EDITORIAL: The Great Immigration PanicThe New York Times
June 3, 2008
Someday, the country will recognize the true cost of its war on illegal immigration. We don't mean dollars, though those are being squandered by the billions. The true cost is to the national identity: the sense of who we are and what we value. It will hit us once the enforcement fever breaks, when we look at what has been done and no longer recognize the country that did it.
A nation of immigrants is holding another nation of immigrants in bondage, exploiting its labor while ignoring its suffering, condemning its lawlessness while sealing off a path to living lawfully. The evidence is all around that something pragmatic and welcoming at the American core has been eclipsed, or is slipping away.
An escalating campaign of raids in homes and workplaces has spread indiscriminate terror among millions of people who pose no threat. After the largest raid ever last month — at a meatpacking plant in Iowa — hundreds were swiftly force-fed through the legal system and sent to prison. Civil-rights lawyers complained, futilely, that workers had been steamrolled into giving up their rights, treated more as a presumptive criminal gang than as potentially exploited workers who deserved a fair hearing. The company that harnessed their desperation, like so many others, has faced no charges.
Immigrants in detention languish without lawyers and decent medical care even when they are mortally ill. Lawmakers are struggling to impose standards and oversight on a system deficient in both. Counties and towns with spare jail cells are lining up for federal contracts as prosecutions fill the system to bursting. Unbothered by the sight of blameless children in prison scrubs, the government plans to build up to three new family detention centers. Police all over are checking papers, empowered by politicians itching to enlist in the federal crusade.
This is not about forcing people to go home and come back the right way. Ellis Island is closed. Legal paths are clogged or do not exist. Some backlogs are so long that they are measured in decades or generations. A bill to fix the system died a year ago this month. The current strategy, dreamed up by restrictionists and embraced by Republicans and some Democrats, is to force millions into fear and poverty.
There are few national figures standing firm against restrictionism. Senator Edward Kennedy has bravely done so for four decades, but his Senate colleagues who are running for president seem by comparison to be in hiding. John McCain supported sensible reform, but whenever he mentions it, his party starts braying and he leaves the room. Hillary Rodham Clinton has lost her voice on this issue more than once. Barack Obama, gliding above the ugliness, might someday test his vision of a new politics against restrictionist hatred, but he has not yet done so. The American public's moderation on immigration reform, confirmed in poll after poll, begs the candidates to confront the issue with courage and a plan. But they have been vague and discreet when they should be forceful and unflinching.
The restrictionist message is brutally simple — that illegal immigrants deserve no rights, mercy or hope. It refuses to recognize that illegality is not an identity; it is a status that can be mended by making reparations and resuming a lawful life. Unless the nation contains its enforcement compulsion, illegal immigrants will remain forever Them and never Us, subject to whatever abusive regimes the powers of the moment may devise.
Every time this country has singled out a group of newly arrived immigrants for unjust punishment, the shame has echoed through history. Think of the Chinese and Irish, Catholics and Americans of Japanese ancestry. Children someday will study the Great Immigration Panic of the early 2000s, which harmed countless lives, wasted billions of dollars and mocked the nation's most deeply held values.
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Letter to the Editor:
The anti-immigrant partisans in our country are willing to throw overboard all our rights in their single-minded effort to rid the nation of those who are living among us without residence permits. They are the descendants of the right-wingers of the McCarthy period and the Red Scare and the Palmer Raids after World War I.
Not least is their total disregard for the rights of American citizens. They want to require citizens to prove their citizenship, a total reversal of the "innocent unless proved guilty" requirement in criminal proceedings. They say it is different because this is a civil, not criminal, procedure, as if that makes the practice any less noxious.
Not only that, but American citizen children are threatened with loss of family and their right to grow up in their own country with their parents. This, too, may pass, but how many lives are being wrecked in the meanwhile?
Paul H. Silverstone
New York, June 3, 2008
Editorial: Abhorring a vacuum
The absence of comprehensive immigration reform from Congress is resulting in a crackdown — a repudiation of who we are as a nation.
From the Journal Sentinel
Posted: June 16, 2008
It seems only yesterday that thousands of immigrants and their advocates first took to the streets of Milwaukee and elsewhere to protest mean-spirited legislation that would make unlawful presence in this country a felony.
Two years ago, Congress sensibly beat back the effort to criminalize illegal immigration borne of economic necessity — necessity for both the immigrants and this country. But since that legislation by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) failed, local authorities have been trying to achieve the same thing through a back door.
A recent New York Times article described how authorities throughout the country are using existing laws to round up illegal immigrants, with deportation as the end game. This is a nuclear, enforcement-only approach that disintegrates families and local economies.
Workplace raids occurred last month in Postville, Iowa, at Agriprocessors Inc., the nation's largest kosher slaughterhouse. They resulted in 260 illegal immigrants sentenced to five months in prison on charges related to federal identity theft laws.
In Florida's Santa Rosa County, the sheriff had businesses searched for illegal immigrants, making arrests on charges of violating state identity theft laws.
One consequence of this is precisely what immigration foes want: more apprehensions, more deportations and a pall of fear cast over the immigrant community and those who would join them. Other consequences, however, include a repudiation of who we are as a nation of immigrants and swimming against a global tide that makes labor as fluid as goods.
These raids, in tandem with local law enforcement efforts, result in children — often U.S. citizens — left parentless or facing the prospect themselves of what is tantamount to deportation. But another result is boarded-up stores, as already-struggling communities realize that these workers are also consumers.
So to catch a relative few of the 12 million estimated illegal immigrants in this country, the country is expending immense resources while the nation's economy — even in its anemic state — has need of many more workers than our antiquated immigration system will allow in.
This is lunacy and yet another reason for Congress to get to work soon on the kind of comprehensive immigration reform that tells the world that this nation has rediscovered its head, and its heart, when it comes to newcomers.
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