A Sketch Towards Immigration Reform

Above: Naturalization ceremony for U.S. Service Members, 2010

On March 6th, 2018, Jeff Sessions — the Attorney General of the United States — turned to the rhetorical specter of the Mayor of Oakland lingering in the room after the latter had issued a warning to her constituents regarding a possible raid by ICE and asked, “How dare you?

Indeed — how dare the Mayor of Oakland warn the community of a possible raid when one woman detained by ICE has spent up to 60 hours in solitary confinement in response to claims she recant her experience of sexual abuse; when 92 immigrants were left shackled on a plane for two days in ‘Slave Ship’ conditions; when someone was deported because they got into college; when border patrol agents kick over bottles of water left for immigrants; when a pregnant rape survivor was detained for six months (and where a spokesperson said to one reporter that the organization doesn’t detain pregnant women); when someone who served two tours in Afghanistan and has two children is detained and faces deportation; when immigrants with no criminal record are seemingly arrested and deported for their activism; when fathers are arrested after dropping their children off at school; when two year-olds are interviewed; when a seven year-old is detained for four months, separated from their mother; when a man whose wife has cancer will be deported, leaving him unable to take care of her or their two children; when someone can be labeled as being part of a gang when all that’s known about them is that they entered the country illegally; when immigration agents staked out the hospital room of 10-year-old undocumented girl with cerebral palsy; where “at least 20 immigrant women held at a San Diego, California ICE immigrant detention center fainted or vomited after a floor stripping chemical overwhelmed a unit”; where a mother is detained after attending a meeting to apply for citizenship (which is a pattern repeated elsewhere); and where neighbors are encouraged to snitch on each other for reasons that don’t necessarily seem to have grounding in the law.

How dare she get in the way of any of that? How dare she not unambiguously endorse this? How dare the writer of this piece engage in such a transparent piece of rhetorical maneuvering that someone even vaguely familiar with the shape of modern political rhetoric could see it coming from a mile away?

Immigrants do not currently make up the majority of any workforce in any industry in America. As noted in a footnote in an article concerning policing immigrant communities (see 103), the presence of immigrants causes crime to drop in neighborhoods. Despite this, the current immigration plan of the current occupant of The White House would keep whites in the U.S. majority for up to five more years. Given Xi Jinping signaling an interest to be President for life and the research that compares the economy of an autocracy versus the economy of a democracy and how that pairs itself with the economic value an immigrant brings to a society

Immigrants from across the skills spectrum contribute economically and are often highly sought after to fill critical gaps in the labor market. Immigrants are also more likely to start a business than nonimmigrants. Consider a Fiscal Policy Institute report indicating that small businesses owned by immigrants employed an estimated 4.7 million people in 2007 and were generating more than $776 billion annually. Some studies have correlated increased immigration with increased earnings of American workers. Other research has documented immigrants’ significant purchasing power, which translates into more demand for local consumer goods. Moreover, by helping to balance the ratio of workers to retirees, immigrants give cities and the nation as a whole a structural advantage over many trading partners. And immigrants’ home purchases have helped boost housing prices.

— I would argue that it’s worth leaning on the success inherent in an immigrant’s contribution to society rather than risk the innumerable ills that can befall a society by pursuing autocratic steps with the hope that the country might achieve some kind of China-like growth. To place a bet on immigrants is to place a bet on the success of the United States in the 21st century.

Because — as the research shows — even though the economy of an autocracy might on occasion grow faster than a democracy, the difference in political systems isn’t the reason why that happens — and there’s a not unreasonable chance that the autocrat(s) might screw the system up in the process, too, thereby rendering the possibility of economic gains moot.

How do we go about achieving immigration reform in the United States so that immigrants can contribute? I would argue that — for starters — the scope of criminality as defined in The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 should be revisited and revised. As noted in an article that’s been cited already

Immigration crimes like illegal entry and reentry did not exist before the 1980s, but since 2004 they have ‘topped the list of federal prosecutions.’ Since 2009, they have constituted more than half of the entire federal criminal docket.

To revise the scope of criminality is a step towards creating a saner immigration system, takes a step towards achieving a more humane immigration system, and would also free up federal dockets so as to provide greater access to due process than might otherwise be available.

Given this, it seems reasonable to continue to pressure Congress to pursue something in the macro (consider the action that’s been taken by groups like United We Dream), as a federal-level consolidation would clear up numerous points of tension. At the micro level, it’s necessary to continue to argue against United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, Melendres v. Arpaio, Int’l Molders’ & Allied Workers’ Local Union №164 v. Nelson, even though United States v. Montero-Camargo is on the books. It’s also perhaps worth considering what Rick Su recommends here — that is, to consider …

… dismantling the legal distinctions that deny cities a policymaking role in immigration. This may involve narrowing the scope of federal preemption when immigration laws intersect with areas of local concern [though that may be difficult, given 28 U.S. Code § 1251 — EF], or limiting the extent to which the federal government can displace local policies concerning their involvement in immigration enforcement. We might also give cities a formal seat at the table when deciding how immigration will be enforced in their communities. Even if not legally required, we should recognize that local leaders can be valuable partners and meaningful voices in how our immigration system is designed and how its enforcement is carried out.

Cities will play a major role in global civic life as the 21st century continues. To follow such an approach as recommended by Rick Su could very well serve as a necessary step in stripping the seemingly punitive racial animus inherent in Sessions’s rhetorical question to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf away.

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