Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Hunting of Immigrants


      As I wrote about Greece in Trucks here, a crusade against immigrants is the foundation stone of reactionary administrations, the nearest appeal to recruit political support, the most obvious form of criminality.  Parliamentary democracies are, in fact, by and large dictatorships over what John Rawls calls the least advantaged, i.e. groups that are racially subordinated, particularly illegal immigrants,, and the poorer elements of the “white” or majority working class.    Let us look at measures now being visited on those who come to comparatively economically developed countries to avoid starvation and provide some help to their families at home like the tall African I saw two weeks ago in Athens, perhaps a leader of his village, moving among the tables at outdoor restaurants in the Plaka, trying to sell carved wooden elephants and other animals to people who often ignored him, avoiding owners or waiters who occasionally harassed him…

       The Berlusconi government in Italy embraces the fascist Northern League.  Last week, the Interior Minister Roberto Maroni of the League had a triumph.  By a vote of 157 to 124, the Senate passed a draconian law against migrants from Africa and Roma.  More exaggeratedly even than other racist regimes, the Italian government has been hunting the Roma. In Granada, Spain where I taught four years ago, the Roma lived in encampments outside the city.  They can get no work, they are not mentioned in “polite” society, they are sometimes thieves in order to survive.  Even more intensely – how near fascism is to the ordinary - the Italian government makes them scapegoats.  Italy like all other capitalist nations depends on a large immigrant work force, perhaps 10% of the population and far more of the ordinary work force, whom it can exploit even more harshly than citizens, since immigrants have no rights.  It can then try to persuade citizens to attack immigrants rather than join with them in a democratic movement.  That is the point of the massive displays of racism in soccer, for instance, the Italian player on a reactionary team Lazio  who did the Mussolini salute, to the fans.  See Soccer and the threat of fascism here.   There is a rivalry between this team and Roma, representing decency, my student Michal McCoy has informed me, just as in Spain, there is a rivalry between Real Madrid – Royal Madrid, historically the best team, once sponsored by Franco – and Catalan-speaking Barcelona).  Even in more peaceful times, the fascist sentiments nurtured at soccer games are inscribed on the bodies of immigrants.

      But this new Italian law criminalizes immigration and calls for “citizen” patrols, mandated by the Berlusconi regime.  The Northern League has set up a so-called Italian National Guard, wearing beige uniforms, sporting blacks hats, modeled on Mussolini’s troops (or “storm troopers” as the Sturmabteilung was called in Germany).  This law licenses them to hunt for immigrants. It is as if during the civil rights movement, the Congress of the United States had approved the KKK as an “American National Guard” to hunt for freedom riders.   Smilingly, Maroni says, this National Guard  will not be “allowed” to mount street patrols.  Since he organized them for that purpose, it is unlikely that he intends to stop them.  This “Guard” already lurks, and this “law” is wind at their backs, license to kill…

       The Italian law also levies heavy fines on captured people, 5-10,000 euros ($7,500-$15,000).  It is difficult to be an immigrant selling umbrellas or goods at the margin, rousted by police, or employed for lower pay, under more dangerous conditions than Italian citizens in factories. You are occasionally spat on by foreman, you must remain in the shadows; the law reaches out unexpectedly to grab you and now “citizen” – that is Mussolini patrols - hunt for you as you shop, while you are away from your children, perhaps even as you sleep.  The hope immigrants feel in a new country – often, at the slightest gesture of decency as we in America, that nation of immigrants, know, a fierce loyalty - is complemented by the reality of constant, gnawing fear.  If you are not arrested or beaten by the “National Guard,” you will be subjected to debt enslavement.  Will the Berlusconi government deport you or just keep you in debtor’s prison, demanding “their” money?  The Italian law also introduces a new policy for asylum seekers: sending boatloads of immigrants to Libya where they must then appeal for possible admission many years hence.

