Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

Is Applying PREA to Immigrant Detention a Good Thing?

March 04, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization

The Department of Homeland Security announced “that it has finalized regulations to prevent sexual abuse in immigrant detention centers.” Their announcement follows the 2012 Obama administration directive that the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) apply to those in immigration detention and not just Department of Justice Facilities.

PREA was passed in 2003 in response to public campaigns against prison rape. You might think that a bill requiring increased reporting and a “zero tolerance” policy toward sexual abuse would have helped. But reports of sexual abuse are actually rising. Prison officials claim this is due to an increase in reporting, not in incidents. Not a surprising claim if you consider that about half of the sexual assaults reported are guard on prisoner.

It so happens that I have been reading some back issues of Tenacious: art & writings by women in prison. In the mother’s day 2013 issue, Dawn describes how little the PREA has helped women prisoners. In fact, she says “the only people who suffer because of PREA are the same ones who were supposed to benefit from it.” According to Dawn, what “zero tolerance” has actually meant is that women are forbidden any physical contact. She was once admonished for giving another prisoner a high five.

A few abusive guards were removed and charged with crimes since PREA passed. But the Department of Corrections (DOC) also implemented their own new rule. The new rule makes it a serious infraction for a prisoner to falsely report to authorities.  Dawn says that, since they added the new rule, many women won’t make reports because

history has proven that any kind of reports true or false are found to be false. When it was found to be false the people were immediately found guilty and sent to administrative segregation (ad. seg.). One lady was only having a conversation with an officer, not ‘reporting’ anything, just telling him a rumor she’d heard about a guard putting money on an offenders account for ‘favors’. This officer went and reported their conversation and she was cuffed, taken to the hole and subsequently written up for Class 1 False Reporting and placed in Ad. Seg.

Does it sound to you like a few new policies are going to make a difference when people still accept the mass dehumanization and incarceration that creates such an ideal environment for abuse without consequences?

P.S. If you click the above link for Tenacious, it will tell you how you can subscribe. Get your information about prison straight from the imprisoned.

Book Review – Sex at the Margins

May 14, 2012 By: Mel Category: Book, Sex, Stratification

Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue IndustrySex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry by Laura Maria Agustin My rating: 4 of 5 stars Laura Agustin has a remarkable ability to turn things on their head.If you read her blog, you’ll be familiar with the narratives that she contests. But the book really brings it all together. The narrative is that all women who do sex work are victims. Nobody would ever chose to do that work. They have been coerced or duped. They need to be rescued. Triple that for migrants. But who is a migrant? Why are some people called migrants while others are called travelers, tourists, expats? A privileged person might go to another country to work a bit and have an adventure. But a poor person is only seen to be pushed out because of conflict or pulled in to earn money and nothing else – as though a worker is the only thing they are. Never do you hear that a poor woman wants to migrate in order to get new experiences or find herself. That’s just reserved for the wealthy. Why is sex work treated so differently from other work? Why is it assumed to be worse than housekeeping, nannying, working in a factory, or investment banking at Goldman Sachs? Domestics are exempted from even the most basic employment laws. They are at the beck and call of the family they work for, often 24/7. Most people say that freedom and flexibility are the things they most want from their jobs. Yet we are all blind to that desire when it comes to women who are choosing between sex work and domestic service. It is difficult to find a rational reason for people to look at sex work as so much more exploitative than all the other types of work out there. Why is it so clear to people that sex work is problematic, but so difficult for people to see how dehumanizing other work is? Even more problematically, many of the women who work in the rescue industries are more than happy to use poor women as domestics while they pursue their careers. One of the most interesting parts of the book for me is the history of how the helping industry came to be, how middle class women with few options made careers out of charity work. But charity work requires victims to be saved, whether or not those people want the “help”. It is always difficult to find the balance between considering the social circumstances and systemic injustices that limit people’s choices while still respecting people. All people, regardless of their constraints, should be seen as full human beings with the ability to make decisions. Too often we see problems as statistics and certain people as acted upon only. This book tips the scales back in the direction of full human being. View all my reviews

Mobility and Social Change

October 15, 2009 By: Mel Category: Seeking

In his 1995 article about Mexico, Jorge G. Castañeda discusses the tension between U.S. worries of Mexican instability and Mexican immigration.

