Tag Archives: immigration

Brexit: the Welsh puzzle

The results are in, the markets have panicked, Prime Ministers have stepped down, and no one seems brave enough to press “the big red button” of officially informing the EU that the UK intends to leave. In short, the public referendum to see if the UK would prefer to leave or remain in the EU has been a bit of a mess.

Funnily enough, with support for leave tanking in the wake of several walked back promises on public funding and bans on further immigration, it appears that the vote on the UK’s future in the EU will actually have the greatest impact on the different parts of the UK’s relationships with each other. What’s leaped out at many is the divide between the vastly greater voter pool that is England (which voted in almost all its subdivisions to leave) and the rather different returns among the smaller populations in Northern Ireland and Scotland (both of which decisively voted to remain).

Out of that has come talk of a border referendum in Ireland and renewed interest in Scottish independence. Departition and separation serve on the one hand as vehicles to avoid leaving the EU or speed the process of reentry, but also demonstrate a vulnerability of the UK. On the one hand, it now functions as a democracy, but on the other not only must it wrestle with a past of global colonial violence but modern borders drawn by those processes applied to what once were neighboring nations. One’s former colonial subjects seldom vote to withdraw from the world hand-in-hand with their on-going occupiers.

With a slim majority also voting to leave within Wales, it’s easy to instead summarize the regional differences in the vote as being between north and south rather than colonized and colonizer. That misses some of the complexities of the Welsh vote, which are not only key to understanding what happened there but help contextualize the successes of remain and meaningfulness of the EU to Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Immigration

One of the most decisive discrepancies between how those in England and those in Wales decided to vote on this referendum was in terms of immigration. Especially at the end of the campaign, that issue became squarely central, with EU membership being conflated with a comparatively open borders, less restricted immigration, and more generally the existence of immigrants.

In England, the implications were loud and clear to the foreign-born populations largely concentrated in London, the Southeast of England, and to a lesser extent the Southwest. In part because of immigrant voters, those would be respectively the only English subdivisions that voted in favor of remaining, in favor of leaving by less than the narrow victory in Wales, and the narrowest victory in England still larger than that in Wales. Among other factors, immigrants concerned about the rhetoric and politics of the leave campaign were a key part of the remain vote in England.

The precise opposite demographic tendency shows up in Wales, with the subdivision with the most immigrants – Powys – being the one with the largest leave-lopsided return. The trick to that is that immigrants to England tend to be also immigrants to the UK. Generally speaking, they are people of color from former UK colonies or immigrants from fellow EU countries particularly Poland and other eastern European countries. Those are the populations that have in the wake of the election faced harassment and even violence.

In stark contrast, the majority of immigrants to Wales are immigrants from wthin the UK, and overwhelmingly, they’re English. This is particularly true in, you guessed it, Powys. In stark contrast to the key importance of voters of color in London and elsewhere in England, some of the least immigrated-to parts of Wales were where remain locally won. Bro Morgannwg, Caerdydd (also known as Cardiff), and Sir Fynwy – all along Wales’ comparatively less immigrated-to southern coast – were among the five local areas where remain won.

Born_In_England_2011_Census_Wales

(The percent of local Welsh populations born in England from the 2011 census.)

While immigration is fairly common even along the western coast of Wales, that is also in some ways the nationalist heart of the country – where the highest percentage of the local Welsh population has retained the use of Cymraeg, the Welsh language. That’s where the other two remain-leaning local subdivisions can be found: Ceredigion and Gwynedd.

cymraeg.png

(The cymrophone percentage of the Welsh population, according to the 2011 census.)

Speaking very generally, the most English parts of England tended to vote leave, while the most Welsh parts of Wales tended to vote remain. What was supposedly a referendum on the fate of the whole of the UK was heard very differently not just between locals and immigrants, but different groups of locals.

English colonial legacies

Much has been made about every local major subdivision of Scotland voting in this referendum to remain in the EU. While many have been quick to talk about a divergence between Northern Ireland and Scotland on the one hand and England on the other, it’s important to note that there is not the same level of uniformity in Northern Ireland’s vote.

To those familiar with the contested fate of that corner of the UK, the Brexit vote is just another confirmation of a familiar voter pattern. Stretching from Antrim then south around Belfast while dipping into that city’s eastern neighborhoods, leave won. Everywhere else in Northern Ireland, remain did.

This is a geographic manifestation of the most basic of divisions of that area, baked into the region’s uniquely power-sharing government since the Good Friday Agreement. Those now somewhat ironically called “Unionists” – largely descended from settlers affiliated with the UK’s colonial rule of the whole of Ireland – voted to leave. Those termed “Nationalists” – who typically have precolonial, Irish ethnic ties to the area – voted to remain.

a-NI-identity-1024x480.png

While much of the analysis of this has rightly noted that there were some concrete EU policies driving those different voting patterns – from an Irish desire for harassment-free travel across the border to some unionists’ desire for an isolationist UK that may look the other way if The Troubles return – few have talked about this as a parallel to what can be seen to some extent in Wales.

English immigration is a phenomenon seen in Scotland as well, but in Wales and Northern Ireland it appears to be one more fiercely politically interested in maintaining the image of a powerful UK. It might not always find logical outlets, as the momentarily free falling pound showed, but there is a political constituency in both Northern Ireland and Wales who just seemingly demonstrated they don’t think of themselves as either of those things except in residency.

$350 to the NHS

For all their similarities, however, the voting dynamics in Northern Ireland and Wales don’t perfectly align. While high concentrations of English immigrants were what helped make some of the highest leave returns within Wales, some of the least immigrated-to portions of the country also saw leave majorities. North of Caerdydd, in the heart of Welsh coal country, immigrants from either elsewhere in the UK or the world are rarer than anywhere else in Wales. Those places form the backbone of the Welsh labor movement, which has fallen by the wayside of an inability to deliver equality and dignity amid deindustrialization. They voted last week to leave, in some places by margins not seen elsewhere in Wales.

smith.jpg
(W. Eugene Smith’s “Three Generations of Welsh Miners” taken in 1950 in South Wales, from here.)

This is the portion of Wales most directly invested in the social services of the UK. It’s their Labour votes which propelled the so far only Welsh prime minister, David Lloyd George, into office, in which he laid the groundwork for what would become the National Health Service (NHS).

Although the agitators who forced that and similar provisions through were Welsh, the past century since that has seen the best access to those services quite clearly be designed around locations in England, not Wales. Welsh coal country may not have the worst access to NHS facilities when compared to, say, central Wales, but it remains a pressing issue that they may be redirected to an NHS location in Caerdydd, if not England itself due in part to the lack of resources in Wales.

While the leave campaign led with a dogwhistle about the NHS with mixed results in many polls, one of the places that seemingly played best was among the Welsh especially in coal country. The EU has meant free travel for Irish, and a market for recently discovered mineral deposits for Scots, but it’s been seen as part of a broader disorientating restructuring of the Welsh economy.If anywhere saw a leftist euroskepticism, it was Wales.

