People Without Status

I wish I knew more about the anti-immigration movement in this country, because I’d love to know just exactly when it was that illegal immigration was reframed from being a crime you committed when you crossed the border–you immigrated, i.e. entered and settled in this country, in a manner contrary to the laws of our country, much like I might cross the road in a manner that is illegal or fail to wear my seatbelt or even have stolen some candy as a child; in other words, an illegal act that lasted as briefly as the time it took to commit it–to being an ongoing state of illegality in which, as long as you’re here, you’re committing a crime.

Because, it seems to me, after looking through the federal code, that some of the immigration laws are designed with the first understanding and some are designed with the second.

I bring this up because it seems to me that it was necessary for anti-immigration forces to shift the definition, because, otherwise, coming into this country illegally becomes one of the few crimes for which the statute of limitations never runs out.

Which is, of course, what we have in essence now that “illegal immigration” is an ongoing crime.

Except, really, it’s worse than that.

Think about this.  Say I’m living in your shed without your permission.  I’m there illegally.  I’m trespassing.  Now, say someone breaks into your shed to steal your lawn mower and, in the process, shoots and kills me.

Are they not a murderer?  It’s still a crime against me, even if I am in the process of committing a crime.  There’s no “get out of jail free” card that prevents the government from charging my killer.

Say the thief just beats me.  Have I not been assaulted?

It seems obvious that, even if I am trespassing, I still have legal protections.

This does not seem to be the case for our immigrant neighbors.

Homeland Security, for instance, is considering changing the rules so that victims of domestic violence who entered the country illegally cannot get visas under the Violence Against Women Act, even though this act was intended, in part, to aid women who are terrorized by abusive husbands with the threat that, if they report their abuse, they’ll be deported.

Closer to home, people rounded up in the Robertson County raids are still, still sitting in jail; so much for due process and the right to a speedy trial.  Many of them have been deprived of the opportunity to see their family members, even though they haven’t been convicted yet of anything.

We don’t treat these people like criminals.

We treat them worse than criminals.  At least we acknowledge that criminals have rights.

These are people without any status.

And without any status, they have no protections.

America, we are judged by how we treat the most vulnerable among us.

And I have to tell you, what we’re doing now to these people, is evil.

The promise of America is nothing if it’s doled out in such a miserly fashion that we can’t protect a battered woman or give a man a few minutes a day with his kids.  It’s nothing if we can’t acknowledge the hard work and contributions of all our neighbors and show some mercy on our most desperate friends.

We have a long history of embracing hatred and mean-spiritedness as a method of building community pride.  And this, what we’re doing now, is part of that same long embrace.

I want to tell you a story about a man you and I both know, who went one afternoon, an afternoon much like this one, to a jail nearby where many undocumented workers are being held.

And the jailer was telling him how part of the reason that family members can’t get in to see the men in jail is that the man will have given his name as, say, Manuel Martinez, but, unbeknownst to the jailer, all that man’s friends call him Marty.

And so a woman will come into the jail and ask for Marty Martinez, and, of course, there is no such prisoner.

Our friend suggested that the jailer just assign each prisoner a number so that said prisoner could tell his loved ones, “When you come, ask for 619” and that way, it wouldn’t matter if he was Manuel Martinez, Marty Martinez, or Wal-Marty Martindale or what, the loved one could just ask for 619.

And, by way of explanation for why he didn’t think this would be possible, the jailer took our friend in to see the computers available to the police force.

It’s 2008, America, and those computers still run on DOS.

You would think that, if a community really were serious about ridding itself of illegal immigrants, a police force would not want for new computers.  And yet, there are no computers that can do the accounting necessary to give each person even a number.

And so we have to accept that this is not about ridding ourselves of illegal immigrants, but instead about publicly terrorizing them so that we might be Proud to be Americans.

Anna Akhmatova writes (though I’m not sure who did this beautiful translation):

I have learned how faces fall,
How terror can escape from lowered eyes,
How suffering can etch cruel pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white. I’ve learned to recognise
The fading smiles upon submissive lips,
The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.
That’s why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.

America, it’s so easy for me to imagine a few changes of names of landmarks and this “Requiem” becomes about you. 

That’s it.  I don’t know what more to tell you, except what I tell all of my friends who mess around with married men, which is, “If they do it for you, they’ll do it to you.”