Any attempt to clamp down on immigration from the south — by sealing the border militarily, by forcing Mexico to deter its citizens from emigrating, or through some federal version of California’s Proposition 187 — will make social peace in the barrios and pueblos of Mexico untenable.

Mobility, in other words, can be a safety valve.  And it isn’t just a safety valve for people migrating to a different country. Migration within the U.S. has often eased tensions too.

Americans who were not making it in eastern cities escaped westward.  Just a few generations later, many of those very same homesteaders packed up again when faced with the Dust Bowl.

Whenever there is a crisis, political or environmental, a very American response is to pick up and move.    And American government, fearing the instability that comes with desperation, often encourages it.

Even when there isn’t a crisis, Americans have tended to move around a lot.  Few people I run into are from the state where they live.  Most have moved for jobs or school – for opportunities.

But American mobility may be starting to change.  According to a new article by Joel Kotkin in Newsweek,

Americans actually are becoming less nomadic. As recently as the 1970s as many as one in five people moved annually; by 2006, long before the current recession took hold, that number was 14 percent, the lowest rate since the census starting following movement in 1940. Since then tougher times have accelerated these trends, in large part because opportunities to sell houses and find new employment have dried up. In 2008, the total number of people changing residences was less than those who did so in 1962, when the country had 120 million fewer people.

The Newsweek article speaks about this change in terms of localism.  Kotkin surmises that people who move around less will be more likely to support community organizations and local businesses.  And he speculates about how this new rootedness might effect our politics.

There are well over 65,000 general-purpose governments, and with so many “small towns,” the average local jurisdiction population in the United States is 6,200, small enough to allow nonprofessional politicians to have a serious impact.

Let’s say his assumption is correct, that these more rooted Americans will begin to participate more in the governance of their local communities.  The question is, what kind of impact will that have on our politics?

Will we become more cooperative?  More insular?  What if our economy continues to decline or stagnate?  How will communities react when 10 – 15% of the citizens who are actively looking for work cannot find it?  What will happen if those out of work citizens start directing that free time toward political and social change?

It is possible that a crap economy and a new rootedness may just be an incubator for radical change.  People who no longer see the opportunity, or have the desire, to move on to greener pastures may just start to get pissed off and organized.

That could be very interesting.

Amreeka Through Arab American Eyes

September 11, 2009 By: Mel Category: Movie

It’s not easy being an immigrant.  That is especially true if you are an Arab immigrant to America who arrives during a war against Iraq.

Amreeka is Cherien Dabis’s debut full length film.  Dabis’s personal experiences of living in an Arab family in Ohio, and of discrimination during the first Iraq war, are the basis for much of the movie.

In the post-movie discussion I attended, Dabis said that her goal was to convey the warmth of the Arab American family.  It was a side of Arabs that we Americans just don’t see.  She succeeded.

But this is not a feel good movie, at least not just.  The prejudices of small town America are on full display.  Like Dabis’s father in real life, the doctor in this movie loses clients who no longer want an Arab doctor.  Jobs are hard to come by.  You’ll hear suicide bomber “jokes” and see racial profiling.  And you’ll see people trying to figure out how to fit in when they stand out.

You’ll also see a side to the Israel/Palestine conflict that you don’t normally see.  The family in this movie immigrates from the occupied territories.  The film shows what it is like to spend hours every day trying to get from one place to another.  It shows checkpoints and harassment.  It shows the impossibility of living as a young person in a place with no opportunity.

Everyone should see this movie.  A list of release dates and locations can be found here.

Women Using Women

September 08, 2009 By: Mel Category: Core, Stratification, Work

I have worked with many self-described feminists who have housekeepers and nannies.  I am amazed at how few of them see the conflict inherent in building your freedom on some other woman’s lack thereof.  And I’m not talking about Wall Street women.  I’m talking about liberal women who supposedly care about inequality, oppression, racism and poverty.