The largest bloc of leave voters feeling bitter about suddenly reversed promises to increase NHS funding is undoubtedly the Welsh, and now EU development grants may suddenly dry up as well. Hitched, perhaps soon without Scottish or Irish partners, to an English-led “union,” for many in Wales the lofty question of national independence and the pressing reality of poverty won’t stay two separate discussions with two separate half-successful parties to vote for (Plaid Cymru and Labour respectively).

In a strange way, these Welsh voters helped sabotage the referendum and threatened their anemic local economies, yet may have just forced their nation as a whole to take a long hard look at itself. It’s difficult to picture a Welsh economy without the benefits of the EU, but perhaps a euroskeptical outlook is what might drive Wales to or even passed independence not just from Brussels but also from London.

While Ireland has seen conflict and Scotland has actually staged votes on leaving the UK, Wales has dallied in more gray zones of devolution and greater local autonomy. Tethered to a tanking UK economy, suddenly desperate for a way to outvote English people caught in a frenzy of xenophobia and imperialism reminiscence (that may very well turn on Welsh), and lied to about increased funding for social services – what part of all that tells Welsh people not to start thinking more drastically?

Last week’s vote revealed the several deep tensions within the UK. What’s easy to recognize is how there is already an independent Ireland (and a campaign for its expansion) and a Scottish Nationalist Party. This was blatantly a demonstration of how English people’s politics and theirs diverge. It’s harder to sort through, because it’s more effectively masked, but there’s a lingering echo of the same sentiment in Wales. Whether it can emerge into that level of separatism is a question only time will tell.

 

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Good news

Trigger warning: indefinite detention, electoral disenfranchisement, racism

The past few weeks have seemed like a bit of a parade of bad news – with Donald Trump’s ascendancy in the Republican primary among other worrisome events. Recently, however, there’s been a few small but significant changes that can give us hope.

Think of the children

After the number of unaccompanied children crossing into the US peaked in 2014, the public’s attention to the issue has steady declined. Even as fewer children have ended up in the overcrowded and dangerous detention facilities scattered across the southwest US, those already here have largely faced a toxic mixture of judicial neglect and increasingly unrealistic orders for them to leave the country.

A new report from Generation Progress touches on the issues that I and others noticed were looming problems just as the crisis began – that very few of these cases have assigned lawyers or even translators. Concerned Senators and Representatives have stepped in with new federal legislation requiring more extensive availability to those services as well as more thorough accountability for the agencies overseeing these detention facilities and court proceedings. Unfortunately, as long as the Senate and House are Republican-controlled, these reforms are unlikely to become law.

The day’s wages

In New York and California a similar tentative step forward, in this case on the minimum wage, has unfolded. In both progressive-leaning states with large labor pools, local activism was sufficient to push for incrementally raising the wage floor. In New York, the main determinant will be regional, with New York City proper seeing its wages move up the most quickly, followed by outlying parts of the urban center, and lastly other parts of the state. To a certain extent, that reflects cost of living, although across the state that will catapult minimum wage workers from $9 an hour into a more manageable economy. In California, the changes will be tailored more to the type of business, with smaller companies given slightly more time to adapt.

072814-minimum-wage_map
(Changes have so far been concentrated in states with minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage, however. Image modified from here.)

Many commentators have viewed this as a reflection of the populist politics fueling Senator Sanders’ presidential run, but the piecemeal approach in both California and New York is more reflective of the gradual and contextual increases advocated by Secretary Clinton. Far from outside of these policy victories, Clinton took part in the celebratory rally put on by New York Governor Cuomo in her adoptive state.

Who counts the voters

Whether at the state level or federally, these different movements aimed at improving the quality of life have relied on elected leadership. In short, they have needed at least the possibility of voters caring about these issues to motivate political action. The capacity for that to happen as evenly as possible with the population of a district was upheld 8-0 by the Supreme Court on Monday in Evenwel v. Abbott.

This case was launched by the Project for Fair Representation, which previously played a role in an unsuccessful challenge to affirmative action and a fruitful dismantling of the electoral pre-clearance system. The racial dimensions of their work are deliberate and striking, and Evenwel was no exception. The Cato Institute (known for its own relationship with racist, colonialist, and antisemitic ideologies) published a rather flowery amicus curiae on behalf of the plaintiffs in Evenwel where they argued-

Once again this Court finds itself at the intersection of the VRA and the Fourteenth Amendment. The parties here are caught in the inevitable trap of (1) maintaining majority-minority districts under complex, overlapping standards and (2) administering electoral schemes that do little to advance racial equality while doing much to violate voter equality— the idea that each eligible voter’s vote should count equally. In the background of this conflict, there lurks a cacophony of precedent and oft-conflicting court administered standards that have arisen from Section 2 cases. Basic constitutional guarantees of equal protection inherent in the Fourteenth Amendment— such as OPOV—are getting lost in this thicket.

Avoiding racial discrimination under these circumstances is particularly difficult in jurisdictions where “total population” and “citizens of voting age population” (CVAP)—standard metrics for evaluating whether a district violates OPOV—diverge due to varied concentration of non-citizens. As with the tensions amicus Cato has described before, jurisdictions navigating between the VRA’s Scylla and the Constitution’s Charybdis are bound to wreck individual rights—here, voter equality—on judicial shoals.

The reality that redefining electoral districts across the country by either eligible or registered voters would cast aside representation for people ineligible to vote or unregistered (who are largely people of color) is only indirectly considered. It’s framed as an unfortunate cost needed to make each vote cast equally contested by candidates – a pipe dream as turnout can easily inflate a given voter’s power or swamp their decision in a sea of others’. These organizations, all too recently comfortable with the legal realities of Apartheid, were pushing for a milder version of the same multi-tiered political system, where there are people represented and people beneath consideration.

Perhaps most tellingly, the case here sought a structural response to the reality that millions of people are disenfranchised – while being incarcerated (and depending on the state, afterwards as well), for being undocumented or otherwise non-citizens, or from the inaccessibility of the voter registration system. Instead of asking why those people are beyond the pale of electoral participation and what could be changed about that, it treated their exclusion as an accepted given to be worked around.

Luckily the Supreme Court saw things differently, and as the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund described it:

Upwards of 75 million children—13 million of whom are Black—not yet eligible to vote would have been counted out of the redistricting process had appellants prevailed. Indeed, appellants’ case threatened to take America’s redistricting process back to nefarious periods in our democracy similar to when Black people were counted as 3/5ths of a person for redistricting purposes and expressly excluded from the body politic.

The Court’s decision today vindicates the “one person, one vote” standard, which rightly takes into account Census-derived total population counts when apportioning voting districts. This standard has been applied universally for over 50 years by all 50 states and the thousands of localities within them. Moreover, this clear understanding of “one person, one vote” is already regarded as America’s “de facto national policy” in legislative redistricting, enjoying overwhelming, bipartisan support among state and local governments. Today’s decision reaffirms the guiding logic of this inclusive standard, which fosters access to electoral representation and constituent services for all people, regardless of race, sex, citizenship, economic status, or other characteristics, or whether a person chooses to or is able to vote.

