Friday, September 12, 2008

Undocumented Migrants Don't Evacuate Ike, Fear Ice Prisons

Even though there has been a declared "hurricane amnesty" for undocumented workers in Texas, even though the National Weather Service has issued a "certain death" evacuation order, many migrant workers are afraid to evacuate. ICE, the police arm of the DHS (Department of Homeland Security), has been known to deport people even after Michael Chertoff assured people they wouldn't be picked up for evacuating. ICE, as migrants will tell you, has a will of its own, an agenda.

An agenda like all of the DHS, where humanitarian considerations often take last place to the heavy-handed mandate for Security, fanned by "patriotic"-labeled mania and panic. So what's happened to those people?

It's happened before. As reported on Democracy Now!:

"...earlier this summer, despite assurances to the contrary from Department of Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, Border Patrol agents kept open checkpoints and apprehended a van of people trying to evacuate from Hurricane Dolly. Last month, many undocumented immigrants in New Orleans did not evacuate during Hurricane Gustav due to deportation concerns."

As one of the Immigration Rights demonstraters at the DNC in Denver said:

In May of this year, ICE went in and rounded up about 300 to 400 workers, and right now the town has become a virtual prison for the women and the children. They can’t leave, and they can’t work.

So the fear is more than just being deported, which is bad enough, but of having whole families imprisoned as they have done in Texas, or of otherwise having their families broken up or being deprived of freedom or means of making a living.

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewed David Bacon, author of Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants. When Goodman mentioned the largest immigrant raid in US history just before the Democratic National convention, in which hundreds of people were rounded up, this discussion ensued:

DAVID BACON: That’s right, in Laurel, Mississippi. And then, what got even less coverage was that they took 481 people, and they put them in a detention center in Jena, Louisiana and just sort of left them there— AMY GOODMAN: In Jena.
DAVID BACON: —for two weeks. In Jena, right.
AMY GOODMAN: The Jena Six.
DAVID BACON: Right. In fact, that detention center is probably the biggest single, you know, source of employment for people who live in Jena now. But the problem with those workers is that they were—you know, there was no habeas corpus, there was no bail. There weren’t even any charges against those people for two weeks. It’s kind of like creating, I think, a Guantanamo-style of justice or injustice that’s excused because it’s being directed—you know, ICE mentions the word “illegal,” and then all kinds of things become permissible that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

Bacon later discusses the government's motivation behind these raids, which have created an atmosphere of fear in immigrant communities.

I think the government has an agenda here. In fact, it’s pretty open. Michael Chertoff keeps saying it over and over and over, and that is that he says we’re going to shut the back door and open the front door. And what that means is that ICE is trying to push for the establishment of new guest worker programs, so that people can come here as workers, but only as workers, without rights, without eventually getting political rights, without becoming citizens, certainly without voting, but whose labor is going to be used in the economy. And so, these raids are a way of terrorizing people and saying to people: don’t think that you’re going to be able to come to the United States; don’t think that you’re going to be able to work in any other way other than through these programs.

So it's about more than simply "protecting our borders" or even "protecting our culture". It's about bringing in people not as equals, not as immigrants, but as a "worker class" who cannot have and enjoy the same rights "the rest of us" do. It's not about documentation or even assimilation, but about keeping the slavery-level work force at the same cheap rates but without the legal hassles.

The comprehensive immigration bills that we saw in Congress in a lot of ways were labor supply bills. These were bills that were really intended to supply guest workers to industry and then an enforcement program to kind of drive workers into those programs.

So, the difference of opinion, I think in the Democratic Party, especially, is between people who sponsored those programs and other people like Sheila Jackson-Lee, the congresswoman from Houston, who said instead of having a guest worker program, what we need is people to be able to come here with green cards and with permanent residence visas.

And also, the thing I think that she said that was really a pioneering idea, and that was that we also need a jobs program. We need to couple immigration reform with jobs programs. So she said, let’s take the fees that people pay when they’re normalizing their status and use that to set up job creation and job training programs in communities with high unemployment, so that all communities can have some kind of benefit out of these bills. You know, these labor supply bills, comprehensive immigration reform bills, what they do is they pit communities against each other over jobs, over wages and so forth.

Bacon also takes this observation a step further - blaming it on international trade agreements that screw the people on the non-supply-side, the workers and farmers of the world.

NAFTA allowed big US grain companies to dump corn on the Mexican market, which essentially made it impossible for small Mexican farmers to sell their corn that they were growing for a price that would pay for the cost of growing it. So you can’t farm any longer. What do you do? You have to support your family some way. And so, people become part of this migrant stream coming to the United States.
And it’s not just the US. I mean, these structural adjustment programs, trade agreements, it’s happening all over the world. There are 200 million people in the world who are living outside the countries where they were born.

So, you know, Congress passes these agreements, which sort of push people into migration, and then immigration bills, which are essentially trying to ensure that their labor gets supplied to corporations at the lowest possible price and that people have the fewest possible rights.

Where will this end? It would help if people understood the issues better. But as we've seen with Sarah Palin, wisdom and understanding are often trumped by loud aggressive voices and sound-bites that feed into peoples' prejudices. Ultimately, though, what America stands for, or thinks/hopes it stands for - freedom and justice - requires replacing simplistic "patriotism" with higher values that include giving a damn about what happens to our species, our planet, and who, in fact, we are.

No comments: