Having Our Immigration Fight on the Backs of Children

I’ve been following with interest the story of the raid at Michael Bianco, Inc.  As you may recall, Michael Bianco, Inc., provides backpacks and survival vests to the military in a multimillion dollar contract and in order to meet this contract, they employee illegal immigrants and put them in deplorable conditions, only to see their business raided and the immigrants rounded up and sent off to detention camps in Texas, while their small U.S. citizen children were left behind.

Much about this story sucks.  It sucks that people are working in deplorable and dangerous conditions so that others can grow wealthy off of government contracts.  It sucks that their immigration status makes them vulnerable to exploitation.  But what I cannot get past, what makes me so angry I about can’t see straight, is that we’re willing, as a country, to have this fight about undocumented workers in such a way that young U.S. citizens are hurt.

We saw this with Claudia Nunez–her being here illegally is such a “problem” that, if her family is torn apart or if her two kids (U.S. citizens) have to go with her to a place she doesn’t think it’s safe for them to be, well tough shit.  And here we see it again, U.S. citizens deprived of their parents by the U.S. government.  It doesn’t matter that these U.S. citizens are still being breast-fed or that they expect that their parents will be there at dinner time or that the Feds came swooping in and absconded with their parents without making any real provisions for them–if that’s the price of fighting illegal immigration, it seems that some folks find it worth it.

I find it disgusting.  These are children and they’re U.S. citizens.  If we cannot find some compassionate means of dealing with undocumented workers, we’re basically sanctioning the suffering of our own people, because, no matter what you think of their parents, these children are U.S. citizens–they are our people.

And we owe them better than that.

You know, I was reading up on this over at Pandagon, where Sheelzebub was talking about what a mess the immigration process is, how it’s really set up to deter legal immigration instead of facilitate it.  And I was watching this video over at the Women of Color Blog, and I feel really angry and embarrassed.  I’m angry that people who just want to work and provide for their families are somehow our “enemies” and I’m embarrassed to hear how the Feds were treating these folks.

These people were being exploited by their employer and the Feds are congratulating each other about capturing them?  That’s what passes for bravery?  Arresting and detaining hard-working moms?  Stripping kids of their parents?

Just damn.

16 thoughts on “Having Our Immigration Fight on the Backs of Children

  1. These people were being exploited by their employer

    I hate the inhumane conditions that many illegal immigrants find themselves working in. But I think that’s part of the game. They realise when they come here illegally that they won’t be hired into a nice warm office job with a 401(k) and a company weight room. It’s not fair, but there IS a way for them to come to this country legally. Were they to do so they’d have a much better chance of not being exploited.

    the Feds are congratulating each other about capturing them

    Well, because they broke the law.

    Arresting and detaining hard-working moms

    Being a hard-working mom does not exempt a person from the consequences of breaking the law. What if you’re a hard-working mom who steals cars every Thursday night? Should you be free from arrest and detainment? That’s exactly why we have blind justice. Because the flip side of your argument is people saying “well of course he’s guilty. He’s a young black man.”

    Stripping kids of their parents

    This happens to U.S. citizens of a minor age all the time. I can’t remember the exact percentage of kids in foster care because their parents are in jail, but it’s very high. We don’t let our own citizens slide for their crimes simply because they have children. I don’t see why we should allow illegal immigrants a benefit not available to a pot-selling housewife in Cleveland.

    Of course, this begs the larger question of why certain methods of coming to the country and certain drugs are illegal. But that’s not what you asked.

  2. Actually, Kat, no there isn’t a legal way for them to enter the country. An unskilled worker from Mexico, playing by the “rules,” would wait approx 17 years before being granted a Visa. Also, the “law” in this country is chock full of limitations and safeguards, including the notion of letting the punishment fit the crime, and, I think one could reasonably make the argument that the Statute of Limitations might apply here. The idea that we deprive American children of their parents for minor infractions of the law is misguided. Being here without documents is the legal equivalent of jaywalking. In fact, overstaying a Visa isn’t even a crime! I think B’s point is that elected leaders, and those seeking to become one, have used these people as pawns in a huge power grab, and it disgusts her, and I think rightly so.