What I find especially frustrating is how a reliance on hiring poor women allows men to continue to shirk their responsibilities.  How many of you have friends whose husbands refuse to clean or do their fare share of the childcare?  Did they confront their husbands?  Did they attempt to confront the sexism and unfairness of it all?  Or did they just cop out and use their privilege to buy someone poorer to make the problem go away?

Racewire has an important article out that you all should read.  It is called
Immigrant Workers at Home: Hired Hands Hold Family Bonds and it reads, in part:

So immigrant workers help lift white-collar mothers toward that coveted work-life balance. But back at home, work remains the same as it ever was: hard, endless, and never fairly compensated. The difference for domestic workers, of course, is that they are still outsiders in the home, culturally and professionally. And when overworked and exploited, they end up tending to other people’s families at the expense of their ability to care for their own.

And let’s not forget that domestic workers have few rights.  They work long hours for low pay.  They work without health insurance or other benefits.  And they are specifically excluded from the labor laws that protect the rest of us.  Families that rely on domestic workers to give them time to pursue their careers, are relying on an exploitative system.

All inequality is related. If we accept the inequality inherent in using money to resolve a problem for a few women, at the expense of others, then we accept inequality, period.

Jewish Racism and the Perils of Assimilation

June 12, 2009 By: Mel Category: Core, Religion, Seeking, Stratification

Some time ago, a friend of mine told me about an interview she listened to where a Muslim American was talking about integrating into U.S. society. He said that Jews were a model of how a group can overcome the prejudices against them and integrate.

My friend thought it was interesting given the animosity between Jews and Muslims. I thought it was interesting because I don’t believe Jews necessarily represent a model of integration that new immigrants should follow.

I thought about that interview after I watched Joseph Dana and Max Blumenthal’s appalling video of white supremacist American Jews in Jerusalem. (Warning: This video is offensive in the extreme and not work safe.)

I was shocked when I watched the video, not because I deceived myself into thinking there were no racist Jews. I’ve certainly met some. I was shocked because the young adults in the video so willingly and brazenly adopted the stereotypes, language, and threats of white supremacists (with the ubiquitous appropriated blackness of American youth to boot).

Had I exhibited this KKK-like behavior, my father would have kicked my ass. It isn’t so much because he thought racism was wrong (although he did). It would have been more because of his sense of self. I don’t believe he thought of himself as white, at least not completely. Most Jews of his era didn’t.

He was born in 1929. He was 29 when the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple was bombed by white separatists. He was 35 when Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were found dead. He may not have been marching with Martin Luther King or identifying with the people who did, but he certainly wasn’t identifying with white supremacists either.

So what happened?

The people in that video clearly spent much of their lives in the United States, Somewhere along the way they became white. They embraced the worst aspects of the United States – the racism, the hatred, the violence.

The video was posted on many websites. Granted, many of the websites were focused on Israeli issues, but these kids clearly had many years in the states. People commented on what the video meant about Israel. Almost nobody commented on what the video meant about the United States.

One commenter on the Atlantic did get to the heart of the matter:

This is not really about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is about American bigotry, for us Americans to think about and deal with. While these Jews too often move to Israel and contribute to the problems there, it’s a fundamentally American problem that needs to be thought about and dealt with by Americans. What about America is making this happen? How is the rubric of classic American racism changing? How do we deal with it differently? What does it mean when a historically marginalized group produces bigots who migrate to the right wing?”

What it means is, they assimilated.

This week a violent anti-semitic and racist walked into the Washington DC holocaust museum and killed an African American security guard. Does anyone believe the shooter cared whether or not he was shooting a Jew or a black person?

So sadly ironic for that act of terrorism to happen the same week as this video of white supremacist Jews shows up on the internet. So sadly ironic for that act of terrorism to happen the same week as responses to that video like this one from 50 cent’s website:

where were good all days when hitler ruled the world all theses pig jews should b dead now

That is assimilation we do not need.

Another thing we do not need is low expectations. So many of the comments to the video were along the lines of “that’s how drunk kids act” or some such bullshit.


