Sen. Ted Kennedy's death yesterday was a blow to the immigrant community, as New America Media reports. For over 40 years, Kennedy was a tireless fighter for immigrant rights and is remembered for many valuable accomplishments, not the least in making possible the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which did away with the national-origin quotas that had been in effect in the US since 1924. Additionally, Kennedy help bring a close to the exploitive Bracero program, which supplied the U.S. cheap and temporary labor during World War II in the form of Mexican farm laborers who did not have proper protections or rights. Senator Kennedy also helped author the AgJobs bill of 2003, which gave undocumented farmers residency so they could continue working in the U.S. His legacy in the progress of immigration legislation is not in doubt.
The Massachusetts Senator was a vigorous proponent of both Healthcare and Immigration Reform, which isn't surprising when you consider how much these two issues overlap. In last week's Wire, we touched on this confluence. Despite the White House's attempt to compartmentalize the two issues, Immigration continues sit front and center in the Healthcare discussion, often through dishonest argument by reform opponents.
The problem is, if the White House withdraws as an authoritative and reasonable voice on immigration and immigrants, the conversation will be taken over by anti-immigrant fringe groups. Arturo Sandoval of the New Mexico Independent describes the town hall debate during which a protester suggested that a "bullet in the head" was a solution to the idea that the U.S. has millions of undocumented within her borders. The "facts don't support this xenophobic response," Sandoval writes. Furthermore, the needs of the U.S. economy "pull" workers into the country. The immigrant workforce is then scapegoated for responding to that need.
The Washington Independent makes it clear that xenophobic sentiment, also championed by members of the Republican Party, is not a wise political move. Daphne Eviatar attended town hall meetings where fact-resistant crowds shouted at lawmakers for "seeking to provide healthcare to illegal immigrants." Eviatar pins much blame on "the anger fomented by anti-healthcare reform groups" which has given way to "nativist death threats."
But it's hard to blame the uninformed for the entirety of their hostility. Our government's "moral compass," as E.L. Doctorow called it, points toward criminalizing the immigrant community and all Latino/as by extension. By all appearances, the Obama administration is pursuing an enforcement agenda, and has yet to publicly acknowledge why the immigrant community is vital to the country's prosperity. Between abundant right-wing radio hate and state-sanctioned raids and detentions, how is a scared, half-informed person supposed to feel about today's undocumented population?
Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz) proposes--with no trace of sarcasm or shame--that the undocumented be denied urgent hospitcal care in every city. Or, as TAPPED's Adam Serwer puts it, Kyl Thinks Illegal Immigration is a Capitol Crime. Serwer points out that, as evidenced by Kyl's own words, the Senator thinks "illegal immigration" "should be punishable by death." The facts do not support the "pro-life" Senator's accusations about immigrants, and Serwer writes that in any case, such treatment would be "immoral and inhumane."
And yet people give voice to such vile and un-American notions every day. In doing so, they publicly provide reinforcement for measures like 287(g), which has been recently rearranged to appear more palatable, yet expanded in scope. Alternet describes another recent superficial makeover: The Department of Homeland Security Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rescinded its self-imposed quotas, and now offers to self-monitor their internal operations. But "how many more detainee deaths under ICE's custody remain unreported?" And why should ICE be trusted to oversee itself?
Looking ahead to the battle over Immigration reform, Patrick Young of RaceWire offers activists and advocates "Four Healthcare Debate Takeaways For The Immigration Reform Fight." Young's breakdown includes down to earth, pragmatic glimpses of a rough terrain. "The argument will not be about the issues," he writes. Sizable portions of the public have adopted a sound-byte awareness operating too often independent of fact. The good news is, "this can be countered."
In other immigration news, Truthdig remembers Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants executed in Massachusetts eighty-two years ago after a "dubious trial for murders someone else later confessed to." The article highlights a Howard Zinn essay on the incident, who wrote that the case of Sacco and Vanzetti revealed "in its starkest terms, that the noble words inscribed above our courthouses, 'Equal Justice Before the Law,' have always been a lie." Considered outsiders at the time, the law of the land saw fit to view the two immigrants as disposable.
In today's immigration dialogue, Mexicans are most often thought of as the immigrant outsiders. And while Mexican migrants do comprise roughly 57% of the undocumented [pdf of 2004 Pew Hispanic poll findings], Irish, Polish, Guatemalan, and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities (AAPI) are an important part of the undocumented population. AAPIs are now asking "How Much Longer Can We Wait for Immigration Reform?" "The debate has been raging on for several years, without any positive resolution," writes Sara Sadhwani, the Director of the Immigrant Rights Project at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California.
Finally, of no small note is a ruling by the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last Thursday that in essence, did away with the possibility of unlimited detention of the undocumented. The three-judge panel ruled that detainees held in custody for longer than six months without appearing before a judge have the right to file a class action suit. This bestows a right to the undocumented that citizens might take for granted by now: the right to a trail undertaken in a "swift and timely fashion," as New America Media reports.
In memory of Ted Kennedy, who did much to bring dignity and health to all people regardless of their race, class, or origins, let us fight on for the well being of all, and not rest until the dream lives.
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