         In Israel, the government now follows the Bush or IMF policy (the so-called third world has now been brought home to the economically advanced countries) – it has “privatized” many check points.  The occupied territories are divided between luxurious settlements and desolate refugee camps, crisscrossed with paths on which Palestinians go through checkpoints with many hours of delay in contrast to highways on which only Israelis are allowed to roar through to Israel.  It is rightly named apartheid by columnists in Haaretz (there is some freedom of speech in Israel) and even by former President Carter.  To work or go to school as a Palestinian, even children must pass through the check points.  In the New York Times Sunday Magazine, a year ago, an Isreali officer who had searched a 10 year old boy at a check point said.  “We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.  If we search him, he hates us.  If we don’t search him, he might be a suicide bomber.”  The officer searched.  There have been of course few suicide bombers in the last year, but many innocents have been  killed by the Israeli army in Gaza (for instance, in December and January, some 400 Palestinian children as opposed to one Israeli child, murdered by a Hamas rocket).  Perhaps ordinary Israelis might think: if we got out of the occupied territories, if we gave the highways to the Palestinians, if we reached a decent settlement, perhaps there would not be the desperation of children against us, perhaps there would be no more threat of suicide bombing.  That thought might lead to the further insight that ordinary Jews have common interests with the Palestinians against the occupation and against the Israeli government – what I name democratic internationalism in Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? (as my friend Ilene Cohen who is in Israel writes, however, the movement of many Israelis to the right, reflected in racist disparaging of Obama in the press, perhaps a kind of death-wish, is frightening). 

       Now guards from private companies confiscate the meager lunches that Palestinians bring who work in Israel. They force Palestianians, who slave long hours, having risked their lives to cross each time at the checkpoint, having been looked at least as dangerous by these border guards who “stand small” (this is the quip of my friend George Downs), and had their food seized, to buy food, when they get too hungry, from Israeli companies.  It is a game these companies play with the “security” firms; they can  prey even further on the meager wages of Palestinians who can work in Israel but are not allowed to feed themselves.   But the Isreali “Defense” Forces announce that at their checkpoints, of course, the Palestinians may bring their food through.  Perhaps there is an analogy between the ordinary murders of the US army at checkpoints manned by two soldiers in Iraq from 2003-2006 – that car that will not stop when you shout “stop” in English; does it contain the enemy or a family? -  and the September, 2007 murder by Blackwater of 17 civilians in Nissour Square in Baghdad..  Even the American-client Al-Maliki government in Iraq demanded that Blackwater leave.  In fact,  privatization of soldiering is much more expensive and much more harmful, often criminal, than ordinary government action (as the travesty of the American “health” system reveals, perhaps it is always).  Of course, Blackwater has renamed itself Xe (pronounced Z)…

      During the Bush administration, ICE  (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids – raids by the government to seize and deport immigrants who were working at factories in the United States, to intimidate the vast number, some 11 or 12 million,  on which American capitalism depends  – became a major phenomenon.  So did border patrols of reactionary citizens, very like the Italian National Guard, promoted by talk show bigots like Glenn Beck and Michael Savage, and Republicans, led by Tom Tancredo.  At its economic zenith, the Bush period was characterized by a redistribution of money from the bottom 90% of the population to the top 1/10 of 1%; then came financial collapse and the new depression with official unemployment statistics this month at 9.5% and the real unemployment rate – including those who have ceased looking for work, those who have part-time jobs but would take fulltime jobs in a heartbeat – nearing 20% (the rate in the  Great Depression was roughly 30%).  Does anyone see a connection between the wall with Mexico to keep out immigrants – the last gasp of the Republican Party, along with hating gays and preventing abortion its only thoughts,  designed to keep “those Arab bombers” out  – and the abandonment of regulation on financial speculation?  Here too, the elite sadly needed citizens to identify with them, to strike out against immigrants.  “Whiteness” is alive in America.  

       Since 2003, 91 people have died in ICE custody (Ice has earned its name).  That is a figure that rivals the Pentagon’s 100 who were murdered in secret American prisons in what was then called “the War on Terror” (the Obama administration has marvelously dropped this term and stopped much of the torture/murder).  

         What crimes did these 91 immigrants commit?  Looking for work to feed their families, putting up with misery?  Among the 91 were longtime permanent residents of the United States of America (a legal status which does not ensure protection of the law, if you are brown).  If an immigrant has “overstayed a visa” by a few months, she can be jailed with criminals, shackled, and then after months or years, deported.  Currently, ICE has 31,000 in prison.  Many are held in county jails with limited visitation (at best), no exercise, and abuse.  Last week, a federal judge in New York ruled that the Department of Homeland Security’s 2 and 1/2 year delay in responding to a petition to create regulations was “unreasonable as a matter of law.” And the privatized immigration prisons, as in Israel, are worse.

