Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Immigration Reform in the US – Let’s Not Forget, Immigrants Are Human

On Tuesday President Obama spoke to a high school in Las Vegas about immigration reform that can’t be put off any longer, and the proposals a bipartisan group of Senators had presented to him the day before. He agreed with most of the points but also said that if Congress delays on their response he will put forward proposals of his own and call for a vote.

Richard Quest, speaking to Julie Myers Davis, former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security, ICE, on Quest Means Business, Jan 29, said “let's be realistic. There is no way that the Republicans are going to give a Democrat president at this particular point in the -- who's already -- who's already routed them on the budget and the fiscal issues, another victory on immigration.”  

Julie Myers Davis didn’t agree, although she deftly avoided saying anything directly committal about what she would like to see in reform.  She spoke about something real needing to be done and parties putting aside their differences. Which has become Republican-speak for ‘why won’t Obama let us have our way, the selfish bastard’.

But New Jersey Democrat Senator Robert Menendez said “Democrats want it. Republicans need it” which pretty much sums up why reforms are likely to happen this time round, and why Congress isn’t going to win this round if they put up too much resistance.

It’s a pity that humanity and good sense won’t be the driving force behind the Republican change of heart. That it won’t means trouble down the line for them because they will revert and make life as difficult as possible for present illegal immigrants as soon as they think they can get away with it. But that won’t affect the immediate outcome.

In his speech yesterday President Obama pointed out that once all Americans were immigrants escaping persecution or an impossibly difficult life, looking for something better. A point that seems to be lost on the people who are so passionately resistant to any kind of reform that gives undocumented immigrants legal status.

At the same time that President Obama’s speech was being aired on CNN, Christiane Amanpour gave this issue a human face, by talking to an 11 year old boy Jose Garcia Ramirez, born in the US to a father from Guatemala who is illegally in the country, and to Viridiana Hernandez, a Hispanic college student from Arizona who is also undocumented, and who fights for immigration reform as an activist.  Both of their stories were difficult to hear.

Jose’s father was torn from him by members of ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) – wearing jackets bearing the logo, surely something to fill any illegal immigrant with terror - when he was getting into the car to take his kids to school. The cruelty of that is beyond measure. The children were traumatized, and watching a distraught Jose talk about it, trying not to cry, trying to be brave, was heartbreaking.

He said his father was supposed to have been deported that morning, but so far he hadn’t been. The game ICE played with that family was like executioners standing with their guns pointed and firing blanks at the last moment, but with the threat of the next time firing real bullets. Jose and his family are left without means of survival beyond their community, as the father was the breadwinner. 

Veridiana’s story, although she wasn’t facing immediate trauma, was equally shocking. She spoke of how she grew up with constant humiliation and being treated as if she didn’t deserve respect, as if she was worthless and stupid. Despite that – and that she faces the danger of being deported every day of her life – she has grown up to be a remarkable, beautiful young woman, courageously fighting for her own rights and those of her community.

Perhaps Jose’s father will get amnesty, because of the publicity, and that will be a wonderful thing. But what about all the other lives that get smashed up every day by a system that parades as being there to protect the American people but is partly driven by plain old racism and fear of people losing a world that’s familiar, a world that gives them a sense of knowing who and where they are, a feeling of being safe. A world they know somewhere deep within that they can’t hold onto. 

Just like Facebook’s options for relationships, ‘it’s complicated’. But the meanness of some Americans, the ease with which they shut off their humanity, and the cruelty of their behavior towards undocumented immigrants makes it so hard to have any compassion for them. Added to which, many of those immigrants are doing work that their employers think is beneath them, often being paid dirt wages by the very people who despise them so that the latter can sustain a certain lifestyle that contributes to their own sense of self worth. 

Here’s the thing; when we lose our humanity, we lose the plot for ourselves and our dignity is under seige. In the end we suffer at a core level. So in a way those Americans who are so resistant to immigration reform are kind of being rescued from themselves by shifting demographics that are out of their control, and by a President who has won enough battles with Congress to have shifted the power. Good guys sometimes win.

Images in the Public Domain: President Obama, Christiane Amanpour (juxtaposed J. Stewart)