That vision of participatory democracy is the engine that’s helping to drive these modest steps towards a fairer political and economic system. This newly post-Scalia Supreme Court has made clear that they favor that understanding of how this country could organize itself.

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Economic justice… for whom?

It’s one of the familiar just so stories about US politics that’s become crystal clear in recent decades. The Democrats want to maintain or even expand programs designed to provide economic resources and benefits to people with less. Republicans want to shrink or dismantle those types of programs. One party for workers, one party for the “1%”, so the story goes.

Even the candidates who look like exceptions – like Donald Trump with his promises to maintain social security and medicare – tend to ultimately reveal policy ideas that firmly locate them in the political party that they’ve already embraced (Trump, for example, thinks “wages [are] too high” – an implicit criticism of current minimum wage standards).

More interesting, I think, than those less easily categorized oddballs are the terms on which the debate between these two camps is being held. Economic redistribution and inequality are actually somewhat lofty, vague even, concepts. How to measure, to quantify them is an open question. The language tends to be like that in what I’ve linked above – a discussion focused on easily indexed numerical statistics: wages, entitlements, inflation, productivity, unionization.

That’s not a wrongheaded way of talking about who wins and who loses in the US economy, but it’s just one way of doing that. Unfortunately, it’s a way shaped by, and sometimes specifically for, articulating a particular group’s economic grievances. One of the easiest ways of seeing that is in terms of communities with large numbers of undocumented people – for whom income taxes are a murky territory and benefits exist in a similarly unclear limbo.

For largely Latin@ agrarian worker communities, how do you quantify being an exception to environmental regulations? For the far broader set of populations at risk of being targeted with detention or even deportation, how can that not be among other things an economic threat – both held over you by your boss and your landlord but also just ominously lurking outside your home, endangering everything you have.

2016-01-04_1015.pngLeft, 2012 chlorpyrifos use in the western US, from here. Right, a heatmap of Latin@s in the western US made using the 2010 census, from here.

The Bernie Sanders campaign has recently sought to highlight a difference between their candidate and Trump. Sanders is a meaningful, redistributive choice. Trump is manipulating some of those hoping for greater economic opportunity, without any intention to deliver on it. In order to prove that, the Sanders campaign has latched on to Trump’s comments on wages.

Why was that necessary? Trump has already spoken to a more wild set of economic policies designed to hoard resources for some. That’s one of the things inherent in his promise to deport millions of people. That is economic injustice, and it’s important to ask why it hasn’t been considered that by the largely non-Latin@ mainstream media or presented as that by the redistribution-centered campaign of Bernie Sanders.

Is the economic populism advanced by Sanders and tolerated within major media really for everyone? Whose concerns does it speak to? Whose concerns does it barely register?

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A tale of two Republicans

Kevin McCarthy, the first among many Republicans to be considered as a replacement Speaker of the House, has seen a new, formidable challenger appear: central Florida congressional representative Daniel Webster. Previously one of the leading contenders to unseat Boehner at the start of the current congressional term, Webster has again captured the attention of many in the most conservative Republicans with calls for less Party oversight in bringing bills forward and other legislative actions. In the wake of that, he has earned the endorsement of the Freedom Caucus – the closest bloc within the House to a third party.

A key thing to note within this process is that this borderline rogue faction within the House is not only approaching this with more preparation than ever before, but also hasn’t selected one of their own. As some have pointed out, Webster is virtually identical to McCarthy on policy, and his main criticism of the Republican Party is about its leadership and structural organization, not policy outcomes. I’ve pulled together a list here of recent and major assessments on a variety of issues to show just how similar their political perspectives are:

Rankings and Assessments

Assessing Organization Kevin McCarthy (GOP CA-23) Daniel Webster (GOP FL-08)
NARAL Pro-Choice America (2014) 0% 0%
National Right to Life Committee (2014) 100% 100%
Planned Parenthood Action Fund (2014) 0% 0%
American Farm Bureau Federation (2014) 50% 50%
Food Policy Action (2014) 17% 11%
American Farm Bureau Federation (2014) 50% 50%
American Library Association (2013) 22% 22%
Gun Owners of America (2014) 80% 80%
Hispanic Federation National Immigration Scorecard (2014) 59% 59%
Human Rights Campaign (2014) 0% 0%
American Family Association (2014) 75% 75%
Christian Coalition of America (2014) 90% 90%
FRC Action (2014) 75% 75%
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (2014) 36% 36%
Federally Employed Women (2014) 30% 30%
Concerned Women for America (2013) 92% 91%
American Civil Liberties Union (2013-2014) 0% 0%
AFL-CIO (2014) 0% 9%
John Birch Society (2014) 50% 60%
Peace Action West (2014) 9% 16%
Center for Security Policy (2013-2014) 9% 16%
Bread for the World (2013) 30% 20%
Drum Major Institute (2012) 7% 14%
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law (2014) 25% 20%
Competitive Enterprise Institute (2014) 100 100
FreedomWorks (2014) 52% 62%
National Taxpayers Union (2013) 68% 74%
Alliance for Retired Americans (2014) 10% 11%
National Education Association (2013) 0% 0%
NumbersUSA (2013-2015) 50% 93%
NumbersUSA (2011-2012) 57% 57%
American Immigrant Lawyers Association (2014) 33% 33%

(Sources: here and here.)

To a large extent, this makes sense when you think of McCarthy and Webster as products of their districts. Both presided over largely non-Hispanic White and comparatively rural sections of far more racially diverse and urbanized states. The leading industries of agriculture and tourism have become economically and socially invested in the presence of other ethnic and racial communities, particularly non-White Latin@s, for labor. As a result, they fall into a conservative business-minded fold of the Republican Party – in favor of a light approach towards immigration but not necessarily citizenship and amnesty for undocumented people. McCarthy’s district has a deeper structural basis in immigration workers and so he has been less able to tap into increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric the way Webster has in recent years. That shows in their diverging scores from NumbersUSA in recent years. That said, when it comes to organizations that care about the nuts and bolts of immigration policy, they’ve been given largely identical rankings.

What’s more, on virtually every other issue, they fall together – in favor of most military activities, of strict policing, restrictions on abortion, and restrictive definitions of marriage. All of that’s reflective of the largely non-urban, White, and middle class nature of their standard voter. Related to all that, the sizable presence of national industries like agriculture and tourism in their districts encourages them to hold a specific type of economic policy perspective. It’s one about maximizing profits within the existing economy, not radically restructuring the economy into a more ideologically conservative model.

