Tuesday, May 6, 2008

May Day, Migration, and Lou Dobbs fans

As was mentioned in the last post, CNN featured a brief clip of me on the Lou Dobbs show on May 1. The show itself (I didn't watch it but I looked at the transcript) was predictably inane drivel about how "them immigrants" are coming over here to take our jobs. It even had special reference to May 1 as "law day", a term coined during the cold war and then invoked by Ronald Reagan just after he announced that he would not be respecting international law. The show was so silly, I was content to leave it alone, though I made a mental note to think twice before agreeing to be interviewed by CNN again...

Well that was that until I came across this while looking for media hits on the events.
You know what sameer dossani you and your illegal friends and family can go back to whatever country you hail from and demand your rights there! Go back to wherever you came from and see what this kind of behavior will get you.
Not one to shy away from fighting words, I began what I hope was a fairly reasoned debate with folks who should be at least in class solidarity with their working class Latino sisters and brothers. Well, ok I was a bit snarky, but the thought of being confronted by the "minute man" character that I play in our play "The Pit", was equal parts hilarious and nauseating. (And h/t to my brother Zain for joining the fray.)

Some of the realizations I came to from that discussion:

1) Any talk about the root causes of migration is met with bewildered anger. Accusations about being off topic flew when talking about economic and political strife in Global South countries (and the U.S. role in that strife). For my part, I find talk about the root causes of immigration so obvious, that I 've been unable to write much about it since I did this article for FPIF.

2) The history of May Day is something hardly any folks in the U.S. know, especially working class folks. It's such an important story of solidarity, of demanding better working conditions, of uniting between different segments of the workers, that this is really a shame. If one of the contributions of the immigrants rights movement is to help U.S. workers remember their own holiday, that would be amazing.

3) The right has done an amazing job instilling a culture of isolation and xenophobia on folks who should be worried about the Bush administration's record when it comes to the rule of law. Not sure how we're going to build a movement for meaningful peace and justice as long as people still watch Faux news and Dobbs...

For those who want to see my unpublished responses to the Lou Dobbs thread, I'll post them in the comments section.

1 comment:

Shirin and Sameer said...

(This is my response to a thread that started in another blog)

freedom lover said We need to go after those employers to be honest.

Hmm, maybe something we can agree on. The rise in undocumented migration was perfectly predictable in 1993 (the groups I was working with at the time did predict it), but it was in the interests of business owners and the Clinton administration to see that increase through. Why? NAFTA was going to seriously screw the Mexican and U.S. labor forces, while totally destroying the Mexican economy (at least for workers and farmers). The predictable outcome (which has since happened) is that Mexican migrants cross the border at alarming rates and undermine wages for working class Americans. This is no different than the class warfare that went on for years in U.S. history that pit working class Irish against working class Italians against working class Jews and against working class Blacks and allowed the owners to keep wages low at all times by giving jobs to the latest set of migrants (or former slaves).

The problem I have is that we can share that analysis but you can still have such a reactionary stance towards "Mexicans" who "don't speak our language", etc. The Mexican who does not learn English is not demanding that you learn Spanish as you imply. S/he is trying their best to survive in difficult circumstances. Lack of education is one of the very serious problems in many of our communities; forget English, sometimes the Spanish is pretty bad... More reason to organize and help these folks to reclaim their human rights (i.e. rights one has by virtue of being human, not by being a citizen of any nation), including the right to education. The sensible, working class thing to do is to organize all the communities, white working class, Black, latino immigrant, and demand better and more humane treatment from those who own the country. Otherwise we give into their 'divide and rule' agenda.

As for whether I advocate that people break immigration laws as a matter of principle, of course that would be silly. But as Gandhi said, "there are unjust laws just as there are unjust men". In determining the justice of the current laws, there are some facts that need to be presented. Fact 1: undocumented immigrants are here (and in Europe, btw, contrary to what you say there are loads of undocumented migrants in Europe). They've come here at great personal risk and often because the policies of this government gave them little choice (U.S. sponsored civil war in El Salvador, NAFTA, CAFTA, etc). They've paid their dues already and some kind of naturalization program is long overdue. Fact 2: The policies that brought them here are still in place. Again, if you're serious about ending this, work to abolish the International Monetary Fund, undo CAFTA, and dismantle the military industrial complex. As long as all those things are in place, undocumented migrants will continue to flow across the U.S. borders. If these were addressed, I would be more than happy to support enforcement of immigration laws. Actually the issue would no longer be that important because you wouldn't have the waves of economic refugees.

Once these huge structural issues are addressed, your "illegals" won't be here. Let's take the example of Greece and Germany. Standards of living are much higher in Germany than in Greece. They're both part of the EU, so migration from one to the other isn't even illegal. Is Germany overflowing with Greek immigrants? Not at all. Things may not be as good in Greece, but folks ain't starving. Migrants are coming to Germany from East and North Africa as those are the places suffering from colonialism. End colonialism, you end your problem. Again my article from Foreign Policy in Focus goes into this much more in depth. It's available here: http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/3736 .

The only other thing I'll comment on is your ignorance on the state of Mexico's southern border. In the communities that I live and work in in Washington, DC, most of the Latino population is from Central America - Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua. They start their journey by crossing the Mexican border, and the attitudes are very different towards them than they are in this country. People try to start with human sympathy instead of irrational xenophobia. You should try walking a mile or two in someone's moccasins before you pass judgment - that's the attitude.

Oh, and on links, I stopped bothering a while ago as you admitted you don't read them and I see no point in having a dialogue with someone who doesn't want to listen... But since you asked...

On NAFTA destroying Mexican corn farmers
A first hand account from the Mexican side of the border
on those fleeing Reagan's dirty wars in Central America
UC's global atlas of inequality will help you predict where immigrants will come from with near 100% accuracy
and UNDP's Human Development Index will tell you why they're moving

Of course, in all of these cases, you'll have to actually read the documents in order to understand the arguments I've been making...

I'm out. For those interested in continuing this discussion or coming to a workshop (or a demonstration), feel free to get in touch.