That’s how thoughtless, heartless, little monsters act. And if they are old enough to be out at a bar drinking, they are old enough for us to stop calling them kids and start expecting them to act right.

We don’t need immigrants to assimilate. We don’t need more Americans to identify with the worst aspects of the dominant culture. And we don’t need such low expectations for ourselves that we blow these things off. We need immigrants (and native born) to challenge the dominant culture. We need people who challenge the hierarchy, racism, classism, and violence.

Homeland Security’s Power on US Mexico Border Challenged

April 15, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics, Stratification

* Update Below

You have undoubtedly heard about the border fence being built on the U.S. Mexico border. You may not have heard what is being done in order to get it built.

When congress enacted the the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, they gave the head of Homeland Security absolute and unreviewable authority to violate any state or local laws in order to get the border fence up.

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section.

Just to be clear, the head of Homeland Security gets to define what the law means. She can do whatever she wants. Her decisions cannot be challenged by a court unless the challenge is directly related to a violation of the constitution.

In this case, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, decided that his mandate was to do whatever was necessary to build the fence and maintain the fence. Expanding his mandate from building to maintaining means this power goes on into perpetuity. He refused to state what laws he was violating (simply that he was violating a bunch) and never clarified how far this legal no mans land extended.

The federal government was sued by the County of El Paso, Frontera Audubon Society and others. Lower courts ordered that the government did have the authority to wave all local laws in carrying out the instructions of congress – problems with water services or endangered species be damned.

There are many who don’t give a hoot whether or not U.S. citizens have their property taken away or get caught on the wrong side of the fence. And there are many who don’t care whether those citizens can receive water and other basic services or whether or not endangered species die. But even those people should surely be concerned if congress can give one person or agency carte blanche to ignore whatever laws they see fit, at their discretion, with no check on their power.

This unprecedented infringement on private, local government, and state rights is coming before the Supreme Court for review tomorrow. The petitioners argue that judicial review should be a requirement. Let’s hope they hear it.

For links to all the relevant documents in the case, check out Turtle Talk.

* The Supreme Court is refusing to hear the case. Looks like Homeland Security can do whatever it wants.

How Are We A Christian Nation?

March 18, 2009 By: Mel Category: Religion, Stratification

People may dispute that the United States is a “Christian nation,” but nobody disputes that the majority of the people living here identify as Christian. When Columbus stumbled upon the Americas, there weren’t any Christians here. So how did it happen that the most common religion in the country became Christianity?

On the west coast of what is now the United States, Spanish priests set up a string of missions. Natives were forcefully converted and used as slave labor. On the east coast, the Puritans had far less luck converting natives. Devastating European diseases, a constant influx of new Christians from Europe, and violent competition for land soon made the non-Christian, native populations tiny and powerless.

It wasn’t just Europeans that wanted to come here. Asian immigrants also came in huge numbers to work on railroads, mining, and lumber. In 1852, about 10% of the population of California was of Chinese descent. The Chinese population decreased exponentially after California residents pushed for our first anti-immigrant law, The Chinese Exclusion Act. Chinese were barred from coming here and ineligible to become citizens until the 1940s. Had it not been for that, we would have many more Taoists, Buddhists, and Confucians in our midst.

Jews were also a target of immigration laws. The Immigration Act of 1891 aimed to stem the tide of Russian and Eastern European Jews that had been coming to the U.S. in large numbers. The House of Representatives also tried to require literacy tests for any immigrants, mostly to restrict access to undereducated, Yiddish speaking Jews from Europe. Even when Jews were dying by the millions during World War II, the U.S. continued to block Jewish immigrants.

Until 1965, when President Johnson signed into law sweeping immigration reform, our immigration laws were intended to keep the United States as white and Christian as possible. If we are a nation of mostly Christians, it is because of systematic discrimination supported by the very un-Christian, Christians who designed U.S. laws.