Americans, if our government will do this for you, they will do it to you.

If you cannot stand against this nonsense for the sake of your fellow humans, stand against it out of self-preservation.

39 thoughts on “People Without Status

  1. Hey, B. Beautifully said. Now, change undocumented workers to say…pit bulls, and watch the responses!

    Yup, I’m a little bitter. Sue me.

  2. Americans, if our government will do this for you, they will do it to you.

    Amen. I’ve been saying this so much it’s making me weary. But I’ll keep my passport current, because the people who laugh at me now (for saying what you’re saying here) will be first in line to rat me out to the appropriate authorities when the shit hits the fan and the scapegoating starts.

  3. Mack, I think it’s hard for people to know what to say. You can’t take it to mean they don’t care. That shit will drive you crazy.

    CS, our plan is to sneak into Mexico, if the Minutemen don’t fuck it up for us by building that damn wall.

  4. B, this is one of the best posts I believe I have ever read of yours.

    You captured every thing that I would shout from the rooftops, if I could.

    Truly inspiring writing.

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  6. “These are people without any status.

    And without any status, they have no protections.

    America, we are judged by how we treat the most vulnerable among us.”

    I, and the entire pro-life community, couldn’t agree with you more. Wait, oh, nevermind…

  7. Great post.

    Exador is right – I could whip them up a BASIC program in a couple of hours. Bill Gates doesn’t want you to know this, but all Windows OSs are really just pretty visual versions of…DOS. The functionality doesn’t happen at the “pretty” level, it happens at the level where DOS sits (technically one level below that).

    Except Vista. It is of the Devil.

    And I’m wondering if what our friend saw were actually mainframe dumb terminals. Were the screens green? You’d be amazed about the computing power behind interfaces that haven’t
    changed since the 60’s.

    Back on subject ;)

    I’ve tried to distill my immigration beliefs down to a digestible level, but my embrace of a wall was openly mocked by pointy-heads, so I’ll make it a 3-point plan instead:

    1) Make it very easy get get here legally
    2) Make it very hard to get here illegally
    3) Just as we do with Cubans – if you manage to get here, after you are checked out for cooties and ties to terrorism – welcome!

    Conservatives seems to hate number 1. Liberals do not like number 2.

    Actually, this plan is simular to the one Bush proposed, and it killed him politically (with his own side). I stil think it’s the most workable philosophy though.

  8. Lee,

    Y’all keep saying that, and yet pro-life women keep having abortions. Let’s talk after your philosophy is convincing to your own side.

    Ex & Slarti,

    You may have discovered a little side business you could go into!

    Also, Slarti, I don’t believe any liberal would oppose your three steps in principle. The reason many of us don’t support a wall, aside from it making us look like the East Germans, is that it’s financially ludicrous and anything you can build, people can unbuild.

    Otherwise, sign me up!

  9. Any kind of wall or fence or raid will have zero impact so long as there is practically no downside to getting caught. You get deported and, especially if you are mexican, you get dropped 100′ over the border and told not to do it again. It’s a joke.

    Vista is of the devil.

  10. Americans love a “winner” and they love television. With the writers’ strike still on, I say we turn the border into a reality show, a la, “The Running Man”.
    We’ll mine it, and set traps and dogs and guys on motorcycles with razor hockey sticks.
    If you survive, you get citizenship.

    Is Richard Dawson still alive?

  11. Slarti, if number one is done, there is little need for a number 2.

    Your point about Cubans is interesting. Our policy is to welcome Cuban refugees if they make it to shore. Why? It’s a policy left over from the Cold War. If the Average American knew what is is like living in post NAFTA Mexico, they would demand a change in our policies. They don’t know, however, and it is unlikely they ever will.

  12. Exador, I don’t think it’s a joke. But it’s better than what folks are coming from. I mean, please. Let’s not kid ourselves. If your choice is between staying where your family is and everyone speaks your language and you have a little home and a spouse and a long history or going some place where few people speak your language, most of the citizenry hates you, and, if you get caught, you rot in a jail cell, most folks are going to choose the former unless something is very, very wrong there.

    If we really want to keep families and communities intact, we could stop exporting our jobs there and letting those corporations pay so little in wages.

    I’m still not clear why we can’t just say, “Hey, if you want to sell your stuff in the United States, it better be made by someone who is making at least our minimum wage.”

