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!
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!