My refrigerator is covered with pictures of family, friends, children, library receipts and my son’s artwork. However in Arizona, parents who are undocumented are clearing their refrigerators and placing prominently on them a single sheet of paper. This one piece of paper tells social services what to do with their children if they are arrested.
==The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray
The Unitarian Universalist Association has recommended “immigration as a moral issue” as a study-action issue for its congregations for 2010-2014. On Saturday, I attended a social justice conference Saturday at First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y., sponsored by the UUA St. Lawrence District.
The principal speaker at the conference was the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, parish minister of the UU Congregation of Phoenix and part of the UU Immigration ministry. Others were Diane Chappell-Daly, an immigration lawyer from Syracuse; David Friedman, a St. Lawrence district trustee; and Pacho Lane, an American who identifies with Mexican culture and nationalism.
I learned things I didn’t know. One is the cruel manner in which unauthorized Mexican migrants are deported. Immigration authorities confiscate their property, including medications, cell phones, all forms of ID and any cash above $15, and deport them to a city in Mexico where they’ve never been. Husbands are separated from wives, and parents from children. Sometimes legal residents or even American citizens are caught up in these sweeps because they happen to be without proper documentation. Reasonable people may differ about overall immigration policy, but no decent person can think this is right.
“Illegal immigrant” is a misleading term. To reside in the United States without proper authorization is not a violation of American criminal law, although it is a crime to re-enter the United States once you have been deported. “Undocumented migrant” is inaccurate, since many have documents; it is just that the documents are expired or invalid. Arizona’s hard immigration law is not just a restatement of federal law. It goes beyond federal law.
Frederick-Gray pointed out that until 1924, there were no restrictions on crossing the Mexico-U.S. border. For many decades after that, Border Patrol enforcement was lax, and people routinely crossed back and forth.
During the past 10 or so years, there has been a crackdown that has made crossing more dangerous, and therefore more lucrative. The Mexican drug cartel has taken over the business of smuggling people and combines it with smuggling drugs.
The private prison industry is an important lobby for a crackdown on immigration, and an important employer in Arizona. In the current bad economy, it may be the only growth industry there.
The best estimate is that there are 12 million unauthorized migrants in the United States, and this can’t help but contribute to the high unemployment rate and depressed wages of American citizens. The uproar over illegal immigration is perfectly understandable, but deportation is unlikely to change the situation. The Obama administration is deporting roughly 400,000 unauthorized migrants a year which means that, even if no new migrants enter the United States, it would take 30 years to deport them all.
President Obama has stepped up deportation of unauthorized migrants in hopes of gaining support for a path to citizenship for those remaining in the country. But such support is not forthcoming. If Republicans would not support this idea when proposed by President George W. Bush, it is unlikely that President Obama would change their minds. The best that can be hoped for is the Dream Act, which allows children who grew up in the United States a path to American citizenship.
The focus of the conference was on unauthorized migration from Mexico into the American Southwest, but migrants come from many countries and enter all regions of the United States. Upstate New York is an important agricultural region, and many farmers employ unauthorized migrants.
It is not that American citizens don’t want to do farm work. Employers who pay minimum [*] wage and obey American labor law can get all the workers they want. But the economic incentive is to hire workers outside the protection of U.S. law. Chappell-Daly said U.S. courts have ruled that it is legal for an employer to refuse to pay back wages to an unauthorized migrant. Somebody in the audience, however, said that the New York Department of Labor will try to get workers the wages they’re owed—if they can find the person after they’ve been deported.
The Obama administration’s position is that the executive has the responsibility to enforce the law, whether he personally agrees with this or not. This is a real moral dilemma. I don’t think any of us wish to live under a government in which the President can pick and choose which laws to enforce and which to ignore.
There is a choice, though, as to the methods by which the law should be enforced, and the amount of effort that should go into enforcement. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deports 400,000 migrants a year, and not 40,000 or 800,000 because Congress has budgeted for 400,000 deportations.
Given current high unemployment and wage stagnation, the uproar over illegal immigration is perfectly understandable. But I can’t get indignant against people who for the most part are simply trying to provide for themselves and their loved ones in the best way they can.
And there would be few unauthorized migrants if there were no employers eager to hire members of an underclass outside the protection of U.S. law. The Atlantic Monthly writer Conor Friedersdorf has mischievously suggested that the solution to unauthorized immigration problem is to (1) fine employers of unauthorized migrants and (2) give a green card to any unauthorized migrant who turns their employer in.
For more about immigration as a moral issue, click on the following links.
PBS Frontline’s Lost in Detention, which aired Oct 18, 2011.
A Culture of Cruelty: Abuse and Impunity in Short-Term U.S. Border Patrol Custody, a link to a report by No More Deaths, a humanitarian organization which rescues migrants in danger of dying while crossing the U.S.-Mexican border.
Border Patrol: “A Culture of Cruelty”, a news summary of the No More Deaths report.
Barry Estabrook’s ‘Tomatoland,’ An Indictment of Modern Agriculture, a book review in the Washington Post, June 10, 2011.
NPR Fresh Air’s Who’s Really Writing States’ Legislation?, which aired July 21, 2011.
NPR Fresh Air’s National Chairman of ALEC Responds to Report which aired July 21, 2011.
NPR Talk of the Nation’s How Corporate Interests Got SB1070 Passed, which aired Nov. 9, 2010.
NPR Morning Edition’s Shaping State Laws With Little Scrutiny, which aired Oct. 29, 2010.
NPR Morning Edition’s Prison Economics Help Drive Arizona’s Immigration Law, which aired Oct. 28, 2010.
Immigration as a Moral Issue, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s proposed congregational study-action issue for 2010-2014.
Click on the following links for some of my earlier posts on immigration.
[*] Update 11/29/2015. I should have written “market” rather than “minimum” wage.