Tag Archives: Obama

  • Border Crisis?: "I'm going to get to that"

    In 2010, we published Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTA by Ronald L. Mize and Alicia C.S. Swords. With all of the media coverage this summer of events along the US-Mexico border, and with the upcoming midterm elections, we thought it was a good time to provide an update to the material covered in the book. Author Ronald L. Mize contributes the following on immigration reform and moral panic in the United States.

    Consuming Mexican Labor

    The deflated hopes of immigrant activists and pro-immigrant legislators have again received center-stage attention: this time at the recent Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Awards Gala. Contemporary immigration politics were best summed up by President Obama’s response to an audience member calling on him to stop the deportations. “I’m going to get to that,” he said.

    Comprehensive immigration reform is something that Washington has promised to “get to” since the Bush II era, even though a very broken US immigration system has not received serious reform since 1986.

    The recent high profile events along the US-Mexico border have given journalists and political opportunists the moral panic they so desire to increase their ratings and raise fodder for the 2014 midterm election campaigns.

    Earlier this summer, US media consumers were introduced to a new label that immigration governance regimes have been deploying for several years now: “unaccompanied minors.” Many youth (some estimates exceed 50,000) fled poverty and violence in Central America and entered the United States. Ages varied, but the main story focused on the fact that children, increasingly 12 or under, were traveling without parents or other adults. Not a new story to immigration experts, but the size of the population created a great deal of controversy that was fueled by conservative news media characterizations of Obama’s failed policies, policies that supposedly made it attractive for children to leave their families and take advantage of US social services. One Fox News report characterized the South Texas border as an “endless wave of illegal immigrants” and then went on to identify an unnamed source, saying many were disease ridden.

    The wave of anti-immigrant hysteria and ensuing moral panic peaked in July as coverage of a bus load of unaccompanied minors were met by protestors in Murrieta, California, where hatred was given voice when a white mob turned on a bus transporting Central American minors to a detention facility. The juxtaposition of very young children being met by angry adults blocking entry to a detention facility illustrated the ugliest of anti-immigrant fomentation and signaled for many a death knell for “compassionate conservatism.” Nothing short of full-scale immigrant removal, and a closed Southern border, would appease this far Right bloc.

    Let’s make something perfectly clear: nobody with power in Washington is going to “get to that” if the goal is to get at the root of the problem and offer an actual solution to the immigration morass. We have a system, using criteria established in 1965, which does not reflect the immigrants this nation recruits to do the work Americans are so averse to doing (and are equally dependent upon for their standard of living and way of life). Those two criteria—job skills and family reunification—are the only two reasons for which immigrants are authorized to enter this nation (I’m barring discussions of lotteries and other cumbersome bureaucratic processes that bring miniscule numbers to the ranks of US citizenship).

    The only people hurting from Washington’s unwillingness to “get to that” are the millions of dislocated families who have no legitimate pathways to US citizenship, and who face backlogs and wait times now in the decades (so much for reunifying families). If you are David Beckham or a NAFTA corporation executive, the immigration system works. For the millions lacking fame and capital, going to the end of the line is a multi-year process that costs thousands of dollars to navigate. Without the right job skills (i.e. those deemed scarce), or direct family connections, there is simply no way into the current immigration system.

    The Obama administration was preparing to take executive action, but was derailed by its own party. The early midterm election strategy was to embarrass a do-nothing Republican House of Representatives and assuage the “Deporter-in-Chief” characterization that Latino and immigrant rights groups have attached to President Obama’s record (he has overseen more deportations than any other president). That strategy resulted in vulnerable Democrats asking the administration to defer action (a Democratic mantra these days) until after the midterm elections so executive action could not be used against them by their Republican challengers.

    There is no question that administrative relief is coming and the deportations of those deemed lawful residents will stop by the end of the year, entirely too late for the president to alter the “Deporter-in-Chief” label he has earned for himself. Classes of immigrants will be allowed to regularize their status and start the long road to citizenship. This will be a boon for immigrant service providers and immigration attorneys who, much like in 1986, will do the work of handling the cumbersome paperwork and steering would-be citizens through the bureaucratic process of becoming a US citizen.

    Businesses are happy as, by and large, they have figured out the system and are rarely held culpable for “knowingly hiring” undocumented workers. Their absconding of responsibility is coupled with the fact that workplace raids are exceedingly rare. We have an immigration regime where really only one group pays for all the problems in the system, the immigrants themselves. It is immigrants who experience deportations and whose families are ripped apart, who live under the constant fear of not having papers, drive without licenses and insurance, and who work and contribute to the public coffers without being able to secure the benefits US citizens receive as income tax and social security payers. Most undocumented immigrants pay their fair share; they just don’t reap any of the benefits.

    Comprehensive immigration reform has become so one-sided that it’s only about more arms and boots on the border (based on a spurious national security-immigration link), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) relief for a very small number of the overall 11 million undocumented persons residing in the US, and what to do with children fleeing Central America. To this point, it appears only moral panic promoters have swallowed the Obama’s-DACA-created-the-unaccompanied-minor-problem-kool-aid, but expect that storyline to continue as more unaccompanied minors arrive at the border.