All that said, McCarthy has failed to gain the support of the Freedom Caucus and most likely many unaligned House members who are similarly invested in a hyper-conservative outlook distinct from his and Boehner’s. Webster, equally an outsider to that faction, simultaneously has. He’s one that more conservative parts of the party believe they can effectively advance their policies under, largely because of his ideas on how to differently run the House. More than revealing something about Webster, this suggests something about the Freedom Caucus. For all their policy disagreements and protests, they have cast their lot in with the Republican Party and decided that they are Republicans after all. They will foment a fight within the party to decide how it will be run with clear hopes for how a different structure might allow different ideas to come out on top within the party. That said, they have decided to fight within the party, not against it.

As I’ve written before, the factionalism within the current Republican Party often leads to all of the uncertainties and instabilities of a more-than-two-party system but with all of the policy discussions third parties bring up being directly or discretely discussed. This is exactly that dynamic at work – a few opinion pieces from Freedom Caucus supporters have hinted at what policies exactly they want instead of those personally put forward by Webster, but a broader public analysis of how that group of Republicans differ from other groups hasn’t really happened even within conservative media circles. We have a House of Representatives that’s increasingly divided into factions that the average voter won’t be informed of. That doesn’t inspire confidence in our ability to make a decision about which groups we support and vote for.

The featured image for this article comes from here.

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Decoding dogwhistles

Trigger warning: racism, anti-immigrant violence, deportation, police violence, ethnic cleansing

On Tuesday, Donald Trump became frustrated at a press conference. To journalist and eight-time Emmy Award winner Jorge Ramos, Trump responded to a line of questioning about how on earth he was going to deport millions of undocumented people by saying, “Go back to Univision.” In case the thinly veiled language is able to pass you by undetected, one of Trump’s supporters confronted Ramos after he was expelled from the event and made it even more explicit.

“Get out of my country, get out.”

Donald Trump himself did say “Univision”, a Spanish language news network based in the United States, but the implications of it, that Ramos did not belong in the room, were heard loud and clear and seized on almost immediately by someone less able or willing to hide the nature of what was being discussed. That slipping of the curtain behind what Trump said and what others correctly heard him mean is not only a confirmation that “dogwhistling” – the use of subtle language to indicate support for unpopular and extremist groups – will continue to be a key part of the Republican presidential primary, but also a confirmation of what many had already suspected about the specifics of the anti-immigration animus currently propping up Donald Trump.

Jorge Ramos is a US citizen. While he was born in Mexico, he immigrated at the age of twenty-four with a legal student visa. The following thirty-three years of his life, he has lived in the United States first on that visa and later as a naturalized citizen. Whatever political stance you take on undocumented immigration isn’t a stance that at least personally implicates him, and yet, the language ultimately used to dismiss him is identical to that used against undocumented people. That’s because, for all the bluster about legality and criminality, Donald Trump’s campaign doesn’t care about documentation of immigration, they care about immigration, full stop.

In hindsight, this is obvious. In his announcement that he was running, Trump famously spoke with open hostility towards undocumented immigrants from Mexico, stating they were intrinsically criminal people guilty of not only failing to obey immigration laws but also habitually engage in various violent crimes. His description actually doesn’t connect what he sees as an anti-social nature among those immigrant communities to their undocumented status, but rather their national origin. “Mexico sends” them, is how he put it – technically including legally documented Latin@ immigrants like Ramos, who left his birth country after facing pushback for critical coverage of the Mexican government. While the focus is on what’s possible policy-wise to do towards the undocumented, the political desire clearly expressed targets all immigrants regardless of documentation status.

The anti-immigrant politics defining Trump’s campaign only become more obvious from there. The first of his rallies to attract the size of crowd first associated with Bernie Sander’s populist rhetoric was in Mobile, Alabama, where he appeared on stage with Senator Jeff Sessions. His host has previously used his weight in the Senate to upend proposals about legal immigration – essentially he’s opposed to immigration in any form. Trump has added him to his team specifically to design immigration policy for him. Tellingly, this is what the crowd that greeted the two of them in Alabama looked like:

trump in mobileFrom here.

Alabama is in many ways not just the type of place where Trump draws the largest support but also the kind of population that Trump wants to create with the policy of all undocumented people being “returned”. Years of anti-immigrant policies culminated in Alabama in 2011 with the passage of a strict profiling-encouraging law inspired by an Arizonan forerunner. As many news outlets noted at the time, one of the most immediate impacts on Alabama was that many neighborhoods were in essence ethnically cleansed. As the New York Times put it –

“By Monday afternoon, 123 students had withdrawn from the schools in [Albertville, Alabama], leaving behind teary and confused classmates. Scores more were absent. Statewide, 1,988 Hispanic students were absent on Friday, about 5 percent of the entire Hispanic population of the school system.

John Weathers, an Albertville businessman who rents and has sold houses to many Hispanic residents, said his occupancy had suddenly dropped by a quarter and might drop further, depending on what happens in the next week. Two people who had paid off their mortgages called him asking if they could sell back their homes

[…]

Rumors of raids and roadblocks are rampant, and though the new law has nothing to say about such things, distrust is primed by anecdotes, like one told by a local Hispanic pastor who said he was pulled over outside Birmingham on Wednesday, within hours of the ruling. His friend who was driving — and who is in the United States illegally — is now in jail on an unrelated misdemeanor charge, the pastor said, adding that while he was let go, a policeman told him he was no longer welcome in Alabama.

‘I am afraid to drive to church,’ a 54-year-old poultry plant worker named Candelaria said, adding, ‘The lady that gives me a ride to work said she is leaving. She said she felt like a prisoner.'”

For many this is perhaps a not terribly revealing moment, but this marks an opening in which the motivations behind policy are being revealed, making them visible for some for the first time. What Donald Trump is running is at its core an anti-immigrant campaign that is built to validate what was said to Jorge Ramos – that this is a White person’s country and not his. The basic idea that Trump’s campaign sells is that Ramos shouldn’t feel entitled to ask questions as a journalist, that Latin@ people shouldn’t feel entitled to drive or go to school otherwise exist in the US publicly, that Candelaria shouldn’t feel entitled to go to church. The targeting of the undocumented for deportation is just the most visibly violent part of the system he’s trying to set up.

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Jus Soli

Trigger Warning: racism, anti-immigration politics, deportation, antisemitism, antiziganism, fascism, The Holocaust, slavery

Last night, Melissa Harris-Perry filled in for Rachel Maddow on the latter’s nightly news program and brought to light a worrying political process happening within the Republican presidential primary. Before Donald Trump’s entry into the race, the immigration policies that dominated were variations on a light-handed approach designed to avoid alienating the increasingly nativist Republican base or the growing Latin@ share of the electorate.

His bombastic arrival stuck out so much because of its overt hostility towards Latin@ immigration, and his campaign has maintained its sizable lead by calling most recently to dismantle jus soli – the “right of the soil”, or in plain English that location of birth can create citizenship. Harris-Perry noted that the various Republican competitors looking to unseat Trump as frontrunner have decided to jump on board, at least becoming willing to consider dismantling the birthright citizenship system central to not only US law but also this country’s image of itself.

jus soli
This would make the US only the second mainland American country to not have total jus soli. In the above map the darkest blue countries have absolute jus soli, light blue with restrictions, and pale blue previously had and have since abolished. From here.

