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April 30, 2006

Immigration: Standing Together to Fight a Wedge Issue

Marching and attending immigration rallies are the best way to support immigrant rights and stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who've come here from other countries, many of whom will be participating in a work stoppages at possible peril to their livelihood.  The more diverse the crowd of people who stand together tomorrow, the better it will be for those who could lose the most by standing up for their rights.  Tomorrow there will be a silent march from the park behind St. Mary's church in the central region (just south of Jackson and 20th) at 3:30 moving to the Federal Building in downtown Seattle for a rally starting at about 5:00.  Organizers ask that participants wear black.   

Standing together is also important as a means of thwarting the right-wing Republicans major wedge issue of the year.  Gwen Ifill ended Friday evening's "Washington Week in Review" with a report of a poll of Congresscritters about what issue they thought was currently most critical for their constituents.  The transcript is not yet up so I won't be able to be precise but the results showed something quite fascinating.  Republican Congressfolks said that their constituents felt that immigration, energy and the Iraq War were the three most important issues with immigration way out front.  Democrats said that their constituents said that energy, the war and immigration were the most critical in that order with immigration way down there.

Immigration is a callous wedge issue dreamed up by Karl Rove or one of his proteges that has damaging consequences for the lives of millions in this country, both illegal immigrants who are increasingly fearful of being deported and people of Hispanic descent who are increasingly being targeted by right-wing hate-mongers.    

This is an issue that is important for all of us, we just don't all recognize it yet. There are so many issues that can seem more important to us - the War, the fear of turmoil in Iran, global warming, economic calamity brought on by this administration, name it.  But standing in solidarity with our sisters and brothers targeted by the rise of this issue is something we can genuinely do something about.  The more people who turn out for the march and/or rally, the more protection we give the people whose livelihood and ability to live in this country are on the line.  The more we all remember that we are all in this together the more we can shift the national understanding of immigration rights.   

A few weeks ago Kathy Kelly and Jack Smith wrote a lovely guest column in the PI on the terrible tribulations the Irish faced in this country when starvation and economic necessity (and, I might add, British policies) forced them to flee Ireland. Since I know them both and Jack has been urging me to make use of what they wrote, I'll quote liberally from the section on the wedge aspects of the immigration bill pending in Congress.   

Now Congress may make things worse. With a stated aim of increasing national security, proposed legislation would create great difficulties for immigrants, and those who aid them, without increasing security.

House Bill 4437, which the House passed in December, creates a legal status of "unlawful presence" that would make felons of 11 million undocumented immigrants, legal visitors with temporary status problems and applicants-in-process. Until now, undocumented status has been a violation of immigration law, a civil penalty, but under this legislation it is an aggravated felony, which would subject immigrants to prosecution and immediate deportation.

If registering undocumented visitors and workers is desirable for national security reasons, HB4437 is counterproductive. It would permanently ban those registering from obtaining citizenship.

Remembering how Irish ancestors relied on the benevolence of others, it is distressing that HB4437 also makes a felon of anyone helping an undocumented person. Under an expanded definition of "smuggling," this legislation would make a criminal of any relative, neighbor, employer or friend who offers food, housing, job referrals or any type of assistance. A counselor who assists victims of domestic violence, a doctor who responds to a traffic accident, a volunteer working in a soup kitchen would all become felons under the proposed legislation.

HB4437 exploits the fears of Americans who worry about losing their jobs or being attacked by terrorists, but it betrays the very promise of America without increasing national security. Millions of people who entered the United States with no intention of causing harm will be subjected to harsh and biased treatment.

The entire article is great.  Jack adds in a personal email sent out to his many friends,

We need that R-E-S-P-E-C-T for everyone at the table. It is the grease that keeps the wheels from squeaking. Right now we are squeaking and loud. The people who are upset, including many of the politicians, are the very people who know in their hearts that they are uncomfortable because they know how unfair conditions are and that they can do something about it. They know that they kept people in poverty, hidden behind closed doors, so that only a few people know how people at the other end of the scale are forced to live. Now, they must face their indifference when they actually see people in the street. It is a two edged sword. First they must view real people's faces, if only on their 60" TV Set. Second, when they see the people in the streets, when they see the masses in other cities, they realize the Power, both economic and political, that our marchers represent. Behind the marchers are many times thaose people who only n eed gain only a little more courage to join us. The strength of our numbers will grow.

