Moving Towards a New Migrant Manifesto

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I was excited to find out over the weekend that David Neiwart, through his own blog and a cross-post on Firedoglake linked to me and others in the pro-migrant blogosphere in the last post of his three-part series on immigration:

The blogosphere can have a role in this change as well. There is a wealth of blogs out there dealing with immigration and Latino issues on a regular basis, and many of them feature not just important perspectives that need to be part of the conversation, but compelling and powerful writing as well. A sampling: Migra Matters, Latina Lista, Matt Ortega,Immigration Prof Blog, The Silence of our Friends, Citizen Orange, The Unapologetic Mexican ... well, the list is long, and this one is certainly incomplete. But you get the idea.

I encourage you to use my blogroll on the right to complete that list, but now that he's finished his series I thought I'd use it as an opportunity to insert my own commentary, and hopefully build or hone on what was a massive and ambitious undertaking for Neiwart.
Neiwart wrote three posts.  One introducing his series, a second debunking a lot of the anti-migrant myths that exist, and a third with proposals about how to move forward.  While the first two posts were informative, I'm going to spend my time on Dave's third post, "Immigration: Looking Forward".  This post is the second major migrant manifesto to emerge out of the blogosphere, coming after Duke's post that garnered a front-page spot on Daily Kos.

In his post, Neiwart outlines what a "liberal program for comprehensive immigration reform" would contain:

  • It would embrace the fundamental dignity of immigrants, as well as the respect due (sic) their contributions to the country, both culturally and economically [...]
  • It would be not just about "family values", but about improving and enhancing the well-being of every American family, regardless of status [...]
  • It would make immigration law reflect basic American democratic values: fair play, equality of opportunity, and most of all, fundamental human decency: the mutual respect for our individual rights and freedoms and responsibilities as well as the value of community action in bettering life for every citizen [...]
  • Insist on asserting the right of immigrants to work without being subjected to the panoply of abuses by corporate and business interests who profit from the status quo -- particularly the right to decent wages and working conditions, as well as the ability to organize both as workers and as political blocs. [...]
  • It should recognized that the clearest means to achieve real equality of opportunity for immigrants lies in creating and equitable and obtainable path to citizenship for those who come here to work [...]
  • Comprehend the "bigger picture" by directly engaging our (sic) the governments of neighboring nations, especially Mexico and Latin America, in an economic program aimed at eradicating the grotesque differential in wages -- as well as basic standards of living -- between those nations and the United States.

I think Neiwart's and Duke's posts are very good starting points for U.S. progressives to work from.  Still, I can't help but feel that there is something missing from these two gargantuan posts.  I'm not yet prepared to articulate exactly what that is, but I will describe the seeds from which these thoughts are emerging. 

Before I begin I'm probably going to have to preface my statements for all the anti-migrant trolls out there.  I love the United States.  I'll never forget when I returned to Guatemala after the trip I took retracing the route of a Guatemalan migrant into the U.S. and a Guatemalan told my father that only a Gringo would do something like that voluntarily.  The sentiment epitomizes my love for the U.S.: a place where "the people" truly can speak at times, even against overwhelming odds, and shine the light of their truth all around the world. 

What's more, in recent years, I've even restored my faith in U.S. democracy, which for those that know me, is a pretty astounding.  I still think that at a national level U.S. democracy doesn't work, but it's amazing what one can achieve with only a few hundred votes at the local level.  Coincidentally, it is at a local level that we can do the most good for migrants in the U.S.  Saying all this, I'll get onto my story:

I'll never forget a feeling that I had in the 2006 marches.  In 2006 U.S. migrants looked so strong.  It seemed as if nothing could stand in the way of progress towards a more just world.  But, during those marches, there was a moment that made my heart sink, a moment that I believe sowed the seeds of what became more years of heightened fear and oppression for migrants. 

After the first marches, migrants started catching a lot of flack for flying the flags of their home countries.  Leaders of the marches, at the time, thought it would be wise to ask migrants to drop their flags and pick up U.S. flags.  I'll never forget the first time I saw a Guatemalan put down a Guatemalan flag and pick up a U.S. one.  My heart just filled with this sense of dread.

Again, this isn't because I hate the U.S.  I couldn't quite explain it at the time, but months later I came across a Malcolm X quote that described part of my feelings about it.

I’m no politician. I’m not even a student of politics. I’m not a Republican, nor a Democrat, nor an American, and got sense enough to know it. I’m one of the 22 million black victims of the Democrats, one of the 22 million black victims of the Republicans, and one of the 22 million black victims of Americanism. And when I speak, I don’t speak as a Democrat, or a Republican, *nor an American.* I speak as a victim of America’s so-called democracy. You and I have never seen democracy; all we’ve seen is hypocrisy.