Why We Can’t Talk About Immigration

September 13, 2008 By: Mel Category: Stratification

My boyfriend received a forwarded email from his mother some time ago. The title of the email was “In Just One Year” and it arrived with the comment “So, I thought this was interesting…” The email paints immigrants as criminals and parasites (responses to those accusations can be found in my previous post). Both of her sons were livid when they received it. I can’t imagine that she would have sent the email to her sons had she realized how angry they would be. So what is the disconnect here?

A Short History of Immigration Policy in the United States

Americans have a short historical memory, especially when it comes to immigration policy. We haven’t always had laws against immigration, although I’m sure many Native Americans wish they had thought of it. In fact, the first immigration law wasn’t passed until 1882. Until then, anyone who wanted to immigrate could do so. (I should note that the naturalization laws of 1790 and 1795 restricted citizenship to white people.)

The late 1800s were tumultuous. There was a long depression from 1873 through 1896 and several outright panics. In California, the gold rush was long over and the merchants and railroad barons who had benefited the most were sitting on huge fortunes. The major national railroads were completed and the laborers who had built the railroads (and often died doing it) were no longer needed. Many of those laborers were Chinese.

A worker movement was developing in the face of the tough economic times and the movement took a decidedly ugly, racist turn. (Click here to see a poster from that period telling workers that they should boycott all Chinese businesses or businesses who hired Chinese labor and here for a cartoon demonstrating anti-Chinese sentiment.) Eventually, after much pressure from Californians and considerable violence against Chinese people, the nation passed its very first immigration law. It is known as the Chinese Exclusion Act and it was intended to do just that, exclude people based on their national origin.

As the years went on, further court cases and immigration laws reflected the racism accepted in the United States at the time. Until 1965, when the Johnson administration revamped our immigration laws, they were based on trying to keep the nation as white (ie. Western European) as possible.

The Anti-Immigration Movement is Still Racist

While the target of the anti-immigration movement is now more Mexican than Chinese, the underlying racism remains. If you want proof of the racism in today’s anti-immigration movement, just look at the email that kicked off this reply. One of the sources used by the author was the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

FAIR was founded by John Tanton, a man who has said that the fight against immigration is a fight to keep white control. Tanton also founded The Center for Immigration Studies, another source used by the author. See this enlightening (and disturbing) article about the connections between white supremacists and anti-immigration groups for more information.

Tom Tancredo is another source from the emails. Tancredo was called an “idiot” by the (conservative) National Review and voted one of the 10 worst congressmen by the (not so conservative) Rolling Stone. Although the grandson of Italian immigrants, he wants to stop even legal immigration. He also took a bit of heat for accusing the Catholic Pope of trying to increase membership in the Catholic church by encouraging immigration and for referring to Miami as a “third world country.”

And while it takes all of five minutes to discover that the above sources are (at minimum) linked to some very nasty hate groups, the mainstream news regularly calls on them to comment. They never ask on air about their qualifications, sources, or methodology. They never explain to the audience who they are or what their philosophy is. So if some people believe these statistics to be true and remain blissfully unaware of the reaction they might get when spreading them, it is somewhat understandable.

But while many non-Latinos may believe the “experts” provided by the media, Latinos personal experiences with racism in this country leave them skeptical of even the more mild arguments for changing our immigration policies. This is not just a matter of hurt feelings. According to 2007 FBI statistics, hate crimes against Latinos rose 35% between 2003 and 2007. Not all of the victims survive, including 25 year old Luis Ramirez who was beaten to death by several teenagers.

Beginning a Conversation About Immigration

After a bit of research, I was able to find the original post of the article “In Just One Year.” It was written by an ultra-conservative woman named Carolyn Hileman and published on the American Conservative Daily. Google Carolyn Hileman and one of the links you will find is a site called “Mexicans Go Home.”

I hate to add to the click rate on that trash site, but it’s one of the most disgusting examples of the hateful, anti-Mexican core of the anti-immigration movement. I felt like I had to expose it. In one post, the site has a Mexican flag where the eagle and serpent have been replaced by a pile of shit. Across the flag it says “Mexico, Land of Shit and Druglords

We need to be able to speak about immigration, but we won’t be able to do it until the hateful fringe elements stop being treated like legitimate sources for non-biased information. People have to stop spreading information without first identifying who it came from (or at least identifying that it may not be true) and we can’t allow our media to do it either.