  3. I think one could reasonably make the argument that the Statute of Limitations might apply here.

    How? If they’re here illegally they’re here illegally. Their residence is as much a crime as their method of entry. If we were to make SoL apply for all cases of illegal immigration that would mean that the only thing an illegal immigrant has to do is wait out the terms of the law before becoming a common-law citizen. That would do nothing to reform the immigration process.

    Actually, Kat, no there isn’t a legal way for them to enter the country. An unskilled worker from Mexico, playing by the “rules,” would wait approx 17 years before being granted a Visa.

    You just contradicted yourself there. Yes, there’s a way. It’s not an easy way or a quick way, but there IS a way. You say so yourself.

    Being here without documents is the legal equivalent of jaywalking.

    I guess that depends on who you ask. You say ‘jaywalking’, Kleinheider would say ‘invading enemy’. I fall somewhere in between. Regardless of some bright-line equivalency you or others would draw, the fact is that if you are here illegally you are not entitled to avail yourself of the rights of the citizenry because you are not a citizen. The consequence of illegal immigration is being repatriated to your home country.

    I think B’s point is that elected leaders, and those seeking to become one, have used these people as pawns in a huge power grab, and it disgusts her, and I think rightly so.

    How is the pro-immigration argument NOT using these people as pawns themselves? Because I see a lot of ‘oh! the wretched humanity!’ from the pro-immigration side without much acknowledgment that these people are not in this country legally. Yes, it’s disgusting that they’re treated badly and yes, it’s heartbreaking that they are separated from their children. But I cannot see why we should overlook the reason they were here to have those babies in the first place was because they circumvented the law and the processes of law.

  4. Kat, 17 years! Why bother? Thats a lifetime for some of these people. As far as SoL goes, thats exactly what people do…they wait it out. I don’t make the equivalency of jaywalking, the law does. It is an infraction. Again, Visa violations are not even included in our list of crimes.
    To my knowledge, no candidate for election or re-election is out there using these people to achieve some political end. Please point out a politician that is out there saying that the system is just fine, and lets leave these people alone. The fact is, our economy’s needs, coupled with our policy of decimating the economy of Mexico’s Northern States, will ensure a steady stream of immigrants, regardless of what we do to stop it. Do you think your ancestors would have been stopped by some law forbidding them to come here?

    Lastly, yes, Kleinheider WOULD say “invading enemy”, because the language suits his agenda. These people are clearly not enemies of the U.S. They do not come armed, and do not seek to capture land or treasure. They come to work, and in many cases, to survive.

  5. I should have posted the other link from Pandagon (this one), about how the Department of Social Services folks weren’t notified until the day of the raid about the impending “crisis,” just to have that on the table, too.

    Coming to this country illegally and waiting folks out is indeed a time-honored traditional way of coming to America. We wouldn’t have the derogatory term WOP (WithOut Papers) if Italians all came through the system legally.

    But that’s kind of beside my point. My point is that, as it is now, a great deal of our economy thrives on easily-exploitable unskilled labor from the South. They are easily exploitable, in part because the threat of being deported and separated from their children is always hanging over their heads.

    One part of a solution to the problem is to punish the people who exploit the situation. Yes, shut down businesses like this. Go after businesses that employ undocumented workers. Put them in jail, fine them. Make it so that the risk of hiring undocumented workers is so great that it outweighs the benefits.

    Another part is to reform immigration laws so that people who are willing to perform unskilled labor can easily come to this country to do so legally.

    But this? Rounding up people who live in Massachusetts and shipping them off to Texas without even a hearing? Separating parents from their children without even alerting DSS workers that such separations were about to happen?

    That’s not analogous to what happens during a drug bust.

    Plus, I’m sorry. It’s just ridiculous to me that, in a country that supposedly rewards hard work and ambition that there are certain groups of people who can be the targets of FBI stings for working hard and being ambitious, when they’re not doing anything that would be illegal for a US citizen to do.