I've also been hearing about a wonderful civil dialogue that occurred last Thursday evening in Bellingham.  Rosalinda Guillen, a former farm worker organizer who now directs a local group called Community to Community Development, facilitated the event and representatives from the Whatcom County Democratic Party joined in as well.  More than 20 members of the vigilante group, the Washington Minutemen Detachment, were in attendance, out of a crowd of about 200.  Guillen welcomed the Minutemen members for coming to participate, saying that was the American way of dealing with problems.  Most, if not all, of both the designated speakers and speakers from the audience were in favor of immigration rights.

The Bellingham Herald wrote about the meeting beginning with Guillen's approach:

She said advocates of humane immigration reform are not calling for blanket amnesty or open borders.

But those who would take a simplistic approach involving tougher laws and mass deportation should consider the complexity of the issue and the interconnections between immigrants, legal and illegal, and U.S. economies and communities, she said.

The Minuteman approach, focusing on border enforcement, is “a distraction from some of the bigger ills in this country,” Guillen said.

Also present at the meeting were Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo who reassured the community that they were keeping tabs on the Minutemen but had not found that the group had broken any laws.  He also pledged that his officers would not be checking the immigration status of people who report crimes.  The Bellingham Police Department made a similar pledge, saying their officers would not make it their job to enforce federal immigration law and said they wanted to make it clear that they would not allow immigration issues to get in the way of more important law enforcement tasks.

All in all, makes me appreciative to be living in this area.  Hope to see you at the march or rally.

Posted by Lynn Allen on April 30, 2006 at 11:08 PM in Washington Culture | Permalink

Comments

Thanks for reporting on this -- and on the Community to Community meeting.

I didn't know about the rally, but will try to make it today.

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | May 1, 2006 10:43:08 AM

"Immigration is a callous wedge issue dreamed up by Karl Rove..."

If you truly believe that then the Democratic Party is in even bigger trouble than I had thought.

Good-bye and good-luck. No, scratch that latter.

Posted by: David Sucher | May 1, 2006 4:50:05 PM

If Rove dreamt up that scenario, then Rove, not Bush, is the true RINO (although, quite frankly, both of the major parties benefit from instituionalized slavery). Remember that there's at least three views on this issue - the conservative/labor union coalition demanding that American workers be protected from depressed wages, and that foreign workers be protected from slave conditions; the Bush/McCain/Kennedy view that depressed wages are OK if the foreigners "earn" their citizenship; and the third view of no restrictions on immigration into the U.S. (but continued restrictions on immigration into other countries as described below).

There is also a great deal of racism on this issue. People demand that the United States pay a living wage and that they don't classify illegal immigration as a felony, but do not hold browner nations to the same standard. This perpetuates the rich/poor divide that has continued to divide the world, and until the U.S. lowers its minimum wage to five dollars a day, or Mexico raises its minimum wage to five dollars an hour, institutionalized inequalities will persist.

Posted by: Ontario Emperor | May 1, 2006 5:16:07 PM

David,

I should have been more precise. I expect that the Rovians picked up on the power of the immigrant/protect our borders issue to a certain segment of their base and then intentionally inflamed it. It is a perfect way to keep that same segment distracted from the economic issues that many of us think would shift their political focus.

You are widely read. Have you read the essential book on Rove - "Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential" by James Moore and Wayne Slater? If not, I highly recommend it. If you would like, I wrote a 9-page summary of the book and would be happy to send it to you.

That offer is good for any readers. Contact me at LynAllen@aol.com

Posted by: Lynn | May 2, 2006 6:31:57 AM

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