When we open our eyes today and look around America, we see America not through the eyes of someone who have -- who has enjoyed the fruits of Americanism, we see America through the eyes of someone who has been the victim of Americanism. We don’t see any American dream; we’ve experienced only the American nightmare. We haven’t benefited from America’s democracy; we’ve only suffered from America’s hypocrisy. And the generation that’s coming up now can see it and are not afraid to say it.

Malcolm X - The Ballot or the Bullet

While I am grateful that both Duke and Neiwart have made tackling the roots of migration central to their platforms, again I can't help but feel that it goes deeper than that.  You see, both Duke and Neiwart approach migration from a quintessentially "American" perspective.  In fact, both use the word "American" several times which is a flawed term when it comes to migrants.  For migrants, and from a global perspective, America represents the entire western hemisphere.  Both also use the U.S. centric term "immigrant".  That suggests someone from Guatemala should use the term "emigrant". The global citizen, however, uses the term migrant.

I'm not trying to nitpick, or attack, because I believe these proposals are very good.  What I'm trying to hint at is an underlying philosophy that is missing in these proposals.  A philosophy that no one has formulated to any real extent.  The fact that our underlying philosophy has yet to be articulated is hurting us.  For instance, it is a fundamental contradiction to be against free-trade / globalization at the same time that you are pro-migrant, and if it isn't then we have to articulate a pretty complex position that is anti-trade globalization and pro-labor globalization.

After getting slapped around about this a few times by my ivy league Ph.D. candidate political scientist friends, I thought I'd get back to the books, and while I'm not yet at a point where I can firmly articulate the correct philosophy, I was pointed to a recent academic work that I think scratches the tip of the iceberg: "The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents, and Citizens" by Seyla Benhabib.

In it, Benhabib identifies what I think is the central contradiction with the pro-migrant view.  It is expressed in this quote:

Republican equality is distinct from universal moral equality.  The right to have rights cannot be guaranteed by a world state or another world organizations, but only by the collective will of circumscribed polities, which in turn, willy-nilly, perpetrate their own their own regimes of exclusion.  The paradox of democratic self-determination leads the democratic sovereign to self-constitution as well as to exclusion.
Seyla Benhabib - The Rights of Others

She identifies the difference between moral rights, and juridico-civil rights.  I think every pro-migrant advocate identifies with moral rights.  I was able to grasp the concept of moral rights even as a child.  Morally, we should all be born equal, and national boundaries result in inequality.  I personally believe that the greatest inequities that exist today are those that exist across national boundaries and from a moral rights stand-point this is wrong.  From a moral rights stand point we could also argue that the U.S. was founded on the very principles that should eliminate this global wrong in this famous statement:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

I always like to joke with anti-migrant trolls about the "inalienable" part.  But often, pro-migrant advocates conveniently forget what immediately follows the above statement, which an anti-migrant troll would be wise to pick out.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men

This is the juridico-civil part.  We know about the universal moral part, but that is always at odds with the juridico-civil element of this discussion.   That is to say, all men are created equal, but a government needs to be created to secure that equality, and the creation of a new government, at least up to this point in time, has always been at odds with the universal moral concept of equality. 

Again, just to make myself absolutely clear.  Not only did the U.S. create a new "we" as in "we the people" with the declaration of independence, but the U.S. also created a "them" not represented in the document.  Others have picked this up domestically in the sense that Native Americans, women, slaves, and other minorities were not included in this "we" but the same is true for people from other countries, non-U.S. citizens. 

Why does a philosophical discussion like this matter?  Because even if all of Duke's and Neiwart's proposals are implemented, we're still not getting at the core question which continues to plague the globe.  How do we start prioritizing the billions that live on less than $2 a day when they are not represented in the world's most powerful democracies?  A world government is not the answer.  Incorporating this reality into the democratic systems that already exist, is.  But how do we do that? And with what philosophical principles?

Certainly we have the universal moral argument on our sides, but we have yet to define the juridico-civil argument.  That is to say, we have yet to identify a way of practically addressing the needs of migrants, and through them the billions of the majority world, within the context of the privileged world, where all the power and resources lie.

I hope this discussion wasn't to cryptic, or too pie in the sky.  I'm going to continue to develop my thoughts, but until then I encourage others to give me their thoughts on this.

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15 Comments

XP said:

Great post!

We need to come the realization that we do not exist in a bubble and that our politics are world politics. We really do need to change how analyze domestic issues. Now that we have opened Pandora's box with our free trade policy, we can no longer discuss domestic issues without considering their global affect.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

I agree XP. Thanks for the insight. I hope we can move further along this tangent in future and come up with a real migrant manifesto.

yave begnet said:

A world government is not the answer.

I think this assertion needs defending, or at least some discussion. Perhaps a world government is not practical in the near term, perhaps the problems we see with most governments now (suppression of the individual "for the greater good" (tones of Hot Fuzz's NWA), lack of democracy on a functional level, an overwillingness to resort to force, susceptibility to corruption, to name a few) would be intensified in a supranational government, or perhaps the idea just freaks people out too much. Whatever the reasons, they should be articulated.