The inevitable question that dismantling jus soli as a legal principle leads to is this – what are we doing instead? The legal world by and large contrasts jus soli with jus sanguinis, the “right by blood”. There are fewer world maps of countries proudly proclaiming they maintain citizenship and related legal rights as a matter of bloodlines, and for obvious reasons. It’s generally a remaining legal practice from earlier, imperialistic, undemocratic eras.

Throughout Europe, jus sanguinis largely became practice as a way of retaining the citizenship of members of the same ethnic group, scattered across conquered holdings away from their nation’s core population. To the extent that jus sanguinis has a democratic history, it’s one tarnished in the long view of history. It echoes a kind of classical Athenian democracy, reserved for a minority of unenslaved men with the right pedigrees.

That notion of citizenship was the norm for most of democracy’s history in Europe, first under Greek and Roman governments that all steadily descended into a toxic mix of corruption and imperial ambitions. Those ideas about democracy later resurfaced with that particular legal quirk in the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment. The many ethnically German thinkers who saw the slow rise of a more modern nation-state out of feudal localism are often forgotten, but their ideas on citizenship left their mark on the Europe that emerged from the medieval era. While Immanuel Kant (although himself quite racist) viewed race as something historically gained and otherwise subjective and environmentally-influenced, later German philosophers like Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel developed the idea of a sort of objective ethnicity without complexity or question.

The path from those opinions to the (then) perpetual statelessness of Jewish and Rromani people was long and complex. But the idea that ethnicity is something objective, with no context, complexity, or ways of operating across otherwise distinct groups helped create the policy of total exclusion of those groups. It helped create a system for legally classifying them. It ultimately bears some responsibility for the violence against them that made possible.

Historically, jus soli also has its own skeletons of course. It’s popularity in the Americas is inseparable from its use under settler colonialism. That history, however, is complicated. The rights of the soil were systemically denied to large populations within the United States, namely to settlers of color, slaves, and indigenous peoples. That said, at many times jus soli was a legal concept used to press against those actions and to insure marginalized communities’ right to live as they wished within the country.

While the origins of birthright citizenship in the United States are complex, its current centrality to our legal system is a byproduct of Reconstruction. The Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship clause expands already present ideas about natural citizenship often tied into location of birth and declared that literally everyone “born or naturalized in the United States” is a citizen the same as everyone else. At the time, that was a radical statement of equality between former slaves and former slavemasters, but it has since evolved as a legal value that defines a central preoccupation in US law – our shared equality (at least in theory) before it.

Rooted in the national abolition of slavery, our brand of absolute jus soli has been a defining legal tool to expand denied rights to a wide array of disenfranchised groups. In short, the proud history of what it means to be a citizen of the United States articulated time and again by this country’s first president of color and the multiracial and otherwise diverse coalition that was key to electing him is impossible to fully separate from birthright citizenship. When we talk about the country we are becoming, we have to acknowledge the ways in which the expansive and unhindered practice of jus soli in the US has key in us going just this far. That is part of the context we have to understand the rising contempt for birthright citizenship as being at least in part within, a call for a metaphorical destruction of that new concept of what this country could be.

The featured image of this article is from a July protest against deportation policies that would separate birthright citizens from their parents, from here.

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Haunted by history

Trigger Warning: nuclear warfare, racism, genocide

The first Republican presidential primary debate will be held tonight at 6 pm Pacific / 9 pm Eastern. Much of the pre-debate analysis has so far emphasized the newly invented (and continuously updated) metrics for determining which of the seventeen major candidates could appear on stage and otherwise be as visible as possible. I won’t be able to livetweet tonight’s debate, and probably won’t even be available to offer any commentary at all while the debates occur, so I won’t be around to question and complicate that somewhat narrow focus on the debaters themselves. Instead, I want to ask a small thing of you while you watch it without me. Before the debate begins, meditate on two curiously coincidental anniversaries that fall on today of all days, and cast their long historical shadow on the current policy prescriptions of the Republican Party.

On August 6, 1945, the United States used the first atomic weapon ever used in wartime on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The vast majority of affected people were non-combative civilians, which by some estimates caused approximately 66,000 deaths in the initial blast. That fails to account for many of the deaths in the following months, form exposure and resulting poverty as well as from radiation sickness and related complications – but which are also estimated to number in the thousands.

The overwhelming nature of the death and destruction in Hiroshima (and later Nagasaki) is something that the United States has failed to fully grapple with, if the tantrum-like demands for a similarly apocalyptic war with Iran among some political figures is any indication. Instead, conflict and war has become almost an invisible backdrop of American life, shielding those who expect war without debate or question from criticism. US military deployment has become a perpetual state of being on multiple continents, seemingly without even a hypothetical end. As Guantánamo reminds us, this military infrastructure is often on other countries’ land, unwanted, and in some senses an occupying force. We have yet to fully break with this expansive militaristic tradition, but keep your ears peeled tonight to see how much the Republican Party’s major candidates want to reject the possibility of ever doing that.

On August 6, 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) into law, securing most particularly the rights of Black citizens of the United States of access to the ballot box, but giving similar protections to various other systemically disenfranchised groups – namely indigenous and Latin@ communities. Since then, these guarantees have come under an unforgiving cynicism from conservative figures either coordinating with or directly a part of the Republican Party. The aims are at times quite transparent, particularly in the less official political circles, where talk of “demographic winter” makes obvious the racist fears underpinning a large swathe of the conservative movement.

As the United States steadily returns to being, among other things, a less White country, there have been a number of political responses. Chief among them has been to softly roll back numerical presence as a force within our democratic system, most obviously by resurrecting voter suppression tactics common in places where the White population was a minority or a much slimmer majority than electorally desirable. Jim Crow and related policies of racist political, social, and economic control have not been dismantled fully, but the specific policies of the Republican Party have become ones designed to maintain what has remained and reconstruct what parts of those have been dismantled. Listen to hear the new, politically correct (or not so much) those policies will be discussed tonight.

hiroshima also vra(Left – Hiroshima after the bombing, Right – President Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr, and Rosa Parks after the VRA was signed. From here and here respectively)

So, on the night of the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and the 50th anniversary of the passage of the VRA help the phantoms those events raise haunt the Republican Party. As desires of military confrontation with Iran are raised, let the image of the shattered Atomic Dome rise in your mind. When talk of the need to protect the ballot box from voter fraud comes up, allow the pain of the tear gas used on those on the March to Selma pass over you. These are our ghosts, and we cannot will them away. Don’t help the Republican Primary brush them off either – either in how they talk about them, or refuse to talk about them altogether.

The featured image for this article is an drawn rendition of the Oglala Lakota’s Ghost Dance as performed at Pine Ridge in 1890, from here. There are many ghosts in US history.

