Nativism: December 2010 Archives

Phila New Years 2009.jpg
I'd like to join my co-blogger Kyle in wishing our readers a happy new year. It has been a roller coaster of a year, but we're not in the same place we were on January 1, 2010. While going forward we may not have the same unity of purpose that came at the end of the year from pushing for a discrete piece of legislation, the DREAM Act, there is new momentum and energy stemming from that push. And the new year will bring opportunity for new ideas and strategies. They will be necessary to counter new threats from increasingly anti-immigrant legislatures on the state and national level. But how many nativists went on hunger strike in 2010? How many marched over a thousand miles to raise awareness of their cause? How many were arrested in acts of civil disobedience which could lead to exile from their families and communities? I don't remember any. And that is why we will win.

So from Philadelphia on New Year's Eve, Happy New Year!

[Image: Rob Rudloff]

In yesterday's post, I highlighted Gregory Rodriguez's recent Op-Ed as typifying some messaging flaws that many of us had hoped would bear short-term fruit with passage of the DREAM Act but which I fear may undermine long term goals of the immigrant rights movement. Rodriguez's Op-Ed called for a reevaluation of the concept of citizenship to include undocumented youth who had lived here since childhood and were therefore sufficiently loyal to the nation.

I can distill Rodriguez's premises with which I take issue to two:

  • "I understand that we can't simply open our borders to all. . . . This country, like any other, has the right -- and the need -- to police its borders."

  • "[L]ove of nation is a necessary requirement for making a country a better place to live . . . when push comes to shove, I think nations should require their citizens to choose one loyalty over all others."

Today I wanted to identify these assumptions and begin to think about what assumptions they in turn are based upon, why I believe they are problematic, and what might be more fruitful alternatives. I won't pretend to finish this analysis today, only to begin.

To do so, it is helpful to look at a couple of blog posts from Newsweek and the Economist that made the rounds today.

Mickey Kaus, who blogs at Newsweek, has a knack for hiding conservative arguments in liberal clothing in service of his goal of keeping brown people immigrants out of America. Yesterday, Kaus conceded that he doesn't believe income inequality is a problem, but he nevertheless finds it useful to bludgeon President Obama with over his supposedly lax immigration policies.

In full concern troll mode, Kaus wrote:

Even experts who claim illlegal immigration is good for Americans overall admit that it's not good for Americans at the bottom. In other words, it's not good for income equality.

Odd, then that Obama, in his "war on inequality," hasn't made a big effort to prevent illegal immigration--or at least to prevent illegal immigrration from returning with renewed force should the economy recover.

Yet Kaus's analysis of income inequality excludes all poor people outside of the U.S. It's as though people not physically present in the U.S. don't even exist. This is an assumption commonly made by American pundits--what surprised me was to see someone call Kaus out on this, which a correspondent for the Economist ("W.W.") did:

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:

We welcome back guest poster Mark as he deconstructs some of the nativists' cherished arguments against the DREAM Act. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has filed for cloture on the DREAM Act and the Senate will vote on it tomorrow.

"Illegal is illegal, and the "the law is the law" are two of the more common phrases that the anti-immigrant crowd likes to spew as the say-all/end-all reasoning, when it comes to a conversation about reforming the broken immigration system. Just look at any online article concerning the issue of immigration, scroll to the bottom, read the comments page, and sure enough there it is! (most of the times in ALL CAPS with a gazillion exclamation points, just to add that extra emphasis in pretending their argument is practical). Of course the only problem is that it isn't much of an argument at all. At best, it's a blatant fallacy in reasoning. Anyone having taken a basic logic class should be able to understand that concept.

So even when it's dressed up a bit:

"If such actions were not illegal, then they would not be prohibited by the law."

...only equals out to:

"X is true. The evidence for that claim is that X is true."

It's an unsound argument at best, which is most certainly NOT rationally persuasive.
Of course irrationality seems to be the rage these days, as it seems rational thought is something that's hard to come by. I can just imagine what else these rationality-inept anti-immigrant comment posters must say or post elsewhere. "Ice cream is ice cream. Yes I said it: ICE CREAM is ICE CREAM, damn it!!!!!!!!!!! Therefore I'm right and I win the argument."

Seriously now, really...that's what their position is based on? Two i-words: illogicality and ignorance.