Another option would be some sort of sliding scale of supranational governance, as outlined by A.J. Julius here in response to Thomas Nagel's paper on global justice. Julius explains why a Rawls-inspired comprehensive theory of global justice is morally defensible in a world positioned somewhere between a world of pure sovereign states and a world ruled by one global political entity. Arguably, this is the world we live in now, where sovereign states face real constraints on action from supranational entities like the EU, WTO, NAFTA, international civil society, and in some respects, the UN. Julius's paper made me consider the idea that meaningful global justice might be feasible in some intermediate position--but probably one closer to the one world government position than we currently find ourselves.

Kyle, you make some great points in this post. In particular, you question the aspirational assimilationist ethic that so rarely is questioned. In response to Dave's post, I raised some issues along those lines here. This is a good conversation to have, and this post is a welcome addition to it.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Wow yave,

I just saw your comment to Dave. It sounds like we come down on the same place when it comes to this assimilationist ethic.

It's going to take me some time to digest some of the things you linked to here, but I definitely will keep it in mind as I write the next post on this.

My qualms with world government started when I read, Understanding the Chiapas Rebellion, and I think the Zapatistas make the best case against an international order, in which the interests of those like indigenous people are trampled over, and we've seen that.

More important than this question of a world government, that the other side will of course assail as "open borders", is how we justify something like that within the current framework of nation-states. Almost every world project up to this point has been a pretty elitist one, that "the people" are not fond of, and that's because we've failed to articulate the juridico-civil route towards recognizing the moral worth of migrants.

Like I said, I still have not developed my thoughts completely on how to do this, but, I think it's necessary.

XP said:

I do have to admit, I feel a bit slighted knowing that Dave views me as an 'etc' on his "certainly incomplete" list.

I am not saying this because I feel I should get my dues. Hell, I would love to see Manny's blog get listed. Even BFP! Here is the problem, Dave is trying to come off as the middle man, the guy who has the pulse of the immigration and Latino blogosphere. However, he had corrected by one of the people he listed who admitted that they rarely "post on immigration matters." So what gives?

One would think a person who is trying to be the bridge between us and the mainstream blogosphere try to cast a wider net. Oh well.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Thanks for expressing your feelings here, XP. I certainly think Para Justicia Y Libertad should have been included on that list. If anything it's been you and Manny that have been leading the pro-migrant blogosphere. I know you both were very supportive of me when I came into this game.

Trust me when I say that you'll get your dues whenever I'm talking about the pro-migrant blogosphere. Keep up the good work, XP.

Man Eegee said:

Unfortunately, this has been an ongoing issue for quite awhile. I don't do this for recognition, but I think it's important to point out that safe voices are the ones that will get anointed by The Netroots™ as long as they have the ear of the corporate media. I'd rather write in my own way and be ignored than sacrifice the passion that keeps the posts rolling at my site.

As for manifestos and such, it's clear that the audience for this particular one is not those who are affected by the ridiculous policies coming from state legislatures all over the country. It serves a purpose, in that it puts a bunch of ideas in one place to be discussed, but it's not tailored for a universal reading. Dos centavos, and all that.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Man Eegee!

I'm down with everything your saying, but I'm just trying to clarify what manifesto you're talking about. I probably shouldn't have used that term, manifesto, now that I think of it. Are you talking about Neiwart's? Duke's? Mine? all of ours? I think you would be right to include all of ours in this indictment, I'm just trying to figure it out

Man Eegee said:

'this particular one' - meaning Dave's three parter; but like I wrote above, it serves an important purpose but is not intended for migrant peoples or the grassroot networks that advocate for them on the streets. It's political maneuvering that has to operate in the frame of the current system in order to have a shot at moving anything forward. Of course, it'll still be labeled amnesty with shrieks of horror from the nativist set. As long as they have control of the airwaves, we will have to work that much harder to counteract it.

XicanoPowr:

Man, I knew I was gonna leave someone off that list I really needed to have on there ... sorry, guy.

I did just go add you to my blogroll though, which I've been meaning to do anyway. Along with Citizen Orange.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Thanks David,

It's bad blogger etiquette to suggest anyone deserves links, but I thank you for adding Citizen Orange to your blogroll, and it was really big of you apologize to XP. Speaks volumes about the type of blogger you are.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

I hear you Manny. I don't think any of our proposals are anywhere near the powerful grassroots work around this that has been building for decades and decades. I too agree that both kind of work within the current system, and I'm definitely going to be thinking on something new as I start working on a document for Citizen Orange compiling a lot of work that is out there with my own thoughts.

XP said:

David, I want to apologize as well, I shouldn't have over analyze on who you listed. The fact is, nobody corners the market when it comes to this complex issue.

I do want to thank you for listing me on your blogroll.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Aw we got ourselves a lovefest here on Citizen Orange. lol. I'm happy to be a party to it.

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