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Say what you want to say

As I mentioned the last time I posted in – good lord – July, I’ve been reexamining a lot of aspects to how I put together articles here. At that time it was mostly about just how I drew on outside resources, specifically that I wanted to broaden my horizons in terms of what news sources I read, and as a result who shaped the meta-analysis that I tend to give here. Since then, I haven’t posted much because I’ve been a busy bee for other reasons, what with an internship at 429. That’s been a learning opportunity in a number of ways, but a key part of it has been changing how I look at the news cycle, and with that reexamining my writing tendencies and strategies.

On here (and even to some extent other places I write, even 429), there’s a driving sense to say something relevant. I can make decisions about what to talk about, but my choices should be comparatively narrowed to what other people are already talking about. Actually working in the media, not just doing what I do here, has taught me how nonsensical that is. Just take the example of the on-going detention crisis. You read that right, on-going. It might seem like the discussion on that is over, that presumably some sort of solution has been reached since the blanketing coverage from this summer has disappeared. The reality is, however, that the coverage of this issue has never reflected the reality on the ground.

The reality that many major news resources were late to the party in discussing minors being excessively and inhumanely detained was hinted at on shows run by some of the bigger names, such as MSNBC’s “All in with Chris Hayes” which acknowledged that other programs had long recognized that a refugee population had been created by instability in Central America. José Díaz-Balart, a dual MSNBC and Telemundo newscaster, was brought on to augment Hayes’ coverage, something of a nod to the face that many Latin@ news circuits had been discussing the militarized border and increasing reliance on detention systems for months if not years previously.

Since then, the Obama administration and a patchwork of legislators and administrators have cobbled together a family detention system, which attempts to create larger facilities, to at the very least not separate families within the process. Feminist media covered the ways in which these new systems have failed to recognize the often sexual violence many women and children were fleeing and even perpetuated those experience in new forms. Latin@ media likewise stayed atuned to the story. And even I covered some LGBT dimensions to it over at 429. One thing you’ll note about those articles other than mine is that they aren’t, like Chris Hayes’ segment, terribly reflective of prior coverage. Mine makes note of some of the last major news pieces that discussed the problem, while the other two almost exclusively focus on the policy on the ground, with media coverage having long since moved on to other topics.

news cycle
(“The News Cycle” – it doesn’t quite work like that.)

That’s not a fluke. What that’s a reflection of is how much major media’s focus is driven by other reporting, and how desperately necessary smaller and more “ideological” or “perspective-taking” reporters are to covering what’s happening in the world. As a news-watcher, you need to look for more creative and less responsive media as much as possible, and if you are a news-creator, you need to be very careful in what sources you draw from because some of them are already out of touch.

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The year that class apparently stopped mattering

TW: classism, racism, nativism

2012 was a fascinating year, especially from a perspective within the United States. There’s a long history of residents of this country telling ourselves that we’re a classless society, or failing that a country where opportunity is ubiquitous and untainted by social and political biases. Last year, and particularly the presidential election over the course of it, seemed like something of an abrupt end to that, with Romney’s 47 percent video solidifying class as inevitably one of the salient identities and the post-election analysis often becoming fixed on how rapidly support for the Democrat Obama transformed into support for the Republican Romney at around $50,000 per year per household in most states.

romney in a pile of money

(It was also a golden age of photoshopped images of Mitt Romney, for obvious reasons, from here.)

This past year something else happened, however, particularly in how the media analyzed issues. In short, class completely disappeared from the conversation. In some cases, the absence of class in how representative sets of groups were selected was appalling obvious, with Ron Fournier’s perceived look into the heads of current students he expects to lead the country in the future being a particularly vivid example. That the class of those he talked to (never even directly about the issue, it seems important to add) was a force that could bias them to a certain view on government was something Fournier never broached in his article. While he could obliquely reference their class status as easing their launch into “public service”, he couldn’t imagine it as something that shaped their opinions, their experiences, and ultimately their politics. It’s not that the economic system is invisible, just people’s status (that is, class) that apparently was to his eyes and ears. Likewise, the result was that the differing positions held by poorer young people weren’t considered.

Fournier was just an undeniable example of this phenomenon. Earlier in the year, in fact, Obama’s State of the Union address reflected a similar disrecognition of how his language divided immigrants into those that worked desired jobs and hence were imagined to be “highly-skilled” and even “entrepreneurs” and those that, ostensibly, are neither of those things as a result of them being unwanted. The reality that many undocumented immigrants are badly wanted as laborers by US-based businesses, but precisely because they can be exploited economically and socially, wasn’t acknowledged in the slightest. Much like the high school students with less affluent backgrounds, their reality (and hence, their political interests and needs) were outside of the discussion.

This failure to consider how class intersects with nearly all political issues didn’t merely erase poor people from the discussion, but actively distorted a number of historical figures records while they were remembered this year. From Nelson Mandela to Martin Luther King Jr, the class politics of a number of Black political figures were totally removed from public political memory, often as a part of otherwise remaking them into figures useful to White commentators. The former was done an additional disservice before his death, by BBC reporting that disregarded the economic reality of historical and modern South Africa, largely again by means of erasing the poorest residents of that country (who remain the indigenous Black communities) in order to make a political point that seemed stolen from White nationalists.

In a lot of formal and official discussions, 2013 was a year of class needlessly receding from the discussion, which often took any type of look at the beliefs, ideas, and even existence of the poorest people with it.

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Their motives

TW: racism, nativism, heterosexism

Alex Pareene over at Salon has an interesting piece up about why precisely the Republicans in the US Senate are egging on Democrats to choose between getting immigration reform done without provisions for queer families or making no progress on the issue at all. His take seems to be that the Republicans are opposed on the basis of three major, distinct issues: their contempt for their Democratic colleagues, their contempt for queer and genderqueer people, and their racism towards the undocumented specifically and immigrants generally.

While, I’ll grant Pareene that all of those forces can and often do operate individually, the last two seem uniquely capable of interacting in harmful ways that the Republicans would be particularly interested in exploiting. Yes, exploiting – as I mentioned above, this is very effectively dividing progressive organizers as an issue, with MoveOn putting out videos about why this and other issues need to be ironed out of the bill before its passage while America’s Voice is calling for people to thank Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) for guiding the bill through the editorial process as he did (while allowing the inclusive language he added himself to be stripped from it).

This has actually been an explicit goal of many overtly heterosexist groups for years now: to divide the modern progressive coalition into groups motivated by opposing the patriarchy (in this case, queer people) and those motivated by opposing White supremacy (in this case, predominantly Latin@s and other people of color). An inevitable outcome of that, of course, is that queer people of color and women of color are made uniquely vulnerable, as the political process is forced to choose between protecting them from racism or shielding them from patriarchal oppression. In this case, that’s the space many queer Latin@s find themselves in – as “burdens” for the at times gender normative reform movement to consider and tokens for the heavily White-dominated queer and genderqueer advocates to potentially extend a hand (maybe).


(A declaration of existence, from here.)