Immigrant Scapegoats: Part 3 of Response to “In Just One Year”

August 03, 2008 By: Mel Category: Politics

The email I have been responding to in my last couple posts blames immigrants for “bankrupting us.” The email then goes on to cite a litany of statistics used to perpetuate two of the biggest myths promulgated by anti-immigrant groups.

Myth #1 – Immigrants are Dangerous Criminals

Anti-immigration groups like to paint immigrants as dangerous criminals. They know that most people’s basic human decency would not allow other human beings to be treated the way they propose immigrants be treated. Most of us don’t feel much compassion for rapists and murderers, so they try to insinuate that immigrants are rapists and murderers.

The first article the author cites is titled “The Dark Side of Illegal Immigration: Nearly One Million Sex Crimes Committed by Illegal Immigrants in the United States.” First ask yourself – is that even possible? According to FBI crime statistics, there were 80,414 reported rapes and attempted rapes nationwide in the year 2006. There were 15,854 reported murders nationwide. That is a total of 96,268 rapes and murders in one year in the United States.

I could not locate any good, recent statistics on incidents of child molestation in the United States, but the last U.S. Children’s Bureau estimates for the number of children molested in 1993 was 217,700. In short, we don’t even reach 1 million murders, rapes, and molestations for the entire country in a year. Perhaps the person who wrote the article was guesstimating crimes from the beginning of time until doomsday?

The next claim is that “illegal aliens in the United States have a crime rate that’s two and a half times that of white non-illegal aliens (and that) their children are going to make a huge additional crime problem in the US.” The source for this information is Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation (speaking on Lou Dobbs). Rector does not say how he obtained that figure, nor does anyone ask him.

In fact, a study performed by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that U.S. born men have crime rates two and a half to ten times higher than immigrant men. They also found that cities with higher proportions of immigrants have seen crime rates fall faster than cities with less immigrants.

Follow a link from the “In Just One Year” email and it will take you to another Lou Dobbs transcript where CNN correspondent Christine Romans says that “30 percent of federal prisoners are not U.S. citizens” and that “taxpayers spend more than $3 million every day to house non-U.S. citizens.” It is true that there are non-U.S. citizens in prison. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 1,595,034 people in federal and state prison as of June 30, 2007. Of those, 96,703 (or about 6%) were not U.S. citizens.

Not surprisingly, Lou Dobbs correspondent does not ask why the non-U.S. citizens are in prison. A large portion are in prison for crossing the border and for no other reason. Immigration related prosecutions have risen substantially since a 1996 law authorizing increased INS hiring, as has the amount of time each immigration offender has had to stay in prison. I can’t find evidence to back up the claim that it costs us $3 million every day to house non-U.S. citizens, but sending someone who crossed the border to prison for 20 months is bound to have a cost.

Finally, the author tries to connect immigrants crossing the southern border with terrorists, saying that “as many as 19,500 illegal aliens from Terrorist Countries” crossed the border in 2005. The source is a Homeland Security report which does not say “Terrorist Countries” but “special interest countries.” And while it is certainly possible that a terrorist could come into the country illegally via the southern border, it is also true that the majority of the 9/11 hijackers had visas and were processed by U.S. immigration.

Myth #2 – Immigrants are a Drain on the Economy

When not made out to be violent criminals, immigrants are painted as parasites here to live off the hard work of U.S. citizens.

The email titled “In Just One Year” claims that “$11 Billion to $22 billion is spent on welfare to illegal aliens each year by state governments.” The link they provide leads to an article by FAIR. However, the article doesn’t claim that money is being spent to provide services to illegal aliens, but to legal immigrants. The article lists the benefits available to legal immigrants as “school lunch and breakfast programs, immunizations, emergency medical services, and disaster relief.”