       Last year on December 12, ICE raided the huge Conagra meatpacking plants in Greeley and deported over a hundred people.  In Mexico, December 12 is the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  It is the Mexican Christmas.   Families had been preparing to celebrate.  Some children are still living with friends, their parents deported.  Deported workers are not allowed to return legally for 10 years.  This system of exploitation creates ever renewed personal tragedies.

        Obama has now cancelled the raids - American democracy has changed - but the administration is still putting pressure on companies to not hire immigrants.  A year ago, 75,000 immigrants and others including me went to a May Day march at the State Capitol in Denver protesting these policies and announcing, out of the shadows, their humanity.  Half a million demonstrated in San Antonio.  A big anti-Iraq war rally in Denver was 4,000; this was a display of citizenship, of petitioning about genuine grievances and for decent treatment 16 times as large.  To go to that rally, to talk with the workers, mainly young, who soon got over their shyness since they were standing up, was a wonderful exercise in democracy.

       The Bush administration answered with ICE.

        Last night Lilly, a friend of my daughter Whitney, who majors in Chicano Studies at Metropolitan State College in Denver, described the visit of an ICE officer to her program.  He was talking about the raid at Greeley.  Someone asked him if he knew what December 12 was in Mexico. He hadn’t the slightest idea.

      As Lilly said, we are becoming a multi-racial, bilingual culture.  That is the future for democracy here, and for democracy in Europe.  But the dark shadow of fascism lies  today on the children, whose parents were arrested in Greeley.  One does not have to believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe to understand that the earth itself cries out against a government and a society which does such things.


Chris said...

Your blog called to mind my experiences after the death of my friend James, a Chicano originally from New Mexico who lost his battle with cancer.
It was a sad and wonderful experience. Sad because of the loss of a friend. Wonderful because of the opportunity to meet his family. Sad because of the hard life these people lead and their dearth of financial resources. Wonderful because of witnessing how tight James’ family was and knowing that he shared his “success” by sending money from each paycheck to support his family. Wonderful as well because of the outpouring of gratitude and compassion displayed toward the group of gringos from Colorado who knew and worked with James for years, assisted him in his final days, and then brought him home. These people gave to us from their substance, not from their excess. They are the true followers of Christ, in contrast to the Tom Tancredo’s and James Dobson’s of the world.
James’ sister and mother live in Sunland Park, NM which is adjacent to El Paso, TX. Reflecting on my visit, I became sure of some things: Sure the U.S. will become a bilingual country during this century; Sure second language is Spanish; Sure I am OK with this; Sure the border fence was an outright waste of time, money, and effort by the Bush Administration; Sure “good fences do [NOT] make good neighbors.”
The border fence is a ubiquitous eyesore both in Sunland Park and in El Paso. We could see it from his sister’s house and at times it parallels the interstate. There are gaps in the fence which seem to degrade the “security” it was designed and touted to provide. Worse still, it splits two commercial cities – El Paso, TX and Juarez, Mexico. The loser from this economic split appears to be El Paso. Juarez is a large vibrant (as well as violent) city of over 2 million people. El Paso pales in comparison with around 700,000. Most of the industry seems to be on the Mexican side of the fence. However, I guess the Patriot Act did increase the size of the Border Patrol adding a few jobs for Americans in El Paso… The border fence is not as powerful a symbol as the Berlin Wall was. However, it is as divisive, hypocritical, and damaging to international relations as the wall that separates Israel from the West Bank. For this reason alone, and countless others, we need to “tear down this wall.”
Finally, the fence brought to mind our first meeting. It was 2007 during the new student orientation prior to the summer quarter. You came down the Cyber Café, had pizza with us, and recruited students for the Ancient Political Theory class. What I remember most distinctly was that you were questioning each new student about their degree program, and why they chose what they chose. At that time, I was a security student. I explained my desire to promote national security through an understanding of people, culture, and economic development, not through the construction of border fences. Your comment to me was that you hoped I would go far. Well, mentally, I have come far since the summer of 2007, and while my impact for change is still waiting in my future, my belief that only a false sense of security is provided by the construction of walls between peoples remains.
The poverty of many in Sunland Park and El Paso, and of those who risk their lives and those of their families crossing the desert and the border to live and work in the U.S., should not go unheeded. These immigrants (first or second generation) are the current backbone of the U.S. just as the Italians, Irish, Germans, Poles and Chinese were a century ago. They deserve our admiration and assistance not our disdain. As the richest country in the world, the fact that we have citizens living in poverty is a sin. But recognizing the problem and solving the problem are two different things. To solve the problem requires the promotion of awareness of the problem, and, then, a desire to act and combat the problem utilizing the resources of the richest nation in the world. Alas, I fear that we have neither the awareness nor the desire.

