What makes US Immigration laws unjust?

Benjamin asked on the recent blog regarding the ICE raid on Howard Industries what makes US immigration laws unjust?  It is a good question.  It is also a difficult question to answer because there are so many nuances to our legislation that places layers and convolutions to the process that immigrants have to go through to become citizens here. 

I am not an expert on immigration law. I am a minister so my answers will be based on my perceptions as a minister within the Unitarian Universalist liberal faith.  Prior to becoming a minister, I did advocacy work for AIDS education and prevention in undocumented communities in Connecticut.   This is the lens through which I see my world and more specifically this issue. 

Because this is such a convoluted and complex issue, I will just look at the recent example at Howard Industries to describe why this aspect of the immigration laws is unjust. 

First the employer rarely faces any consequences while the employee is deported. This is based on federal laws.  It has been suggested by one of the commentors on the blog about the raid, that it was doubtful that Howard Industries would be charged for hiring undocumented workers under the new MS Employment Protection Act.   The reasons given are interesting ones but highlight the injustice if this scenario unfolds.  According to the commentator, Howard Industries is too important a corporation to Mississippi to be prosecuted under this new law.   If this is true and Mississippi does not enforce the law recently passed, then this proves this law is unjust because some employers would be exempt from its reach.  It also proves that Mississippi’s legal system is corrupt and also unjust to allow the law to be ignored in favor of such an important contractor.  If laws cannot or will not be fairly applied across all corporations that are impacted by it, then the law is biased in its creation and is aimed at a different segment of the population.  Say perhaps minority owned corporations? 

The law passed mandates that employers use the E-Verify system.  This is a national data base that allegedly has screened legitmate social security numbers against falsified ones. It also screens official green cards  against forged green cards.  I say allegedly because this system has been noted to be full of holes which showed up when the program was piloted in 1997.   These errors were never corrected. 

In the book, The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers by Jane Guskin and David L. Wilson, they quote Amy Sugimori of the National Employment Law Project summary of two independent surveys done for Homeland Security.  The E-Verify program, then known as the Basic Pilot Program, Guskin and Wilson quote Ms Sugimori as stating this program, “jeopardizes employee rights as defined by fair information standards” and could result in ” growth in the underground economy, which could lead to worker exploitation and related problems.” 

We have already seen the growth in the underground economy.   Many of the commentators on the ICE raid blog stated that the undocumented employees were paid sub wages for their work.   If this is true, then this would be an example of the growth of the underground economy.  Employers hire undocumented workers for less wages under the threat of deportation if they complain or organize for their labor rights.  Employers use existing anti immigration laws to exploit undocumented workers by stating they are taking a huge risk in hiring them. 

There is erroneous thinking that if we make life difficult for undocumented workers that they will not settle here and leave.  This was certainly the thinking of some legislators in the capitol when the MS Employment Protection Act was being discussed.  Mississippi has encouraged ICE agents to make it clear that undocumented immigrants are not wanted here.  Mississippi has averted its eyes to ICE agents entering public restaurants with guns brandishing in the air and rounding up anyone who “looks”  foriegn, regardless of citizen status.  The raid in Howard Industries was done with huge flair and dramatics of ICE agents helicopting in with guns.  It was done with one intent…  to instill fear.  These tactics are only done in the most repressive of regimes and to have them done here is a sign of something far more sinister afoot. 

Unfortunately, many undocumented workers have been living in far greater fear for decades in their home countries where repression, economy, and government bullying tactics are far worse.  America still remains a better place to be even with our unjust behavior towards them.  Equally unfortunate is that enforcement procedures is a recently revived and strengthened money making industry.  Boeing received a 2.5 billion contract to set up a highly sophisticated surveillance system.  Contracts like these means that larger corporations are going to be lobbying for increased immigration enforcement legislation in Washington because anti-immigration laws means money and lots of it.   This is another injustice as a result of immigration laws.  Corporations taking advantage of repressive and oppressive laws to increase their wealth and keep the poor, poor. 

The United States has had a love/hate relationship with Mexican immigrants for the past century or so.  In early 1917 the Immigration Act  shut the door to Asians but opened the door to Europeans who could pay a “head-tax” and pass a literacy test.  When the US entered World War I, agricultural centers were complaining of a shortage of farm laborers.  The US suspended its head tax and literacy test and invited Mexicans to come and provide farm labor and a few other labor areas.  When the depression struck, Mexicans were seen as taking jobs away from citizens and thousands were deported even those who were now legally citizens.  World War II created another labor shortage and once again, Mexico was where America turned to help with their labor shortage.  This program called the Bracero Program was filled with corruption.  The wages were held in escrow and mysteriously never made it to the employees when they returned to Mexico.  There is still litigation being sought in Mexico and in the United States to recoup these earnings.   In 1954 another wave of deportations occurred, Operation Wetback.  Thousands of people were rounded up simply because they looked Mexican.   So it seems what is happening today is a repeat of our love / hate relationship with Mexican people.  We love Mexicans when we are in need of laborers, we hate Mexicans when that need is over.  Another injustice of our immigration laws as they seem to be created to only serve the whims of our desires and not what is best for all people. 