Beyond that gross game of divide-and-conquer that the Republicans seem to be playing, there’s also the simple question of why they’re permitting immigration reform to go through in the first place. As often mentioned here, immigrants are repeatedly asked to prove their usefulness or be worth the cost, which seems to tie into the current exploitative conditions many undocumented immigrants currently work within. Reform needs to have a proven benefit to non-immigrants to justify the loss of a “below the law” labor pool. But that labor pool has certain defining features – frequently they provide hard physical labor, which doesn’t mix very easily with frankly flamboyant stereotypes of queer and genderqueer people.

It could be a simple as Republicans thinking that there are no queer and genderqueer people within the labor pools they’re negotiating with.

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How wrong is the Heritage Foundation? Let us count the ways…

The Washington Post is usually not the best newspaper, but it’s not above some surprises. Last Monday, they printed an excellent rebuttal to the report co-authored by the obviously racist Jason Richwine, which really digs deep into three major intellectual failings in their report on the “cost” to granting undocumented immigrants amnesty and full citizenship. I don’t have the time today to do a proper post, so I’ll let this be a let-me-link-you that’s hopefully enlightening about exactly how wrong the Heritage Foundation’s report was.

To begin with, it’s not exactly a measurement of the cost of changing the millions of undocumented people’s statuses, so much as the larger macroeconomic effect. As a result, it has to at least roughly model the current economic circumstances in order to compare them with a hypothetical future where amnesty and citizenship have been granted to the vast majority of currently undocumented people. Except they make some questionable decisions about how to approximate both the current and that potential economy.

Starting with our world – they effectively pretend that the most regressive aspects of our tax system don’t exist. According to the Washington Post the study omits the “mortgage interest tax deduction, the charitable deduction, the employer health-care tax exclusion, the preferential treatment of capital and dividend income” among other “massive benefits” to primarily wealthy individuals. In short, they’re biasing their comparison by making it seem as though a disproportionate portion of public benefits in the US are paid for by the most wealthy in the United States.

That might seem irrelevant, but given how they presume much lower use of public resources by people who are currently undocumented, meaning that the wealthy who typically have legal residency statuses are presented as effectively covering the poor, but only those that also aren’t undocumented. In short, they’re creating the impression that our current fiscal conditions are much healthier than they actually are – with fewer people deprived of basic services or needs (by arbitrarily deciding that undocumented people don’t currently count) and more people contributed their personal reserves of wealth to public benefit (through a more progressive taxation system than we actually have).


(Unfortunately this is what’s actually happened over the past few decades, from here.)

Those deceptions alone would have probably undermined any meaningful conclusion from the comparison Heritage set up in this study. That said, they don’t leave it there – they also presume that extending legal residency status (and ideally citizenship) to currently undocumented people won’t result in them being able to access hiring paying work or more effectively lobby for better pay (among other economic benefits). The degree of ignorance that shows about how a lack of legal residency status is used to exploit people within the current economy is astounding.

The Washington Post actually points directly to one study, which points to a conservative 15 percent increase in average income and a less cautious estimate of a 25 percent increase, as a counterpoint to this categorical belief that the lots of the currently undocumented won’t be improved by amnesty or at least significant reforms. Between more immigrants reporting their incomes and those immigrants having more income in the first place, there’s a clear reasoning behind why changing their statuses would translate into some growth in the tax pool, which would potentially cover any increase in service use by currently undocumented people.

In essence, this comparison between the current economy and this hypothetical one “wrecked” by immigrants rests on three major misconceptions of how the world actually works. It’s working towards the conclusion that granting immigrants rights and privileges would be ruinous, which it can only support by presenting the status quo as healthier than it actually is and imagining amnesty as simultaneously resulting in a run on public services but no other major economic impact. My hats off to the Washington Post for actually getting into the details to how Heritage lied.

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And you’ll like it!

TW: anti-Roma violence

So a few people have been abuzz over the recent Hungarian constitutional changes. There’s pretty clearly a precarious political situation developing in that country, as the inability to use existing hate crimes laws to prosecute anti-Roma hate crimes shows (sorry it’s only available in pdf format). I have significant qualms about the agendas pushed at times by Der Spiegel (which has supported the politicized aid stipulations put upon Greece) and by Human Rights Watch (which had many high-ranking members lobby for the Iraq War), but their reporting puts together a rather worrisome picture of Hungary’s current trajectory. Ignoring their prescriptions to the problem (since both organizations have proven all too fallible in terms of determining the correct course of action), their descriptions (which are corroborated elsewhere) tackle very different dimensions of the developing problems.


(A 2012 vigil for a 2009 killing of a Roma man and his son in Tatárszentgyörgy, Hungary, from here.)

Der Spiegel’s coverage is quite clear: one issue is how Hungary is effectively creating an incentive for those educated there to stay and work there for at least a few years following their post-university entrance into the labor force. As Der Spiegel puts it, it’s a “measure meant to curb the emigration of highly-educated workers and academics”. That seems imminently reasonable for a comparatively small country with highly liberalized immigration laws that allow workers to be easily poached by other EU nations. The article briefly lays out a few other changes in the same section of new laws that the parliament has now effectively written into the constitution, but it doesn’t exactly dwell on their purpose or function.

That’s where the Human Rights Watch’s piece comes into play. It doesn’t actually examine the impacts on immigration much at all, and instead cuts straight to the heart of how life within Hungary will be impacted by the assorted other changes. In short, the results don’t sound very good. A few Fidesz (the currently governing party) officials have put out English language explanations which I won’t link to provide them any more coverage, but suffice it to say, they’re claiming that new language defining families with explicit references to sexual reproduction are no cause of concern for queer Hungarian families. They’re claiming that the Hungarian state’s preservation of a vague commitment to provide housing makes up for the de facto criminalization of homelessness. They’re pretending that preferential support of certain religious groups over others is something other than religious establishment. They’ve passed over the fact that among the new changes also allow the National Judicial Office to transfer cases (particularly political corruption cases) to inexperienced rural courts that are rarely reported on.

Many politically-active Hungarians have been raising the alarm for some time now that a tide of antisemitic and anti-Roma sentiment was rising, but that seems to have been part of a larger vision among conservative Hungarians of a better Hungary with “proper” families, no undesirable homeless, and no corruption (within eyesight or earshot). An apparent lack of Jews or Roma was merely one facet of how society needed to be reformed in their view. But what’s more, that vision comes along with laws designed to keep many younger Hungarians stuck there with them. You’ll partake in their utopia, and supposedly, you’ll like it too.

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The lack of space for queerness

Something quite terrible is going on within the struggle for queer liberation. That’s not a new idea. In 2011, Bell Hooks famously said that marriage equality was primarily rooted in expanding the number of couples that could share resources, access to healthcare, and other economic privileges, rather than actively fixing the problem that anyone lacks those resources or the ability to fully access them.