Gamal said...

A few days ago I tried again to reach Frank who I had met on the streets of Athens a month ago. Frank told me of his journey from Nigeria to Greece - that the boat he was on broke down and two of his friends had died. Luckily, he was able to float on a tire until some fishermen saw him. I thought about my narrow escape from Vietnam as a baby and not being on that first plane that crashed (with some luck, as well).

Frank and I bonded over the rap I was playing through my phone; he told me that he had three hundred rhymes in his head and that if he could get to the U.S., he would have an opportunity to work and go to school and maybe pursue his music dreams. I asked him about what it was like to live in Greece and he kicked me a rhyme with hints of "f*** a cop" and "f*** hellas." Frank spoke of the shut-door policy towards immigrants in Hellas, particularly towards Africans, saying that he did not want to sell knock-off bags (the only option to make money) like most of the Nigerians - walking away with ten euro a day. "There's no opportunity here (in Greece), I couldn't even sit down at a restaurant here," Frank told me. I told him that the U.S. had many problems as well and that things were tough for many people who have been hit hard by economic strife, but that he could definitely eat in a restaurant in the U.S.

As the evening closed he gave me his number and I gave him mine. We talked of him coming to sit-in on Alan's class the next day and went on our way. The next day his phone had been disconnected and I have not been able to reach him since. Was he swept up by one of the trucks Alan described? I hope not and I believe he has the strength to survive. Frank told me before he left that night, "We survive and take chances, rich. When I was yelling in the sea, almost drowning.. I was determined to make it...I will get to New York."

mcm said...

I do wonder how much the end of WWII and its ushering in of a "respect" for human rights, as well as the American Civil Rights Movement, has done. What I mean is, if you are brown, you can never escape that and you are always an easy target. I don't think the hate for racial minorities ever really disappeared but rather it went underground for fear of being branded a "racist" during a time of politically correct manners and has only made its ugly public reappearance within the last 10 years or so--give or take a few years in the US and Europe. Though I never personally experienced what immigrants are experiencing in Europe today when I was there (largely due to facial piercings), I can only imagine the hurt and anger they are feeling. It white Europe and white America are not careful, they just might have a global uprising on their hands, much more powerful than even the American slave rebellions. Imagine what brown people and their allies could do if united for a common cause! And in reaction to Lilly stating that "we are becoming a multi-racial, bilingual culture," we have been that for many years in the US and have certainly been multi-racial for longer than the US has been known as the US. It is only now the public is more aware of its multi-racialness and "bilingual culture" because today many different types of minorities are being "allowed" to hold positions of power whereas before they were restricted from doing so.

Gamal said...

The american civil rights movement and the antivietnam movement, plus the women's movement has done a lot and made the U.S. a much more enjoyable place for minorities and whites alike. People who contributed to the movement, like Alan, sought progress and saved lives. Has Europe experienced such a movement? I saw old greek women spitting at Nigerians in the streets, dogs that had been trained to bark at dark-skinned indians, etc... Had I not been a tourist i too would have been treated in the same way. My wife and i were treated with gawks and stares, like i dared to be with a light-skinned woman (im reminded of a french woman on santorini). it was nice to be back in the us and see interracial families again and see different ethnic groups interacting (i don't think people are secretly racist or fake). As chris rock says,"i can snuff out racism and racists." As to a world-wide rebellion by minorities, it might be a platonic idea to 'allow' minorities 'positions' in order to keep the city and soul alive! But i think WE are all questing for what is right and just; criticizing and changing the bad, and complementing and building on the progress - rich rockwell

Luis Argueta said...

I am writing from Worthington, another city where an ICE raid happened on DEc. 12, 2006. You mentioned that an ICE officer viiting a class at State College in Denver, had not even the slightest idea what Dec 12 was. I have always had the nagging suspicion that, while this agent-and probably many other agents- did not know what Dec 12, many others did. And that someone purposefully set that day to carry out the synchronized raids. Have you found any evidence of this?

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