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.