL-QUAEDA, an islamic terrorist group. Three of those terrorists were here ILLEGALLY, AND TWO OF THEM HAD PREVIOUS IMMIGRATION VIOLATIONS. Therefore, your remark is hardly accurate.

  5. Hi Richard
    I am extremely sorry if my comment was insulting. It was not meant to be and that is the reason why I wrote it in third person and hinted that what you were airing may be may be the impact of the mainstream views surrounding us. For example, the word ‘alien’ has not been your invention for terming people who are not born in the US, and it is unfortunate that such a term is used for human beings. I stand by my view points, which are nor merely my opinions.
    As regarding the ‘alien criminals’, we need to look at the percentage of them and their contribution to crime rate as opposed to the total crime rate in the US. And how much safer will the country be without them? And again, how will one distinguish who has committed a crime, who has the potential to, and who are hard working illegal immigrants, to grant legal status when they have never been documented? As for the ‘terrorists’ of the 9-11; immigration violations or illegal status does not prove criminality and neither does affiliation to an Islamic fundamentalist group. And as regards Al Qaeda, please find out how the group originated and prospered, and you will know how the US government is responsible for that too!!
    United States, per se, when we are talking about the millions of individuals residing ‘legally’ in the country, may not be directly blamed for the economic conditions of the countries’ in questions. However, the political power structure and the military industrial basis of the US economy are definitely to be held responsible for much of the economic crises of those countries. Corruption is a dynamic and multilayered phenomenon that grips almost all governments, including the US. However, again, a system to get corrupted requires prerequisites and powerful support structure to maintain it. So the debate regarding the corrupt Mexican government is another ball game and the US interventions of course is the powerful structure that lends support for its persistence.
    Finally, debates are not to be misconstrued as personal attacks. It is only through candid debate, passionate arguments, and heated discussions that we can exchange information, learn and benefit from forums like this.

  6. Maybe its time to revisit North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Much of Mexico’s ills are actually created. Again, on purpose.

    Following is “A Letter from Louis Proyect to Paul Krugman” dated March 27.

    Dear Paul Krugman,

    I was dumbfounded to read your op-ed piece in the NY Times today echoing
    many of the themes of the nativist right.

    You refer to a number of “facts” that should strengthen the case for a
    “need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants.” They include:

    1. A questioning of the economic benefits immigrants bring to the economy,
    which in your estimation has raised the total income of native-born
    Americans by no more than a fraction of 1 percent since 1980.

    2. An assertion that immigrant workers have depressed the wages of
    unskilled native-born workers, such as U.S. high school dropouts, who would
    earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren’t for Mexican immigration.

    3. Worries about low-skill immigrants threatening to unravel the safety net
    of the U.S. welfare state by taking advantage of our generous medical care
    and educational system.

    Although I understand that you have earned many awards for your writings
    and have been appointed to some of the most prestigious universities in the
    U.S., I would have to give you a failing grade for omitting the most
    important economic factor in the immigration debate. I speak specifically
    of your failure to examine *why* people such as the Mexicans pour into the
    United States in search of jobs. By calling for stricter enforcement
    (implicit in your demand that the “inflow of low-skill immigrants” be
    reduced) without examining the root cause of the flight from Mexico and
    other such countries, you are adopting the same kind of stance as
    politicians who want to crack down on Islamic terrorism without looking at
    the oppressive conditions that breed extremism.

    Fundamentally, immigration is a result of too few jobs in Mexico and
    elsewhere. People come to the U.S. because it is preferable to starvation.
    Free trade agreements of one sort or another have devastated the Latin
    American economies. The real solution to reducing immigration is economic
    development, not Draconian laws.

    And why have jobs disappeared in Mexico? It is because the U.S. has
    disappeared them. When NAFTA began, nearly 8 million people were involved
    in farming, but that number fell to approximately 6.5 million by 2003,
    according to a report on the Public Citizen website
    (http://www.citizen.org/trade/nafta/).
    One can surmise that in the succeeding 3 years, things could have only
    gotten worse.

