Friday, April 14, 2006

reacting to the rallies

this past monday saw massive rallies nationwide to protest recent republican attempts to crack down on "the problem" of illegal immigration. in cities throughout the country, immigrants (both legal and illegal) and their friends and supporters filled the streets. indianapolis was no exception: the indy star estimates 20,000 protestors "in what may have been the largest rally in the city's history." (gary welsh at advance indiana estimates 50,000.) i didn't hear about it in advance so i wasn't able to get down there, though we could've seen the whole thing from virago's apartment.

republicans are in crisis over immigration. in december, the house passed a bill that would've made immigrating to the country without authorization—or helping others to do so—into a felony. with an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, that's eight digits of felons, including 1.6 million felonious children. it also would've called for some 700 miles of fences along the mexican border, because let's face it, the only immigrants anyone is worried about are latin immigrants.

the senate wouldn't have anything to do with that bill, and wanted to pass something a bit more realistic. still, there were deep divisions within the party, between those who wanted to give illegals an eventual path to citizenship and those who adamantly opposed the idea, calling it "amnesty"—they don't just want to "solve the problem"; they want to punish immigrants. (as just one example, indiana's own john hostettler was upset that la migra wasn't out in full force during the protests, checking everyone's papers and arresting immigrants en masse. how that could have worked, i'm not sure: does IPD have the capability to run background checks on 20,000-50,000 people in an afternoon? if, for the sake of argument, half of those protesters were undocumented immigrants, where would we put these 10,000-25,000 arrestees while they awaited processing and deportation? and that's just indianapolis, one of many cities to see large rallies.)

eventually the senate came up with a compromise bill that would've allowed some immigrants to move on to citizenship but would've forced many to leave the US. (unlike gary, i definitely think this would be an undue hardship for many who might not have a safe, stable place to go in their home country.) but this bill also would've been impossible to enforce (as stoller points out, how can you tell how long an undocumented immigrant has been in the country?) and never came close to passing, either, so it's all a wash for now.

now that the public has come out resoundingly against plans like the house bill (even republican voters strongly prefer a plan more like the senate's), the republicans who drafted the house bill are backing away from it, spinning faster than black sabbath at 78rpm. james sensenbrenner, who wrote the bill, is now trying to blame democrats for passing his bill (which only 36 democrats voted for). some republicans are even taking out ads on spanish-language radio blaming democrats for the bill's passage. get a load of this logic:

sensenbrenner and other republicans wrote the bill, complete with language making undocumented immigration a felony. sensenbrenner later offered an amendment reducing the penalty from felony to misdemeanor, not because he had a moment of clarity or compassion for immigrants but because misdemeanors are easier to process. democrats voted against the amendment, presumably because they don't want to criminalize undocumented immigration. despite this failure to pass the amendment, republicans proceeded to pass the bill, with the felony language intact. only 36 democrats voted for the bill, and i don't imagine many more would've voted for it if the penalty had been reduced to misdemeanor, so how exactly is it democrats' fault that republicans passed this bill?

now, in the aftermath of the rallies, reports are coming in of protestors losing their jobs for attending the protests. an article in this morning's indy star mentions reports of nearly 20 indianapolis residents losing their jobs, and even confirms two of them. an RTV6 and WTHR mention 8 people being fired by 5 different employers. and that's just in indy: similar incidents happened in seattle, detroit, houston (and elsewhere in texas), fort myers, FL, and probably more. in detroit, the employer has since agreed to give the workers back their jobs, "[b]ut only if they have proof they are in the United States legally." that's nice, i guess, though most of the fired employees probably won't get their jobs back. and in texas, benchmark manufacturing, another company that fired employers for protesting allegedly knew its employees were undocumented and looked the other way. i suspect this is common, though.

this nation was built by immigrants and founded by people whose families had only been here for a few generations. there was no such thing as illegal immigration until the 1930s; before that, people just moved here and that was it. every once in a while, a new group starts moving here in large numbers. some of the people whose families have been here a bit longer get restless, weirded out by the foreign customs and languages of the newcomers. it happened with the irish, poles, and italians (who were once all considered racial underclasses but have since been assimilated into being simply "white") and now it's happening with latin immigrants. a free, multicultural society like ours should have no problem adapting to latin immigrants just like it's adapted in the past.

the current immigration policy is undeniably messed up, but criminalizing undocumented immigration isn't going to fix anything. as it stands, even documented immigrants are forced to jump through ridiculous hoops (see jason's personal anecdote for one local example). people are going to come here regardless; we need to make it easier for them to do so legally and legitimately, not harder.


virago said...

actually, laws restricting immigation have been around longer than that; the text i'm reading now says that the 1882 exclusion act completely banned the chinese from immigrating to the u.s. at all. (it was effectively repealed in 1943, when we had a new asian people to ban.) i'm not sure if anything was ever passed earlier than that, but i wouldn't be surprised.

virago said...

oh, and in 1952 the mccarran-walter act was passed, which finally allowed chinese immigrants to actually become u.s. citizens. what was our problem with the chinese?? probably same as now, just xenophobia and feelings of insecurity...