Spurred by the recent court cases in the US involving marriage laws, similar points have come up a few times. A popular response to the cissexist Human Rights Campaign’s campaign on Facebook explained that “marriage is often touted as important because it grants access to immigration, healthcare, etc. but … we really need immigration reform, universal healthcare” rather than a minimal expansion of access. In a similar vein, pictures from older protests have been shared anew which presented mutually exclusive options of legally recognizing queer marriages or dismantling the prison industrial complex.

prison_industrial_complex
(“Now that I can’t plan my wedding I guess I’ll just destroy the prison industrial complex.”)

I agree that these are vital points to make about the limitations of marriage equality. Much like the enfranchisement of male-female marriages, it assists very few people immigrate, access healthcare, or avoid unreasonable incarceration. But when the right of couples to “traditionally” marry (in a romantic sense that’s not much more than a century old) is raised, it’s seldom framed as a solution to systemic injustice with dimensions related to racial, economic, and other hierarchies. Rather, marriage is in part a means of regulating custodial rights, a person’s next of kin, and ceding right of attorney in cases of medical or other emergencies.

It seems necessary to ask why the recognition of (some) queer families needs to be justified by the solution of other broad, discriminatory policies that primarily relate to what we might call other modes of oppression. Should the Civil Rights Act have had to prove that it would have positively impacted queer and genderqueer communities? Should the Equal Rights Amendment have been expected to crack down on extralegal yet widely tolerated police brutality against people of color? The need for policies to acknowledge and examine intersectionality – that is, how a person can simultaneously be genderqueer, queer, of color, and female – is obvious, and policies should be criticized and avoided that reduce inequality in one of those fields but with extreme affects in others. It’s a few degrees removed from that, however, to expect improvements in one of those territories to actively resolve historied and systemic problems in another.

And again: what has created that expectation that legally recognizing same-sex and same-gender marriages is a remotely acceptable replacement for healthcare, immigration, and public safety reforms?

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The need to address Black Immigrants

TW: racist criminalization, nativism

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has decided to include on the short list of issues it will push for this year the overhauling of the existing deportation-focused immigration justice system, focusing particularly on the plight of Caribbean immigrants, who are often Black. There’s much that can and has been said much better than I could at the description of this decision and the motivations behind it over at Color Lines, but I think I’d just like to add one quick extra applause to the CBC for this one.


(Nicolas Stewart, 11, at his naturalization ceremony in Queens, in 2009. He was born in Jamaica. From here.)

In a very real sense, immigrants who are Black must struggle with the complex interaction of two distinct forms of racist criminalization. As immigrants, their very legal status can easily be declared “illegal” and deemed unfit to exist. As Black individuals, there’s a remarkable resilience to any claim that they’re criminal even when all indications point to other conclusions. It’s hard not to see these two distinct forms of racist belief in a criminal other fusing together and ruining lives with descriptions like:

David Pierre, a 47-year-old in immigration detention, says he doesn’t have that much time. Pierre was born in Antigua, moved with his mother to the US Virgin Islands when he was 2, and then came north to Jersey to attend trade school in the ’80s. He’s married and has six kids, two who are serving in the armed services. But for the last three years, Pierre been locked in immigration detention centers. 

In the ’90s Pierre was convicted of theft and a set of drug offenses including sale or possession in a school zone. He served two years in prison and was deported to Antigua. But Pierre came back—his family was here and he didn’t have anything in his birthplace. Although Pierre says he got his life together and court records confirm his lawful course, federal immigration authorities flagged him in 2009. As a result, Pierre has been in immigration detention since 2010.

‘I’m here for something like 20 years,’ says Pierre, who is fighting his case. ‘I paid my debt to society and I turned my life around and now I have this issue. I have a family here, my wife is here, everything I own is here.’

The CBC is equally focusing on fighting poverty and guaranteeing voting rights this year, both issues that are distressingly necessary to address at the present, but it’s refreshing that they included alongside those two the needs of Black immigrants as well.

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The consensus on immigration still sucks

TW: dehumanizing nativism, class inequality

The build-up to the State of the Union address last night is pretty easy to define by a single feature – conflict. There mere fact that the president is a multiracial man has already led to nearly five years of racist screeds like this one, and his speech on Tuesday was a very explicit reminder to Republicans that they hadn’t been able to remove him, even with every dog whistle in their arsenal. What’s more, Obama’s speech was responded to not by a unified Republican party, but officially by Senator Marco Rubio and unofficially by Senator Rand Paul. The situation isn’t just filled racially-tinged partisan tensions, but also infused with a battle between different stylistic branches of the Republican party.

Something remarkable happened last night though – all three speeches talked about immigration in much the same way. The  national discussion, regardless of whoever of those three is doing the talking, is still fixed on immigrants being politically sorted based on perceived “usefulness” to the United States. It’s probably not terribly surprising that Senator Paul said that Republicans “must be the party who sees immigrants as assets, not liabilities” but it is rather shocking to realize that seeing immigrants as subhuman investments is something lauded as pro-immigrant. That tells you something about both how accustomed we’ve become as a country to immigrants being commodified and how little it takes to be seen as praising immigrants.

But even from those we’ve been trained to expect policies that protect and empower immigrant communities, that sort of dehumanizing attitude crept into the open last night. Marco Rubio, whose grandparents left Cuba prior to the revolution, only briefly spoke about immigration policies, even if he extensively referenced his family history. He explained his position, saying,

We can also help our economy grow if we have a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world’s best and brightest. We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally. But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws.

While he does say that there should be some resolution of the undocumented status of many millions of people, he’s decided vague on what that should be. Likewise, he’s quite clear that he expects extensive security, but not terribly specific about what inadequacies have presented themselves during Obama’s presidency. Where he finally provides a clear and singular goal of policy is that our legal immigration system should allow us to attract those deemed useful to us on the basis of their skills and intelligence. It’s hard not to read this statement as implying a two-tiered system of easy access and immigration for those we deem worthy and a much more rigorous and arduous process if one at all for everyone else. It’s a bit strange to find such statements in an indictment that Obama is placing too much power in the hands of the government.

In any case, Obama is not much better, even after having made the Dream Act law by executive order, allowing thousands of undocumented immigrant children to naturalize as US citizens, provided they attend college or join the army. Again, on the margins, there’s a clear message that immigrants must be deemed useful to be granted privileges, like a legal right to live in what’s effectively their home country. His speech unfortunately was not much of a departure from that perspective.

In fact, Obama explained that he would continue his policy of all but militarizing the US-Mexico border and that naturalization for undocumented immigrants would only be possible as part of a larger plan that “includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.” His message was primarily about how little he would reform immigration to ease access to citizenship for those who wanted it, excepting that “real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods [and] reduce bureaucracy” in order to “attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.” There’s a bit of stunning classism buried in that statement, in that it ignores the millions of undocumented immigrants to do other work, from agricultural labor to cleaning homes and businesses to even building our infrastructure, that quite literally allows much of the United States function.


(Undocumented workers on a farm in central California, from here.)

Is the purpose of immigration reform really to only help immigrants who are “entrepreneurs and engineers”? Don’t the undocumented deserve dignity independent of their occupation? And doesn’t that entail listening to their needs, even if we think we don’t need them at all?

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