  6. I love the Urban Disctionary:

    “WOP” is the English pronunciation of the Ital-Neapolitan word “GUAPPO”. The word defines those who belong to the Guapperia o “Camorra”, a criminal organization similar to the Sicilian Mafia located mostly in the province of Campania (an Italian Province) and its capital Napoli, Italia. The term is still commonly used especially in Central-South Italy (Meridione) to describe those that either belong to the organization or those that are arrogant to the point of inducing a fight. It was brought to the USA by early Italian immigrants from the province of Campania who named those suspected to belonging to the Guapperia “Guappi”, in a similar fashion the Sicilians used the term “Mafiosi”. Widely used in Chicago where most immigrants from Campania settled, one of its native sons Al Capone was a typical Guappo, it was confused by the non Italian population to indicate people of Italian origins, similarly the word “Paesano”. The term has been erroneously explained to mean “Without Papers” because of the initials “WP” by those, Italian descent or not, that have little knowledge of Italian history and dialects. The term has taken a derogatory meaning in North America and for many refers to people of Italian origin or background.

  7. Aunt B., I have to say I’m with you on this one. As in the “war on drugs,” we continue create a web of legal fictions that segregate human beings by class, skin color, and (in the case of immigration) where they were born.

    The behavior of the federal agents is very telling. As the woman said at the end, “They treated us like as if we were murderers.” This was more than just satisfaction for having protected the sanctity of the law. This was an expression of the kind of in-your-face, “fuck you” politics that are the bread and butter of the post-Nixon conservative movement. Brown-skinned south-of-the-border migrants are perennial scapegoats of this movement, so it only fits that there would be such glee at the point of the migrants’ debasement. (Don’t bullies always gloat over the vanquished weaklings, anyway?)

    The migrants–including women and children– are here to make a living. You can carp all you want about laws and borders, but the fact remains that the motivations of the migrants are very clear, and in many ways very admirable.

    It is easy to blame to poor mothers and the helpless, feverish babies for their own plight: They broke the law. It’s their own fault we didn’t bother to find a more constructive, compassionate way of dealing with this complex problem. (I would suggest that these draconian raids and their aftermath are the Bush administration’s retaliation for the pro-immigrant marches of a few months ago, but that would get me labelled a ‘conspiracy theorist.’ I digress…)

    Attempting to dismiss or justify this cruel, inhumane treatment by hiding behind the fictional morality of unjust laws puts us in some very unwelcome historical company and we continue to countenance it at our own peril. When we see fit, as a society, to condone the brutal treatment of fellow human beings who mean us no harm– especially when we label such treatment ‘legal’— we invite a maelstrom of brutality upon ourselves.

    As a nation we have apparently gotten away with and profited from so many massive atrocities (the Native American genocide, slavery, Jim Crow, the rape of the Philippines, our Latin American policies, etc.) that our cultural historical education– with its traditionally jingoistic, myopic, self-congratulatory bent– leaves us ill-prepared to face up to our contemporary transgressions against humanity.

    With all our wealth and military power it is easy to imagine that we will never be held accountable for these crimes, so we let our cognitive dissonance run amok and continue to tell ourselves that we’re in the right, or that we’re doing the best we can, or that it’s the victims’ own fault. Or we just ignore it altogether.

    I can only wonder how loudly we’ll cry “foul” when the apocalyptic shoe gets put on the other foot.

  8. I think if you’ll read other things I’ve written you’ll realise that I’m very much in favour of immigration reform.

    I very much dislike the accusation that I have cognitive dissonance. I’m very well aware of all sides of this issue.

    However, I don’t think it’s appropriate to gloss over the fact that these people are here illegally.

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  10. I intended no personal offense to you, Katherine Coble. When I say “we let our cognitive dissonance run amok,” I’m referring to all of us as U.S. citizens. Granted, there are some noble exceptions out there fighting this massive injustice in the legal and logistical, but most of us are content to cluck our tongues from various distances to either side of the ideological divide.

    If we allow a law or set of laws based upon an imaginary line drawn through earth and water to determine whether we will treat a fellow homo sapiens with the same dignity and basic decency with which we would wish to be treated, then we devalue ourselves and the society in which we live.

    But then, the immigration issue isn’t the only one in which we’ve buried ourselves in fatal hypocrisy. The Iraq debacle comes to mind, among a few other things.

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  12. Yes yes, punishment for Claudia Nunez and all the illegal immigrants!

    Oh, and Harriet Tubman too. And those people that hid Anne Frank. And that Kubby guy in California who insists he has the right to save his own life even if he has to smoke pot to do it. Oh, and those criminals who threw that Boston Tea Party.

    Damn lawbreakers.

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