    Plus, we already have people dying crossing into the country. Would sticking cameras up there a la CSPAN so that we could all watch as it happened really make us much more sympathetic? Frankly, I doubt it.

  13. Slarti, i like your first two points and hate #3. i actually see the logic of the “ongoing crime” understanding of the immigration laws; you’re supposed to jump through such-and-so hoops to get here, if you sneak through some other way, gotta go back and do it right dammit.

    my problems with the existing hoops are that they effectively exclude way too many people for no good reason — we need a guest worker system for the vast majority of the current illegals, so they can come here and enrich our economy without being felons for it — and that the current punishments for breaking the rules are wack. long-term internment without access to family, lawyers, or any legal status is unconscionable no matter what the excuse for it may be.

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  15. Hey, you get to choose the subjects where you get all holier-than-thou on people of good faith who happen to disagree with you, and I’ll choose my subjects to get all holier-than-thou on people of good faith who happen to disagree with me.

    Just pointing out how your rhetoric eerily mirrors that of the pro-life movement.

    A link to make my point.

  16. Beautifully said. Except for the rambling, disconnected thoughts and lack of logic. Building the straw man of the peole who “long history of embracing hatred and mean-spiritedness as a method of building community pride.”

    Of course, everyone knows once you get more than 100 yards across the border the law doesn’t apply any more.

    That said, yes, illegal immigrants should be treated properly. Perhaps you could assist them is getting a better computer system. But, I imagine it’s more fun assailing your imaginary enemies.

  17. Wait, wait, wait, Lee. Did that actually work? I wasn’t sure “Get your own ducks in order” would even give you pause, but… hmm… If it does, I might use it more often.

    M Ciardi, your pouting and flouncing would be more effective if it seemed you’d actually done more than just skimmed for the part you could be most offended by and then made up some shit.

    Perhaps, though, you’d be better off just hanging out here with other folks who like to misread me.

  18. Sorry to let you down B. Don’t you know that I’m too stubborn to let anything work? All well-intentioned but ultimately silly liberal ideas bounce off my Cro-Magnon skull like bullets skipping off asphault.

    You’re better off going for the balls.

    “Getting your ducks in order” is valid argument on certain issues. But if you can’t say that hypocracy is not just as present among those who lean left as among those who lean right, then it turn into an “Oh, yeah… what about…” contest.

  19. I’m still not clear why we can’t just say, “Hey, if you want to sell your stuff in the United States, it better be made by someone who is making at least our minimum wage.”

    Amen.

    I once posed this idea in a letter to the Tennessean. In response to the letter I got a lot of angry e-mails dismissing the idea as “typical liberal nonsense” (exact quote, if I recall correctly). But no one ever explained why it was typical liberal nonsense.

  20. Josh, I think you hit a nerve that’s at the heart of this thing. My semi-serious solution to the immigration problem is to abolish the border between Mexico and the U.S. Yours and Aunt B.’s solution is a practical application of what I’m getting at. I think your suggestions threaten the economic structure that many people have become convinced is inseparable from our ‘way of life.’

    To put it crudely, we want cheap food and consumer goods and we don’t care if that means millions of Asians and Latin Americans are starving to death or toiling in serfdom. However, in order to maintain the self-congratulatory illusion that we are The Center of All That is Good in the Universe, we obstinately refuse to accept or even to face the consequences of the economic inequities that have created and that maintain our ‘way of life.’ (If I don’t have to see it, I don’t have to care about it.)

    The immigration issue is merely the most visible manifestation of this dynamic, as it is quite literally among us. We want our cheap stuff, but we don’t want to be bothered with refugees from the poverty and social upheaval that our abundance of cheap stuff currently relies upon. Never mind that there are real problems that need real solutions; never mind that there are real human beings involved who have real needs. Let’s just build a wall and throw everyone who gets past it into jail until we can ship them back.

  21. The funny thing is, we wouldn’t have nearly the need of such cheap stuff if things were better for us. If there were living wages and general assurances of our wellbeing (healthcare, daycare, whatever) to be had easily, without eating up crazy amounts of our income, we wouldn’t have this all-fired burning hunger for cheap food and goods.