    The administration will likely go along with more border militarization and criminalization of immigrants as all but a handful of Democrats have conceded to the rabid anti-immigrant Republican line. The administration will probably work to clear the backlog of those seeking to enter the nation and naturalize their status (and no matter what they do to revise implementation and administratively lighten the load on would-be citizens, it will always be labeled “amnesty” by foes). The administration may also tweak temporary worker programs (visas such as H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, J-I, TN NAFTA), but Congress sets the number of entrants for each class.

    In Consuming Mexican Labor, we discussed the increasing discursive closure around immigration debates up to 2010. Since then, those boundaries have only narrowed and hardened. In 1986, an anti-discrimination clause was inserted to protect immigrants from employers. Today, thanks to Kansas then-secretary of state, Kris Kobach, who penned SB1070 in Arizona, HB56 in Alabama, and several other “Smoke ‘em out” laws across the United States, we now have over thirty states with discriminatory laws that either racially profile, or impinge on civil liberties of immigrants.

    And we know the Roberts Court, which upheld the key part of SB1070 (aka “Driving While Mexican”), will not challenge states on this account. They cite Brignoni v. Ponce in 1975, which allowed federal immigration officials at border checkpoints to use profiling as a basis for detaining those suspected of driving without proper authorization. Our deep history of Black-White race relations makes it clear that unchecked racial profiling by local police give us Ferguson, Missouri; police departments in major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles (post-Ramparts), and New York (pre-stop and frisk) have adopted very public “we don’t profile” stances.

    What about bold action by an administration seeking to leave its mark, its legacy, beyond the Deporter-in-Chief moniker? We have learned that we can expect nothing bold from this administration. But here’s a thought: if we abhor racial profiling let’s finally put Brignoni v. Ponce in the dustbins of history, and no longer give states the authority to enforce a “Driving While Brown” policy.

    Let’s end the criminalization of civil infractions (the level of crime constituted by residing in the United States without authorization), and let’s have a bold conversation about how anti-immigrant politicians in the thirty-plus states with racist laws are driving the hatred expressed in Murrieta.

    While we’re at it, let’s talk about why, in 2014, we allow federal, state, and locally-authorized immigration enforcers to racially profile anybody who “looks illegal.”

    Why did we think discrimination by employers was relevant in immigration law in 1986, but NOBODY is asking about E-Verify, and how it often works to the detriment of Latinos seeking employment by relying on a system that turns up false negatives, is so bureaucratically clunky that it can easily turn into a system of discrimination, and is often used by employers who don’t want to hire any Latinos who they equate with “illegals”?

    If there is any question that this immigration enforcement is not a racialized process aimed at anybody who looks Mexican, we should note that we are not turning away Canadians who overstay their visas, nor are we profiling them because they look like “Canadian illegals.”

    Ronald L. Mize is Associate Professor of Sociology at Oregon State University, and co-author of Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Braceros Program to NAFTA.

  • Environmental Issues and the U.S. Presidential Debates

    Peter J. Stoett’s new book, Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, provides readers with an excellent introduction to major global environmental challenges. Through a series of case studies, it explores the limitations and possibilities of international governance—which involves not only governments but civil society and the private sector—to create effective solutions to these challenges.

    The deeper aim of the book is to encourage sustained, informed discussions of environmental policy and problem-solving. And, serving this purpose extends beyond the covers of the book. Today, on election day in the United States, we would like to share Professor Stoett’s reflections on the absence of environmental issues in the U.S. presidential debates.

    It took a colossal storm to get the media to focus, momentarily, on climate change-related issues during the recent American electoral campaigns. Yet in the days before Sandy, a casual observer of the Obama-Romney debates might conclude there are no environmental issues worthy of discussion if the word “energy” is not attached (a pipeline from Canada, patriotic dreams of fossil fuel independence, and the old chestnut, the “price at the pump”). But there are (with apologies to women everywhere) binders full of them.

    No mention of the greatest ecological disaster in American history, the BP Gulf oil spill. Nothing on one of the most dangerous threats to human health, the loss of biodiversity; or on the safety of the new energy panacea, shale oil and gas. No melting Arctic. No Asian Carp on the verge of invading the Great Lakes, or the West Nile virus terrorizing Texas. And wasn’t there a severe, nation-wide drought this summer that inflated food and biofuel prices? Silence.

    The so-called foreign policy debate focused on Romney’s favourite phrase that evening, “American leadership,” without even the slightest mention of America’s role in an international community struggling to cope with climate change, deforestation and desertification, an unprecedented oceans crisis, and the threat of mass extinction. Some positioning on American promises made in Copenhagen on a massive climate change adaptation fund would have been fairly basic. Again, silence.

    This was not an eerie, mysterious silence, but an orchestrated one. Of course, the environment will be relegated to the sidelines when the economy is on the field. But even the two Bushes found it (to borrow a word from opponent Al Gore) inconvenient not to at least pay lip service, boasting of the reforms their own “green presidencies” could make. And recall that during these elections, also, it was “the economy, stupid.”