    Turning the clock back 6 years to July 5, 2000, you wrote a column hailing
    the election of Vicente Fox which you described as a “cause for rejoicing,
    not just for Mexico, but for everyone who hopes that this time around we
    may be getting globalization right.” You also saw it as a vindication for
    NAFTA.

    Turning the clock back another 3 years to February 13, 1997, we find you
    boosting globalization just like your colleague Tom Friedman. In making
    your own case for “the world is flat,” you scoff at worries about job loss
    in the U.S.:

    “Of course, international competition plays a role in some downsizings, but
    as Newsweek’s list makes clear, it is hardly the most important cause of
    the phenomenon. To my knowledge there are no Japanese keiretsu competing to
    carry my long-distance calls or South Korean conglomerates offering me
    local service. Nor have many Americans started buying their home appliances
    at Mexican stores or smoking French cigarettes.”

    However, this is a rather U.S.-centric view of the problem which ignores
    the impact of globalization on other countries. By focusing on whether
    Americans will buy home appliances at Mexican stores, you seem to miss the
    other side of the equation, namely the impact of free trade *inside* Mexico
    rather than inside the U.S.

    An October 30, 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article filled in the details
    that were woefully neglected in your op-ed pieces:

    Alonzo Moran earns more money driving a fork-lift in a cotton gin in
    Missouri’s Bootheel than he could make in almost any job back home in Mexico.

    But after 13 months as a migrant farm worker, Moran is eager to return to
    the 30 acres he owns in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

    There, his land lies fallow, not worth planting because of depressed corn
    prices he blames on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

    “What is my dream for the future? I want corn prices to be high again so I
    can go back to Mexico to farm,” said Moran, 42. “But I don’t know if that
    will happen”

    There are many reasons for the recent record migration from Mexico to the
    United States. But many Mexicans say a prime motivation is the difficulty
    in making a living on small farms in rural Mexico.

    A favorite destination is Missouri, where migrants — legal and illegal —
    find farm work in fields and slaughterhouses.

    Many stay. From 2000 to 2004 alone, Missouri’s Hispanic population —
    mainly Mexican — grew by nearly 25 percent, after a 92 percent increase
    from 1990-2000, according to U.S. Census data.

    Illinois’ Hispanic population grew 16 percent in the first four years of
    this decade after a 96 percent increase in the ’90s.

    And those are just the Hispanics who get counted.
    ….

  7. Here is my story. I came to this country 25 years ago on a “FI” foreign student visa. I was a “foreign student” then at a large midwestern university. In the years that followed, I was reinvented several times as “heathen,” “east indian,” “third world citizen,” “woman of color,” “asian/other,” “indian american,” and “south asian.” I finally got my “green card,” and became a “resident alien” (note the built in irony of being both resident and alien, although I am sure the INS of those days was not particularly given to ironic nuances or humor,) and I became a lean anagram in my home country: NRI (NON-Resident Indian)–where I retained some sense of my identity and only my “space” was dislocated. But as I traverse spaces and continents, I am haunted by the paradox of being a “resident alien” in a country that has now been “home” for exactly as long as the “home” I grew up in where I have become simply “non resident” but remain “Indian.”

    The purpose of this rather long personal narrative is to gesture to the fact that despite my years of community activism and work here, and paying Social Security and Taxes even as a “foreign student’ when I had every intention of going back, there remains the distinct sense of “uneasy belonging.” And my narrative is “privileged” coming as I did for “graduate work” and fulfilling all those requirments being asked today: I worked; I contributed to the local economy; I learned English; and I have never violated the law (although residents who are not aliens may CHOOSE to do any of the foregoing without an issue).

    Framing the issue now as “illegal immigrants” rather than as the historically more accurate frame of Immigration provides us with pause. I think viewing the immigration issue via the paradigm of Black s and Native Americans serves no purpose, since neither of those groups were “immigrants”–one was erased; and the other enslaved–and neither came here as millions of immigrants do ….

    Quite apart from the fact that economics has always been the underlying factor for immigration….the pilgrims did not come for religious freedom alone, but cos they were one of the poorest back home; and Columbus, if memory serves me right, came to make his “fortune” which he did.

    So what is it that we are talking about when we glorify our “huddled masses” of the past and the “inglorious border crossing masses” of the present?

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