We are often told that immigration is a complex policy issue, with a lot of competing interests to sort out, finicky bureaucratic details to adjust, and a desperate need for civility and compromise. We’re told that it’s complicated because we need to balance complicated economic and humanitarian needs, on the one hand, with the varying interests of U.S. workers, the social welfare system, the education system, our culture and heritage, law and order, and national security. Hand-wringers, both liberal and conservative, like this line, because it allows them to portray themselves as sensible middle-of-the-roaders without actually committing themselves to any serious challenge to the immigration system as it currently stands. Taking a principled stand on immigration policy will likely get you involved in emotional fights; fiddling with the system to tweak it here and there, but leaving it essentially as it stands, allows you to dismiss opponents as unrealistic zealots and try to move on to something that you feel more comfortable talking about, like Social Security or the upcoming Presidential election.
But immigration is not a complex policy issue. It is a simple moral issue: peaceful people should never be physically attacked just for trying to move from one place to another. Innocent people should not be at the mercy of the State just because they have moved into a home where they are welcome and gotten a job with a willing employer, in a desire to make a better life for themselves.
Nativist bullies often like to pretend to be friends of labor; so they whine about the effects that immigrant workers have on wages, forgetting, or deliberately ignoring, the fact that the immigrant workers’ wages go up when they come to the U.S. — that is, after all, why they do it — and therefore their proposal boils down to using government violence to prop up one set of workers’ wages, by physically forcing another, poorer set of workers out of the country. That’s outrageously immoral.
Nativists who complain endlessly about the alleged burden that undocumented immigrants place on the welfare state or the educational system wilfully disregard the fact that undocumented immigrants pay most state and local taxes (as well as federal taxes, if they’re working with forged documents), while having no access to most federal benefits and many state benefits. When confronted with the fact that, even in those cases where undocumented immigrants are net tax recipients, they are no different from any suburban brat, elderly pensioner, or subsidized plantation-owner in the ever-expanding welfare state, they will routinely state that, since the welfare system is unlikely to be abolished in the near term, they prefer to get the government to attack immigrants, because undocumented immigrants are more politically vulnerable than native-born welfare recipients, or the welfare system as such. Targeting the weakest people, even though they are not to blame for the existence of the political system at the root of your complaint, because it’s easier to take it out on them than it is to challenge that system, is grossly immoral.
When challenged, nativists are often unwilling to cop to the fact that they are, in fact, proposing for force to be used towards these ends — as if
deportation consisted of a nice crossing guard escorting you home, rather than forcible exile from your current home at the hands of armed men who will restrain, beat, or shoot you if you don’t comply with their orders. A while ago, when I dared to explain to a commenter at Vox Populi that his proposal of
ending massive unskilled immigration necessarily entailed being
willing to forcibly restrain, beat, shoot, confine, and exile from their current homes those
unskilled immigrants who did not volunteer to leave at your command, my interlocutor was outraged that I’d go around
telling me I’m willing to do hitler like things and that
even deportation does not mean Well, what do the mass deportation and mass interdiction plans mean, then? A polite request that the immigrant can ignore and remain in the country unmolested? If so, I have no real quarrel with it, but it’s not a deportation policy. If you do intend to back it up, then forcible exile is indeed what you intend to do, and forcible restraint and confinement, with beating or shooting as necessary to make it happen, are the necessary means. If you’re not actually willing to cop to that, you’re not actually willing to enforce an immigration policy. If you’re willing for it to be done, but prefer to cover the fact over with bullshit euphemisms, then you are no less immoral; you’re just insisting on immorality with a P.R. campaign to cover it up and spin it beyond recognition.
forcibly restrain, beat, shoot,. [sic] If you think the US government would do that, and if you think white americans would countenance that, you are deluded.
Meanwhile, the efforts that professional-class Sensible Liberals make to intervene in the debate rarely amount to anything more than minor fiddling. While they rightly condemn the violent racism of the most bellicose nativist factions, their concrete proposals would almost never make any large-scale or systematic changes to the existing system of international apartheid and internal anti-immigrant surveillance. At most they would like to carve out a few new exceptions — perhaps for the same-sex partners of gay immigrants — or lift a few caps here and there — perhaps allowing a handful more political refugees per year. Mostly what passes for pro-immigrant rhetoric from liberals and
Progressives is calling for increases to the funding or scope of government welfare and social work agencies, perhaps with some bilingual application forms. As worthwhile as it would be to liberalize immigration policy wherever and to whatever extent it can be liberalized, it must never be forgotten that all these proposals invariably leave La Migra, the border cops, the immigration courts, the detention centers, the
Ihre Papiere, bitte treatment for new employees, and all the rest of the sprawling system of government command and control still in place. Millions of peaceful, productive people will still be stopped, screened, harassed, restrained, confined, or exiled by the government based solely on their nationality. Millions of undocumented workers will continue to live with the looming threat of losing their livelihoods, their homes, and even their families to a forced deportation. Millions of refugees will continue to languish, to starve, and to die in concentration camp hellholes because the wealthy nations of the world continue to stop them, at bayonet-point, from moving on to a new home and a new life.
Meanwhile, any extended debate or controversy over immigration policy is usually waved off by Sensible Liberals as unimportant, or as a
distraction from issues that white liberals are more comfortable talking about. In the few cases where they do say a few words about the need for a substantially new approach to immigration, their proposed
moderate reforms end up dressing up crude nativism in reformist language. While calling for a mild liberalization of immigration policy, they scrupulously avoid the unforgivable sin of supporting an
unrealistic idea by reiterating and reinforcing echt-Nativist nonsense about
American jobs. Occasionally this is followed up by suggestions for creating new programs, or escalating existing programs, that are actively harmful to the lives and livelihoods of undocumented workers, such as so-called
demand-side policies to penalize Americans who offer work, loans, homes, or other goods and services to undocumented immigrants. The idea is to forcibly drive down the demand for immigrant labor, which means forcing willing immigrant workers into unemployment, and whitewashing this anti-worker legislation with pseudo-populist rhetoric about greedy corporations—sometimes on the implicit claim that American workers are more deserving than other workers, simply on the basis of their nationality, and sometimes on the even more outrageous claim that forced pauperism is for the immigrants’ own good.
Perhaps the only consolation is that Sensible Liberals’ attempts to intervene in the debate and shift the rhetoric towards
moderation have been so completely ineffectual. This controversy, like the debate over slavery, like the debate over abortion, and like all other controversies over simple moral issues, is and should be a debate between extremists, not a case for middle-of-the-roader rhetoric or halfway-house solutions. It is immoral for the government to stop, harass, restrain, confine, and exile peaceful people from their current homes, solely on the basis of their nationality. It is criminal that even one refugee cannot immediately escape from danger, or must live even one day longer penned up in a refugee concentration camp, simply because governments in the U.S. and Western Europe continue to enforce the SS St. Louis immigration policy. It is inexcusable that even one undocumented worker should have to live in fear of emergency workers, neighbors, or her boss, simply because she failed to get a signed permission slip from the federal government before she set out to make a living.
And it is ridiculous that these facts continue to be obscured by nativist bullying, by
national security mysticism, or by pseudo-reformist wonkery-wankery. Goodbye to all that. The demand for open borders and immediate amnesty is simplistic, naïve, starry-eyed, unrealistic, extremist, uncompromising, radical, and also obviously correct. It is your job, reader, to live up to the best part of yourself and make that demand loudly, courageously, without compromise and without apology. Mumbling dismissal and pseudo-reformist compromise mean not prudence, but complicity.
Smash international apartheid, now and forever.