    Sure, of course, people are always going to like getting a bargain. But it seems to me that most of what’s driving the furor over potential rising costs is real, sensible fear that we won’t be able to get what we need. And well, there are two ways to attack that: we can either work to keep prices down, or work to increase the amount of money we have to spend on things.

  22. 1. The constitution only matters if citizenship matters and that means we have to divide legal from illegal.
    2. We need a fence–it works in Israel.
    3. We need the fence so that the we can honestly deal with the people who are here illegally (I would favor a path to citizenship but only after the borders are closed.)
    4. The problem with illegals will continue for both liberals and conservatives until we find a way to close the borders.
    5. We need to make it easier to become a legal immigrants but only after we close the borders.

  23. Mike, we divide the legal from the illegal all the time. For that, you build courts, not a fence.

    The wall idea is not working in Israel (in case you haven’t read the newspaper recently). It didn’t work in East Germany. It will not “work” here, if by work you mean stop immigration. It will work just fine to whip up the Minutemen fellers and provide photo ops.

    There is no way to “close” the border in the way you are suggesting. People are small and borders are large and the incentives to take the chance to come is great enough that people will continue to come. You have surely thought of the costs of policing the border. Where are those troops coming from? You may have noticed that we are heavily engaged elsewhere and recruitment levels are off. You may have also noticed that we are heavily in debt — crazy, nation-toppling debt. I don’t know if you’re historically minded, but usually the combination of an overstretched military, a crippling national debt, and a staggering economy does not bode well for the nation that possesses these things. If we were a company, the stockholders would have fired the CEO and the Board a long time ago.

    There are much cheaper and more sensible ways to slow illegal immigration that would have been tried already if there was political will to do it. Stimulating (rather than eroding) the Mexican economy along with our own, for example, would be far less costly and it might actually benefit some American workers to boot. Corporations and illegal hirers wouldn’t like that much, but there you go. Follow the money, dude.

    There are folks in office now that got there by pulling the national chain about immigration; they hope to return themselves to office by posing along the border and declaring themselves tough on the issue. Do you think this group of politicians (left as well as right) actually want this issue resolved? If they actually stemmed illegal immigration or came up with a viable solution for even slowing it, how would they convince you that the ass-pinching the working class (and much of our shrinking middle class) is feeling right now is due to immigrants rather than the effects of their own idiotic domestic and foreign policies? The idea of a fence — unbuildable, unworkable, but great as something that everyone can imagine as an image of formidable toughness — is just enough to keep your mind fixed elsewhere while they fumble away what’s left of our liberties.

    In magic, this is called misdirection. In politics, this is called A Big Lie. “Closing the border with a fence” is one of those.

  24. I’m with you about de-humanizing “undocumented residents,” AuntB . . . it’s wrong.

    And I hate to comment on this for fear of stirring up the hornets, but did Magniloquence just assert that something along the lines of socialism would quench our thirst for “cheap goods” and solve this problem? Please expound on your point if I’m wrong, but that’s what it sounds like.

    And I’d expect at least ONE acknowledgment within this thread that George W. Bush was fighting (awful hard and without regard to his standing within the GOP) for the general principles espoused in the original post.

  25. He wasn’t fighting anywhere near “awful hard”, but yes, he rose above the petty, meanspirited rhetoric that many in the GOP indulged in. So, yea, mad props for W for being human.

    I don’t think thats what mag was suggesting, but I have to ask, why not? Are there not elements of collectivism that are viable? Capitalism has many shortcomings, Ned. Perhaps some hybrid blend of the two philosophies is possible.

  26. I guess I’m confused why, in most countries in the world, if you entered without proper permission/authority you’d be deported without so much as diary entry in the local paper; yet when people illegally enter the US and discussion opens about their “rights,” we’re “racist” for wanting to enforce our rules.

    I lived in Europe for several years, and many of their immigration requirements are far stricter that the ours. If you want a serious example, take a look at the requirements to emigrate to New Zealand.

    Does our immigration system need and overhaul? Absolutely! Does that give someone to the right to walk in, rent a house, start consuming resources (e.g. health care) and demand full-rights without having even satisfied the entry requirements? I remain unconvinced.

  27. Well, for starters, Mike, because we historically claim to extend rights to everyone within our borders, not just the people who are here legally. Second, because you can’t overlook the fact that it was our economic policies that tend to keep these people living in destitution in their own countries. Third, yes, they consume resources, but they also pay taxes and, as we’ve pointed out repeatedly, most of the folks who sneak in here can never satisfy the entry requirements, and yet, our economy depends on them. And fourth, we used to let folks come in and out of our country as they liked. We changed that for racist reasons.