So even if we believe the statistics in this article (and I do not), what these people are saying is that they want to deny school lunches to children of legal immigrants. They don’t think legal immigrants should be immunized against diseases. And they want to let legal immigrants die rather than receive emergency medical care? How heartless does a person have to be to deny nutrition to a child because their parent is an immigrant? What kind of person would let another human being die in an emergency room because they weren’t born here? And finally, even if you are completely heartless, how stupid is it to have un-immunized people living in the country, increasing all of our risk for disease?

Immigrants here without documents are not eligible for welfare programs like food stamps. And while it is true that there are costs associated with education, health care, roads, etc; an in depth study by the CATO Institute shows that immigrants (legal and illegal) pay significantly more in taxes than they receive in services. It is also important to remember that the vast majority of immigrants (80% according to the U.S. Census Bureau) are between 18 and 64. That means the majority had any schooling paid for by their home country and are too young to be participating in the most costly welfare programs, those meant for the elderly.

Next the author says that “illegal aliens sent home $45 billion in remittances back to their countries of origin.” The source for this information is dubious to say the least, but the figure could conceivably be correct. According to the World Bank, recorded remittances to developing countries totaled $251 billion in 2007. That figure is for the entire world. I might note that the top two receiving countries are actually India and China, not Mexico. And that, in fact, remittances to Mexico have been decreasing in recent years.

The implication is that this money should be staying within our borders. Does that mean that, conversely, U.S. citizens should not be benefiting from the human and natural resources of other countries? You’d be hard pressed to find something that you own that does not contain raw materials from another country or was not made by workers in another country. Those $5 T-Shirts you get from Walmart come courtesy of garment workers making pennies somewhere overseas. Are you ready to give up oil? To start paying the true price for your food and toys?

And what about U.S. companies working overseas. U.S. companies are operating around the globe and making enormous profits which they then bring back to the United States. Many extract natural resources, use the cheap labor, and take advantage of weak protections for workers. Dole was using banned pesticides in Guatemala which caused Guatemalan workers to become sterile. Coca Cola workers in Colombia were killed when they tried to unionize.

And to this day in Bhopal, where 5,000 people were killed and babies are still being born with birth defects twenty years later, the U.S. company behind the chemical disaster is yet to be held responsible. And that one company, Dow, grossed $49 billion in 2007 – well over the total amount of remittances claimed by the author. Yet if one of these Guatemalans or Colombians or Indians wants to come to the United States and send a little money back home, anti-immigrant hysterics ensue.

Finally, the author of “In Just One Year” claims that “$200 Billion Dollars a year in suppressed American wages are caused by the illegal aliens.” This statistic comes from Lou Dobbs himself who claimed the statistic came from “the most authoritative and recent study.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t actually name the study, making this claim impossible to verify. And although many other anti-immigrant groups on the internet cite this figure, none of them provide information about the actual research.

The truth is that it is almost impossible to know whether or not immigrants are keeping wages down and, if so, by how much. See this Washington Post article for a good summary. Many people who hire immigrant farmworkers or construction workers claim that only immigrants even apply for the jobs. Is it conceivable that, if you paid strawberry pickers $30 an hour, other people would apply? Sure. But how many strawberries do you think you could afford to buy if that’s what they made?

Personally, I think the minimum wage should be much higher than it is and that everyone (immigrant or no) should receive enough to live human. But the idea that we can obtain that goal by shutting our doors to new labor is naive. Our wages have stagnated because most businesses can relocate if they feel they can get cheaper labor elsewhere and because businesses are more interested in making money for their CEOs and stockholders than in treating their workers decently.

Besides, you have to look at why people are coming to work here to begin with. Since NAFTA, small farmers in Mexico have been losing their farms. Mexico, the birthplace of corn, is now importing corn from agribusiness in the United States. When these farmers lose their land, they often end up here, as farmworkers. Rather than demonizing these people, we need to recognize that the same trade deals that hurt people in the United States, also hurt people elsewhere. Many small farmers in the United States are beginning to recognize that fact, visiting with farmers in other parts of the world, and doing what they can to support better policies.

Corporations and capital are not constrained by national boundaries. Until we recognize that fact, we will never have a chance at better standards of living for workers.

To be continued…