Disclaimer: I began writing this post on April 29th. It’s been in my drafts folder ever since, right next to a post about Sean Hannity’s praise, or mockery, of teabaggers as “Tim McVeigh wannabes.” After Meryn Fluker ran this story past me, I’ve decided it’s time to update it and finish it.
My dissertation examines immigration reform in Oklahoma, but Arizona’s new immigration legislation was a topic of discussion at my defense given its timeliness in relation to my project’s focus. My revisions will include, among other things, an update of HB 1804, the Oklahoma law, and the latest happenings in Arizona.
First, I’ll point to my sidebar that contains a number of links to pertinent information on immigration in general and immigration reform specifically. I haven’t updated it lately, but I will do so shortly. In the meantime, the Immigration Policy Center has a number of reports, based on empirical studies and not anecdotal evidence, soundly refuting the main talking points of proponents of bills like those passed in Arizona and Oklahoma.
So, say what you will about undocumented immigrants “stealing jobs,” “increasing crime,” or whathaveyou, it simply is not correct. As the literature on the history of immigration shows, these very same arguments have been used, and have been incorrect, for the past 150 years every time someone decides there needs to be a change to the immigration system. In fact, the reverse is true of much of the rationale compelling the more drastic immigration reform measures: undocumented immigrants do not take jobs from citizen workers nor are they connected to high rates of unemployment; they actually supplement local economies; and they do not contribute to increases in crime. Rather, immigrants are less likely than citizens to be incarcerated or commit crimes and the U.S. economy would greatly benefit if the undocumented community were granted legalization. Finally, I’ll point out the study that demonstrates that crime rates have actually been falling in Arizona, not increased as the bill’s proponent’s claim.
A quick disclaimer: I understand that facts may go past the die-hard anti-immigration crowd. If you’re a card-carrying member of FAIR, I doubt you got this far anyways. This post may only appeal to the reality-based community. Okay, I know it will only appeal to the reality-based community. Anyways:
To the point of the recent developments in Arizona, where legislators and their lovely governor currently seek to deny U.S. birth certificates to the children of undocumented immigrants. This is not an original idea. The fellow in Oklahoma who cooked up HB 1804, that state’s version of immigration reform, is proposing the same thing. Basically, if you had a baby in Arizona or Oklahoma, the parents would have to get some voucher from their country of origin’s consulate in lieu of a birth certificate. Apparently, it’s no coincidence these states are proposing similar things because- apparently- these legislators talk to one another and brainstorm these “solutions” together. Fabulous.
First things first: these nutjobs that wish to deny citizenship to children born within U.S. territories are directly challenging the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. You know the one, that peice of paper that this very same crowd has been crowing about for the past 18 months, claiming that it’s being trashed by the current president. Creepily enough, in the Time peice, the bona fide racist state legislator who is responsible for Arizona’s bill says that he’s sure the bill will withstand constitutional challenges. Randy Terrill, the guy from Oklahoma, said the same thing about 1804 (and, three years later, it’s still held up in court). Going back to the whole “reality-based” thing, when you try to trash the constitution by upending the 14th Amendment, you’re not…actually…doing…anything…wrong…or being unpatriotic in any way, shape, or form…but when you work to ensure millions of Americans receive access to health care, well, that’s an affront to our social fabric. Or something like that. Yeah. There’s no there there.
About the children, the so-called “anchor babies:” the claims are that these mothers drain social services or illegally obtain health care for their families, that they come to the U.S. to have their children and, as a result, sap our public assistance programs. This line of thought contains so much misinformation, I may run out of steam before I even get to shamelessly plug my work and write about the conclusions I draw in my dissertation.