    Our unemployment rate is under 5%. Health care officials regularly say that they aren’t being overwhelmed by the costs of illegal immigrants. Most everybody breaks some laws.

    So, why is it so crucial that we hone in on these people?

  28. we historically claim to extend rights to everyone within our borders, not just the people who are here legally.

    Well, “historically” were people pouring into our country illegally? Were said people failing to assimilate? If not, then maybe it shouldn’t hold sway at this juncture.

    Second, because you can’t overlook the fact that it was our economic policies that tend to keep these people living in destitution in their own countries.

    What? Prove that? (heck, just argue it).

  29. Good grief Ned. You mean like when we flood Mexico with our cheap, subsidized corn, thereby insuring local growers could not get a fair price for their crops? Or are you looking for any other evidence that suggests we are frequently less than conscientious in our economic policies? How about if we change the word economic to “foreign”?

  30. That’s interesting Mack (I guess that’s your answer too, AuntB?). I’ll give you that we “flood” their market to their (they being agricultural interests) detriment, but are you saying our corn production and export is bad enough to counter our industrial/corporation exporting/outsourcing of textiles, etc.? But it would appear that the subsidies (and export) of corn are less nefarious in my mind than they are in yours.

    And speaking of open borders, it would seem that open economic borders would involve the market for corn not being regulated. Should we prop up the value of corn in Mexico when the global market for it is lower than Mexican ag interests would like it to be?

  31. Or you might infer that I’ve been distracted by other shit and haven’t gotten back to this. But, hell, sure, Mack, you answer stuff for me. That’ll make my life easier.

  32. But as for your question, it didn’t used to be illegal to come here. You just came here. And yes, people were pouring into our country.

    You and folks like you who make the claim that Hispanics are not assimilating are first, full of shit, and second, never clear about what you want Hispanics to assimilate into. They do learn English. They do get jobs. They have the same struggles that all people who come to this country have.

    As I’ve said before, the Germans in my family have been in this country a hundred and fifty years or more and my grandpa was the first person in his family who did not speak German as his first language. And there are still many people in the midwest who speak German or Polish or whatever as their first language (or a perfectly fluent second language) and I don’t hear you guys ever grouching about how the Germans refuse to assimilate.

    As for the free market, let’s discuss that when it’s actually in place. As it is right now, we seem to have one in name only.

  33. So we’re supposed to boo hoo because their farmers can’t compete?

    Pass that sob story to some Ford or IBM employees. Good luck.

    As for the tax balance sheet, I know you’ve seen study after study that they consume far more government resources than the paltry taxes they put in. As in billions of $.

  34. Full of it? You and me both, sister.

    I know the stats on immigration, but it was much more difficult for Germans to come to America than Mexicans, no question. How common was ESL for those Germans or Poles? Maybe the accommodation of spanish-speaking immigrants is a function of a more consumer-responsive marketplace, but I doubt it.

    I guess another feature of assimilation would be not signing up for social services as a first step toward becoming an American. That is one advantage of LEGAL immigration (or of making it difficult to live here without authorization) –people have to buy in to normative American values with don’t include dependence or entitlementality. Don’t you agree?

  35. Aunt B: there are several inner-city hospitals in major metropolitan areas that would argue with your characterization that the illegal immigrant community isn’t consuming to much in the way of health care resources. Some of them do pay taxes, but a disproportionately small amount. Now, that’s because of a self-defeatng cycle of not having the bona fides to get better paying jobs, being exploited by idiots who are happy to pay them crap and reap the economic benefits, etc. I’ve never argued our immigration system doesn’t need overhaul; it most certainly does. But throwing open the flood gates doesn’t fix the problem. I’d also take issue with your assertion that our economic policies keep people destitute in their home countries. One can look to the corruption of the economic and political systems of those countries as a far greater primary cause. The flaw in that argument is demonstrated by the loss of service sector jobs to places such as India. I don’t think it’s racist to want some sane controls on immigration. If we’re going to paint with that brush; there are lots of countries in the world with far more restrictive policies. Shall we tell New Zealand their immigration policies are racist?

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