This is only a thin slice of what I see as injustice in our immigration laws.  There are many many examples.  NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, has contributed substantially to the immigration woes this country faces.  But that my friends is another blog. 




  1. I do not understand what makes illegals so much better than my grand-parents. They came thru Ellis Island after waiting months to come to America. My grand mother refused to teach me Italian so that I would become an American of good standing????????

  2. Harry: Is this what you are reading in my text–that undocumented folk are better than documented folk? I apologize if somewhere in the sub-text you thought that is what I was stating. Justice is not about being better than another, rather it is about recognizing there but for the grace of God go I and then responding as if it is I.

    Imagine how much more difficult it would have been for your grandparents if they were here as undocumented people, wanting the same things for your parents and you. Or say they were documented but from Latin America instead of Italy, and being harrassed by ICE agents simply because they look and speak like people who might be undocumented. They would have been among those rounded up at a Mexican Restaurant in Jackson, MS when ICE agents came in brandishing guns in the air. They would have been among those arrested at Howard Industries when that ICE raid occurred. They would have been released so no harm done right? Sorry to say, the harm was done already. Instilling fear is the purpose for these kind of actions by ICE not the removal of undocumented people. Even if a Latin American family was documented and had to endure this kind of inhumane treatment it would erode the spirit and character of a person. It creates an injustice and sets a precedence that could be applied to all of Americans that step on the wrong side of favor with the government.

  3. “First the employer rarely faces any consequences while the employee is deported. This is based on federal laws.”

    Yesterday 9/30, a federal judge fined a Louisiana company $750,000.00 for employing 12 illegal alien. There are four businessmen in Lake Charles, who in all liklihood will be serving major prison sentences by the end of the month. That argument just does not hold water.

    “The law passed mandates that employers use the E-Verify system. This is a national data base that allegedly has screened legitmate social security numbers against falsified ones. It also screens official green cards against forged green cards. I say allegedly because this system has been noted to be full of holes which showed up when the program was piloted in 1997.”

    I know numerous business owners who use this system and it works. I do not knw where you have gotten your information but it is inaccurate.

    ” Mississippi has averted its eyes to ICE agents entering public restaurants with guns brandishing in the air and rounding up anyone who “looks” foriegn, regardless of citizen status. The raid in Howard Industries was done with huge flair and dramatics of ICE agents helicopting in with guns.”

    Again, I believe you are embelishing facts to accentuate a point, but the inaccuracy of your statements is astounding. ICE does not go around rounding up individuals on looks. If the agents are there you can be fairly sure they have a reason. As far as Howard Industries, I can say for a fact, that while helicopters were used for observation, this adds a measure of safety for the agents who cannot see everything, there were NO agents jumping out of Helicopters with guns.

    Imagine how strong our economy would be if we had 12,000,000 fewer individuals syphoning tax dollars for free healthcare, education and public assistance. While you are shedding a tear for those who have broken our laws, try shedding one for the citizens and legal immigrants who are working everyday and paying thier fair share of taxes to support individuals like the illgal alien from Guatemalan in Florida who after being drunk and falling from a vehicle had run up such a huge medical bill (in excess of $1,000,000), that it was cheaper for the hospital to charter a jet and bring him back to Guatemala than hope he decided he was ready to leave. We did not force these people to break our laws, so why do you think the brave men and women who enforce them are so evil?

  4. USCitizen: Point # 1: Thank you for siting businesses that are receiving consequences for hiring undocumented immigrants. I am glad to hear that as it is certainly far more just than just penalizing the employee.
    Point # 2: My source is based on a report to Congress on the E-verify system that is quoted in the text I state up above. I did not say that it does not work at all, I said it was full of holes and therefore mistakes are made. Perhaps it is better than no system at all, but the errors in the program need to be fixed.
    Point # 3 I did not say the ICE agents were jumping out of the Helicoptors, you did. If you are going to quote me than do so accurately. I said they helicopted in. AND they did come in Helicoptors, not all of them and perhaps they were there as you said for safety measures but perhaps it was also an unnecessary fear tactic.

    Point # 4A: I don’t believe that our current economic crisis can be blamed on undocumented immigrants. Interesting tactic, however, blaming a group of people for our own failures. A tactic that was used in an earlier regime that we overthrew in the 1940’s.

    Point # 4 B: I do shed a tear for America. I shed a tear that the greatest nation in the world cannot seem to see its way through to providing sufficient health insurance to the working poor. I shed a tear for their inability to make ends meet even if they have insurance because in order to pay the deductibles they have to choose not to pay their rent or purchase food. I shed a tear for the hard working citizens that have been hoodwinked into thinking they could afford a mortgage just so the corporate giants of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could expand their wealth. And I shed a tear for our soldiers who only seek to serve our country that in their desire to do the honorable thing were deceived into fighting a war that had no business being fought. O trust me, I shed plenty of tears for our country.

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