1. I’m going to leave this hanging, knowing it may be quite provocative, but here it is: based on information gathered during my fieldwork last year, many mothers do come to the U.S. to have their children, so that their children may receive the benefits of being a U.S. citizen. As a parent, I would do exactly the same thing for my children if I knew it meant they’d have a better life. But that’s not the point. This is:
2. The argument that undocumented immigrants unduly burden public services and they should therefore be denied either services or citizenship is 100 percent incorrect, because, undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and therefore pay into the very system they are said to be draining. They are not “stealing” anything, rather, studies show that they are less likely to receive the benefits of the system which they help to support because they just don’t seek them out. Furthermore, state public assistance programs struggle financially because of an inequitable re-distribution of tax monies between the federal and state governments. So, the money’s there- it’s just not being directed to the right places and programs (did you also know Social Security is NOT going broke? Didn’t think so. Mother Jones wrote a series on that about a year or so ago). Not to mention, it is extremely difficult to get public assistance without proper documentation (or, as they are called, “papers”), mostly because it is illegal to do so, to get or administer Medicaid (also known as “welfare,” the state-adminstered, federally-regulated system of public assistance) under the Parental Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. You can’t just waltz into some office and get food stamps or health benefits for your kids. It does not work that way- it’s a mind-numbingly complex process of identity verification that would make most of us middle-class white folks, who scoff at the thought of and look down upon those receiving public assistance, dizzy.
So, as the esteemed Dr. Dan Berkowitz asked my colleague, Josh Grimm, at our very first Ph.D. seminar in the fall of 2005: what does it mean? What does it mean that immigrants get a bad rap? Of particular significance to my dissertation and line of research, what does it mean that women and children are more specifically targeted by immigration legislation, such as the effort to deny citizenship to these poor kids (and, in the meantime, make it much, much more difficult for their parents to ever attain citizenship either)?
Here’s what I think, and I will develop this line of thought as I mature intellectually over the course of a lifetime (i.e., these are tidbits from Chapter VII of my dissertation): The nation-state is unsettled in globalization. It’s autonomy is destabilized, but not weakened necessarily. Yet, the global dynamics that animate this process are, by and large, unknown to national citizens and unquestioned. U.S. citizens see the effects of globalization embodied in the brown immigrants that move into their communities, speaking different languages, eating different foods, practicing different religions. This is the most notable way with which Americans “encounter” the global, and we’re given information that leads us to believe that it threatens some authentic American way of life. This is where the media come in. We enact legislation to targets immigrants in order to rid our communities of what we see and understand as the problem, yet leaves the geopolitical processes propelling transnational migration intact.
I wasn’t able to answer the, “Why?” part of that question in my dissertation, to get at the reason why white folks in Oklahoma came to believe that Mexican really were a problem to their state. But, I do think I know why women and children, why families, figure so prominently into these discourses. One of the major arguments against immigrants is that they steal job or threaten the economy somehow.
To just touch on this superficially before I (finally) go to sleep, economies are perpetuated by human capital. Families produce the human capital which perpetuate economies-national, global, or otherwise. Those economies, and the nations tied to economies, rely on certain types of (heterosexual, nuclear) families to produce that human capital. Therefore, I argue that the immigrant family in immigration discourses serves a dual purpose: portrayals of the deviant immigrant “remind” U.S. citizens of their properly gendered, raced, classed, and sexualized performances as U.S. citizens; and finally, it only makes sense to target the immigrant family for dissection and eradication (which is what immigration policy does) because that is the source of the threat. In other words, immigration policy tears the immigrant family apart, through mechanisms such as summary deportation and the denial of citizenship, in order to nip the problem in the bud, as it were.
Obviously, I abhor the inhumanity of this process. I am stunned at the lack of empathy shown for immigrants by the general public, at the way in which the act of crossing a border- without papers- marks a person and all members of their family as irreparably “illegal” for life. To be illegal, it seems, is to completely erase any potential or any good a person has done or can achieve. I only hope the right information can put to rest all the myths that tenaciously and odiously persist regarding immigration and immigrants.
There you have it, Meryn 🙂 Thanks for getting my ass in gear to finish this post. I’m brushing my teeth and going to sleep.