    This silence is a consequence of a sharp trend away from policy debates that can in any way trigger wayward thoughts about climate change, the latest “third rail” in U.S. politics. I just spent six months in Washington, D.C., and think tanks are definitely treating the issue seriously, but ecology vanishes in thin public air at the leadership level. Well-funded “climate skeptics,” fueled by Fox News and other conduits, have rendered the broader debate on the environment largely mute. An implicit vow of mutual silence emerged; even the moderators knew better than to go there.

    Naturally, if re-elected, Obama—probably facing a hostile Republican Congress—will lack a clear mandate to move forward in even small measures. Romney, who felt comfortable publicly accusing Obama of the sin of not being a “coal and oil man,” had little environmental agenda in the first place. But what, exactly, either man would push is hard to say after watching the debates, and their campaigns have not filled the void.

    As for the impact of this careful silence in Canada, this depends on how your ear is turned. Our majority party in Ottawa prefers environmental dilemmas to be as quiet as possible, and let’s be realistic: Alberta will get its pipeline south either way.

    But many Canadians would have liked to have heard even a whimper of an indication as to how the next four years may look, especially in a year in which Canada assumes the presidency of the Arctic Council, where that melting sea ice is a multi-level challenge. After all, we will share many of the larger problems, including climate change and more extreme weather events such as hurricanes, coastal erosion, invasive species, and air particulate matter, with the same voters denied an adult discussion south of the border.

    Thankfully, the real work on environmental improvement takes place on levels other than the presidential, and the billions of people engaged in the every-day struggle often embrace, rather than deny or try to defy, sound ecological principals. But silence is far from golden when it excludes some of the most fundamental challenges of our time from a debate which, given America’s potential leadership role, has significance for all of us.

    - Peter J. Stoett

    Note: If you are scheduled to teach a course that would benefit from having this book on the required reading list, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy. We would be more than happy to give you the opportunity to review this excellent text for yourself!

  • Author Footnotes with Ronald L. Mize

    Immigration enforcement during the Obama administration has now reached a number (1.2 million deportations) that harkens back to two forced deportation campaigns initiated during the Great Depression, and then again in 1954. On May 9, 2012, a coalition of twelve Latino and immigrant-serving organizations released a public letter admonishing the Obama administration’s deportation state of the nation. In the letter, they compare the deportation regime of the Obama administration to the events of 1954 when the Bracero Program (the first and largest temporary worker program of its kind) was operating at full capacity. They identify how Washington was pressured to respond to the perceived border crisis of Mexicans entering the U.S. without authorization. Rather than alter the terms of the Bracero Program (something Washington had done in 1948, in an administrative retroactive process of granting temporary visas once Mexican farmworkers were already in the U.S. or derisively referred to as “drying out the wetbacks”), then INS commissioner Joseph Swing harkened back to the Great Depression and initiated another forced repatriation program—this time as a military operation.

    In Consuming Mexican Labor, we discuss how the two prior forced deportation campaigns were preceded by active and vigorous recruitment of Mexican labor to the United States to meet labor demands in the agricultural, railroad, and mining industries. The first set of deportations occurred during the Depression known as the Great Repatriation. The Hoover administration, along with a substantial percentage of the American public, suggested that the so-called horde of unwanted Mexican immigrant laborers were taking jobs from “real” Americans. The United States then embarked upon its largest repatriation campaign ever to be experienced by an immigrant group, with little to no legal precedent and relative impunity. Mexicans, regardless of their legal status, were rounded up in major destination points such as Los Angeles, El Paso, Detroit, Chicago, Gary, and all points in between. The repatriation campaigns eventually led to the forced and voluntary removal of 1 to 2 million Mexicans, making it perfectly clear to all that their status and rights in the U.S. would be tenuous during bust times, essential during boom times, and eminently politicized at all times.

    In 1954, the U.S. government mounted a second mass repatriation campaign of undocumented Mexican workers, dubbed “Operation Wetback,” which resulted in an estimated return of 1.3 million immigrants to Mexico. The means of repatriation varied—some migrants were forced to return; some left voluntarily—but the effect was the same: it sent a strong message not only to the Mexican people about their rights to live and work in the U.S., but also to U.S. employers, suggesting they would not be held responsible for the mass migration that they had earlier initiated by actively recruiting and employing undocumented labor. The long history of the U.S. is one of actively attracting immigrant labor in boom times, only to repel them during hard times. Obama’s recent decisions to allow discretion for low-priority immigrants undergoing deportation proceedings and DREAMers (young adults brought to the U.S. at an early age) certainly represents a capitulation to important voting blocs but overall the Obama administration has continued the immigration/deportation cycle by vehemently enforcing the civil infraction of working without proper documentation (to the tune of 400,000 deportations per year). And who benefits from this enforcement model? The employers whose jobs attracted immigrants in the first place, and the consumers whose needs drove and became dependent on cheap Mexican immigrant labor.

    Ronald L. Mize, Ph.D. is the co-author of Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTA (2010, University of Toronto Press, with Alicia Swords) and Latino Immigrants in the United States (2012, Polity Press, with Grace Peña Delgado). He is currently assistant professor of Latino Studies at Cornell University and will begin teaching sociology at Humboldt State University this coming fall.

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