I have been pondering the current ramifications of the immigration debate and I have come up with more questions than answers. And unfortunately, I am no where as near well-versed on this issue as I would like to be. But I would like to take some time to at least steer us in the right direction.
For starters, (this applies to any issue) we have to pay strict attention to the way in which language is used to frame a debate. When commentators use the words, “alien” and “illegal,” the ensuing argument already assumes its own conclusion. And to call someone an “illegal” is just plain ignorant. I heard a guy on NPR ask, “Why don’t we call Martha Stewart an illegal CEO after she was indicted?” Similarly, if you ever had to go to court to contest a speeding ticket, the bailiff or judge doesn’t label you as an illegal driver. So why are so many of us so comfortable with using this term with respect to Latinos? If we are going to have an intelligent debate, we need to create language that is clear and respectful to both sides.
You know what is killing me about all of these Black commentators talking about how Latinos are taking away jobs is baffling. I say that because like most Black folk (perhaps with the exception of those living in the Southwest) never seriously thought or wrote about immigration policy. But now, poll numbers show that Blacks and the rest of the country consider immigration policy to be an important national issue. Did you ever once consider that maybe this immigration debate is a convenient distraction for Bush and the Republicans to not talk about the ongoing civil war in Iraq? Not to mention that while Iran is upping the ante, our national government is obsessing over immigration. So for all the Black writers who recently discovered the importance of immigration reform, go back to what you were writing before instead of taking your talking/writing points from the mainstream press establishment.
Another thing that perplexes me is Black commentator’s assertion that we can’t let “illegal immigrants” sneak into our country. I don’t need to get into the nuances of why Black people may not have the warmest affection for America, but I condemn anyone that will use racism/discrimination to solidify their patriotic ideals. Because when Katrina survivors STILL can’t depend on FEMA to help them and when our country ignores the plight of those in Darfur, Black patriotism for America is hard to find.
I know Americans are notorious for lacking an appreciation of history, but why hasn’t Manifest Destiny or the Mexican-American war of 1846 informed the immigration debate? To be sure, the US “conquered and held California and New Mexico during the U.S.-Mexican War. The nation also obtained vast cessions from Native American tribes, which were relocated to remote and unwanted regions, a process begun in the seventeenth century.” Therefore, it seems to me that for as complex as the current debate has become, it would be a little easier to understand if we put it in the context of real American history.
West Indian Immigrants
And I haven’t heard anyone talk about the vast numbers of West Indians (I am speaking generally, of course) that are patiently awaiting their green card. So my gripe with Bush’s proposed guest worker program is that I wonder how much easier it would be for Mexicans and other Latinos to participate in this program than it would be for West Indians. Again, a historic note would be fitting because if you really think that people would be trying to keep Elian Gonzalez here if he was a Jamaican, then you are seriously mistaken. My hope is that immigration reform should be just as easy to take advantage of as Mexicans or West Indians, or any one else who wants to come to this country. More importantly, letting people work illegally without any intentions of granting them citizenship is just wrong. And for all the people talking about how illegal immigration closes job opportunities for Blacks is narrow-minded at best. We see the same flawed logic used in affirmative action when people imagine two applicants where one White applicant directly competes against a Black applicant who has lower credentials. The fact is that college admissions, like the economy, is dynamic and the market place (with healthy assistance from the government interference) and therefore, cannot be simplified to one Black and one Latino competing for one job. The fact is that if American corporations were more concerned about producing better products and services than cutting costs, there would be enough jobs for everybody.
Black and Brown Unity
Hopefully, this immigration debate will serve as the bridge between Blacks and Latinos because if you keep it real, it hasn’t really been robust. More importantly, Black people are not the judges of whether a “civil rights movement” is justified. I appreciate our unique history in this country but in the same way not “every” Black person was involved during the Civil Rights Movement, not every Black person have to take sides on the immigration debate. That is to say that not every quest for civil rights requires the involvement of Black people. I think Latinos have showed themselves to be quite capable or organizing themselves around this issue. As such, Blacks people’s presence or lack thereof, is not the deciding factor in determining Black/Latino relations. We have to define our own destiny.