David Bennion: January 2008 Archives

pack your bags

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"I still can't believe this is happening in America."

So said the sister of a U.S. citizen locked up by the government for weeks and nearly deported because he couldn't produce a U.S. birth certificate and the government couldn't be bothered to check its own records. 

Thomas Warziniack was born in Minnesota and grew up in Georgia, but immigration authorities pronounced him an illegal immigrant from Russia.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has held Warziniack for weeks in an Arizona detention facility with the aim of deporting him to a country he's never seen. His jailers shrugged off Warziniack's claims that he was an American citizen, even though they could have retrieved his Minnesota birth certificate in minutes and even though a Colorado court had concluded that he was a U.S. citizen a year before it shipped him to Arizona.


It is important to remember that, while universally praised and honored in America today, during his lifetime, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a deeply controversial and divisive figure.
 

Fringe views that still exist today (which I won't dignify with links) condemning King as a dangerous radical, a socialist, and a communist, were the views of much of the mainstream press during the 1960s.  King was viewed as such a disruptive force by the U.S. government that Attorney General Bobby Kennedy disgracefully authorized J. Edgar Hoover's FBI to wiretap King's phone.  Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Hoover's FBI worked to undermine and destabilize civil rights groups like King's SCLC, all in the name of national security and American unity.   


In researching a forthcoming post, I stumbled across this remarkable video about rural Kenyans who have gotten the rights from the corporation that owns the Simpsons to produce and sell handmade soapstone carvings of characters on the show.  They receive $6 for each carving, which they use to support and educate their families.  The spokesman from the group is very pleased about the work and the impact it has had on the community. 

But then we find that the carvings can be sold in the UK for ten times that amount, $60 a piece.  Does it really cost $54 to ship a small bust of Homer Simpson from Kenya to Britain?  Perhaps, but I am skeptical.  But I’ll refrain from complaining too loudly since if the project were ended for some reason, the Kenyan artisans would clearly be worse off than they are now. 

As an educated Westerner, objectively I have little to complain about compared to most people in the world.  But when thinking about the trenchant problems people in the Global South face and will likely face for the rest of their lives, lately I’ve been dangerously short on optimism.  It’s just so depressing.  It’s easy to understand why often the first response to such widescale suffering is to pretend that these challenges don’t exist or that they’re primarily unsolvable and of people’s own making. 

So it lifts me up to see people like videoreporter Ruud Elmendorp, who made the piece I’ve embedded here, publicizing daily life in Kenya and elsewhere on his website.  He has some reports on the recent unrest in Kenya.  Check it out

Update: I'm still working on the embed here--sorry to all inconvenienced by the automatic start on the video. I need a tutorial or something ...

Later update: Ok, hopefully it'll work now through YouTube.  Embedding the clip through Typepad proved to be beyond my meager abilities. 

You might have read about Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE)'s Gestapo-like tactics in raids at workplaces and homes in New Bedford, Long Island, and elsewhere around the country: sometimes kicking down doors in the middle of the night, other times gaining warrantless entry into homes by misleading the residents inside, using ethnic profiling, trampling constitutional due process rights that apply to both citizens and noncitizens, labeling people with minor convictions from decades ago "criminal aliens" for PR purposes, moving detainees from state to state without notice for the explicit purpose of disrupting legal representation, and using children as bait to catch and lock up entire families.  I guess this is what restrictionists mean when they talk about "rule of law." 

But there's more--I thought I'd share a few recent developments in immigration enforcement in the New York metro area:

News came a few days ago that Eliot Spitzer has failed in his effort to allow long-incarcerated felons some measure of freedom, freedom denied them so far by the Parole Board's categorical refusal to grant parole to inmates convicted of certain crimes.  Reading this story got me thinking.  Spitzer started his term popular and ambitious but then something happened.  That something is known collectively in some circles as the flying monkeys of immigration restrictionism. 

Here is the key passage in Sam Roberts' NY Times article for my purposes today:

With Mr. Spitzer's political capital depleted and the governor hardly eager to embark on another unpopular crusade

By "unpopular crusade," I'm speculating that Roberts primarily means Spitzer's attempt to fulfill a campaign promise to reinstate New York's previous policy of permitting undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. 

Hillary Clinton's recent dip in the polls ahead of the primaries has also been attributed by many to her "gaffe" on the same subject in a debate a couple months ago.

Political capital is ineffable and notoriously volatile.  Much of a politician's room to maneuver depends on which narrative our media gatekeepers decide is suitable for consumption by the masses.  Those gatekeepers are often easily misled as to the prevailing temper of the public--witness the "Village's" continuing support for the War in Iraq when all available evidence indicates a large majority of Americans oppose the war. 

This ongoing disjunction between reality and media narrative has not arisen organically--it has several causes, among them: fear of being labeled soft on national security, fear of being caught by surprise again after 9/11, ignorance of the substantive details of the issues at hand, weariness of being tagged with the now-pejorative "liberal" label, coziness with power brokers in government and business who profit from the machinery of war, and simple groupthink. 

I propose that savvy conservative activists have perpetuated a similar con on the gatekeepers: the Great Immigration Swindle.  Through a decades-long coordinated effort,  groups calling for more restrictive immigration policies, or "restrictionists" for short, have positioned a media narrative once considered racist and extreme as fully mainstream.

Here are the component parts of the Swindle: 

happy New Year!

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Let's make 2008 a better year than 2007 turned out to be for migrants and their families in the U.S. and elsewhere.  Fash has some good New Year's resolutions for migrants and their allies over at the Open Borders Lobby.  Check them out