Human Rights: December 2010 Archives

In memory of symsess's Sanctuarysphere, here are the immigration stories that caught my eye today:

  • The DOMA Project works to raise awareness of how binational same-sex couples are often forced apart by anti-LGBT immigration laws and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
  • David Bacon writes about the cynicism of the Obama administration's strategy of pressuring employers to fire undocumented workers in targeted workplace audits. By conducting these actions under the radar, Obama is able to maintain the strategy of "enforcement through attrition" while avoiding the embarrassing press of large workplace raids.
  • Marisa TreviƱo explains the futility of the current narrow bipartisan focus on "border security" when insecurity in Mexico is rising, creating a steady stream of refugees from the drug violence there.
  • And advocates for mentally-ill immigrant detainees scored a victory when a federal judge ordered the government to provide them with free attorneys. This makes sense, since under the current laws, a shoplifter gets a free attorney while countless mentally-incapacitated immigrants face permanent exile from their communities with no legal counsel.

Gregory Rodriguez's Op-Ed today in the LA Times is characteristic of much of this year's pro-DREAM Act messaging in that it doesn't challenge many basic principles of the current immigration and citizenship regime. I had hoped, along with many others, that the DREAM Act targeted such an egregious injustice and the beneficiaries were so sympathetic that the bill could be carried into law on the strength of its intuitive power without disturbing the legal system that keeps Dreamers undocumented. The DREAM Act could then have been a foothold for reforming the system, as newly empowered and legalized Dreamers led their communities to a broader victory.

It was a close call, but in the end, the system was too strong for this strategy to succeed in 2010. Instead, Dreamers, other undocumented activists, and allies may need to do the hard work of challenging the system itself, which means deconstructing the ideas about citizenship, identity, community, and loyalty that the immigration regime is based on. This runs counter to much established DREAM Act messaging, which has often adopted themes of patriotism, assimilation, and loyalty that have also been effectively used by nativists to justify exclusionary immigration and citizenship laws.

Perhaps the current ideological trajectory for DREAM is the right one after all, and just requires persistence, patience, and more effective electoral organizing. But such a path to the DREAM Act would be a hollow victory if it strengthened the "us vs. them" immigration narrative and undermined the prospect of legalization for all.

I'll leave for now as a thought exercise to the reader to identify the assumptions on which Rodriguez bases his argument for the DREAM Act and alternative ideas which might lead to better long-term results. I'm also open to the possibility that alternative messaging would be unrealistic and counterproductive. Please share any insights in comments to this post. From his Op-Ed:

This Christmas Eve come two reminders of the suffering that migrants in the U.S. currently endure. Each shows us the distance we still have to travel, the imagination, courage, love, and tenacity still required of us in this struggle. Each reminds us that the suffering of migrants is a small subset of the suffering of the disenfranchised who remain in their home countries.

First, via Jaya Ramji-Nogales at IntLawGrrls, comes a new report from the Women's Refugee Commission on the harsh impact on families that ICE enforcement actions can have. The intersection of immigration enforcement and state and local child custody rules leaves a dangerous gap through which immigrant children fall. Too often, the result is that the U.S. government doesn't just take a parent's freedom, but also takes their child. Baby theft from indigent immigrant parents wasn't just something Americans did in Guatemala and other poor countries in recent years, it is happening now to immigrants in the U.S.

Jaya breaks it down:

To start, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) apprehend undocumented immigrants, their protocols are insufficient to identify parents and prioritize them for release. Indeed, the guidance for agents who encounter juveniles during fugitive operations directs officers to contact child welfare services, which can complicate parents rights. In any case, there are no procedures to ensure that parents can make care arrangements for their children before they are detained.

Once undocumented parents are detained, it becomes extremely difficult to communicate with their children and the child welfare system due to limitations on telephone access and frequent distant transfers of immigration detainees. Not only does this pose serious obstacles to ensuring safe care for immigrants' children, it may contribute directly to termination of parental rights. For example, the child welfare system's family reunification plan may require regular phone calls and contact visits that are all but impossible for detained parents. Detained parents are also often unable to participate in family court proceedings, either because child welfare services cannot locate them so they do not receive notice of the hearing or because they are unable to be present at the hearing.

Finally, when undocumented parents are deported, the dearth of information provided by ICE about the timing of deportation can make reunification very difficult. Parents are often notified of their deportation at the very last minute -- too late to make travel arrangements for their children -- or ICE changes travel plans after parents have already purchased expensive, nonrefundable tickets for their children to accompany them. This and the other failures of coordination between immigration and child welfare systems described above result in the long-term and in some cases permanent separation of families, inflicting serious psychological trauma on the citizen children of undocumented immigrants.

Second, the Economist has a piece on the heartbreaking challenges undocumented farmworkers in California face today. The article follows poor indigenous families from Mexico who have relocated to the fields of California, following the "Okies" generations ago.

One family left Oaxaca after their oldest son died because they couldn't afford to pay a doctor after he became ill after a flood. They have been robbed by coyotes, chased and beaten by border patrol, exploited by employers, poisoned by pesticides, harassed by police, and threatened by neighbors. They faced these obstacles so their other children could have a future, so their children could survive childhood.

This is the dark side of the American Dream, the one most Americans prefer to ignore and forget. But pretending not to see migrants and their problems doesn't mean they don't exist. It does mean that all Americans are responsible for this moral monstrosity--voters, elected officials, consumers, and taxpayers all have a hand in maintaining this perverse systemic injustice. Building the border wall higher and sturdier won't make the poor and their problems disappear, either, whether inside or outside the U.S. It only underscores our culpability and the hypocrisy of our willful blindness.

The Economist correspondent reminds us of the globalization of poverty and the connectedness of all human beings by ending the report in this way:

People like the Vegas will always keep coming, no matter the fences that go up on the border and the helicopters that circle above. For they are like the Joads. As Steinbeck wrote: "How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him--he has known a fear beyond every other."

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Human Rights category from December 2010.

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