Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fair and Just Immigration Reform


By Rev. Jeremy Tobin

The history of immigrant labor in this country is as old as the country itself.

Given political or economical expediency, immigrants were given legal protection and a path to citizenship, or were locked out due to politically dominated regulations. That being said, goods we take for granted, and can purchase fairly cheaply, are often the result of immigrant labor.

The 12 million undocumented workers in the U.S. are usually paid below standard wages with no health or other benefits. Many are often cheated. Threatened with deportation, or worse, immigrants do not call on law enforcement for help. Recently an undocumented immigrant died, afraid to call for help after his home was invaded. These conditions create a subclass of people with a strong work ethic, who are easy to exploit, and readily available.

This is not the “American way.” The situation has to change, and it has to be on the side of foreign born workers who only want what everyone else wants -- the opportunity to support their families and live with dignity.

Immigration laws and regulations are a patchwork of inconsistencies, contradictions, and injustices. State laws are often worse. The raids on workplaces that have captured media attention tear families apart and trash human rights.

Organizations long associated with anti-black racism have reinvented themselves as watchdogs of national security. They are xenophobic and racist. They are afraid that if immigrants unite with other exploited groups, real reform in American labor law might happen. Massive profits, at the expense of exploited groups while the average Joe is able to buy things cheaply, is what has been accepted as the status quo.

To exploit people for profit is unjust. The current restrictions on visas are largely driven by racism. In the 50s it was the “yellow peril.” In the 2000s it is the “brown peril.” The folks that are benefitting from this racism are laughing all the way to the bank.

Fair and just immigration policy must include: a path to legal standing for those currently undocumented; no guest worker provisions; the right to seek employment like everyone else, with the same pay scale and benefits as everyone else; and the right to organize and/or join unions.

Those espousing comprehensive immigration policy say they want guest workers, but “they should be treated fairly and humanely.” In fact, there have been guest workers in one form or another over the past 40 years and they have been consistently exploited. If they quit, or get fired, they lose their status. If they seek better employment, they lose their status. In effect, guest workers are all but indentured servants to the company that sponsors and hires them. Their pay is at the mercy of the company. The imbalance between profit and employment all but guarantees worker exploitation.

Further, many of the crazy schemes like a great wall to keep out immigrants are a sham. As long as NAFTA and CAFTA are ruining native economies and driving farmers and others into destitution, the migration of the desperate to find work is unstoppable. The United Nations and religious leaders everywhere, defend the right to migrate, not only for decent work, but to escape persecution.

We have the opportunity and the will to correct the imbalances of our immigration laws. We can do it both to benefit immigrants by giving them the opportunity for a new life, and to enrich our country with their many cultures. This is our challenge in 2009.
Rev. Tobin is a member of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Mississippi Forum 5/09