Refugees, Not Immigrants
The debate on immigration reform has failed to address the root cause of why people, particularly from
All across the country immigration has returned as a hot topic. May Day saw demonstrations in many major cities where people came out by tens of thousands to show their opposition to the new immigration law in
Opponents say it amounts to racial profiling.
Proponents say that is nonsense and that Arizona is trying to enforce federal laws since the federal government has been unable or unwilling to do so but the bill allows law enforcers to arrest without a warrant if they have "probable cause to believe" someone has committed a crime and should be deported. Another vague term tossed around in the bill is "reasonable suspicion." Opponents of the bill see these broad terms as where the racial profiling comes from. Your accent and skin color may lead Officer Such-and-such to think you’re an illegal and he may watch you like a hawk in order to find any legal pretext to ask for your papers. In a country known for its racism (past and present) and racial profiling, terms "DWB" (driving while black) and “FWM” (flying while Muslim) go a long way to show the fears certainly are rational.
This debate, however, says nothing about why people are coming here in the first place.
A couple of years ago a study in
So why are so many leaving home to begin with? In his book Economic Justice and Democracy; From Competition to Cooperation, the political economist, Robin Hahnel, points out that
as liberalization in agricultural trade destroys the livelihoods of billions of peasant farmers in Third World countries swelling the ranks of the urban unemployed,
Something worth focusing on in particular is corn. The
Then along came ethanol, the biofuel. When the US started allocating more and more corn to be used as a fuel it drove up the price of corn, which resulted in the tortilla protests (notice how this linked article presents the "cheap corn imports" as a good thing when in fact they seriously hurt domestic corn farmers) in Mexico in 2007.
In any market transaction the strong will use its bargaining power at the expense of the weak. This has played out with clarity in terms of economic relations between the
To add more perspective about our own reaction to immigration in the
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has consistently criticized
What would happen to the Mexican migrants if they were sent back because they couldn't afford to come here legally? Aren't they trying to escape their suffering and provide for them and their families? And if we send them back, assuming we don't address our unfair economic relations, it is a "reasonable suspicion" (pun intended) that they would suffer, or worse: die a slow, tortuous death of starvation?
Noam Chomsky, the infamous American gadfly, has said that if we want to stop terrorism we should "end our own role as perpetrators" and "attend to the grievances that are typically in the background, and if they are legitimate, do something about them." Something similar can be said about Mexican immigrants: if Mr. and Mrs. White American want them to stop coming here then maybe they should be more outspoken on our role in their suffering and attend to their grievances, which are legitimate and which we can do something about. Rather than pretending we are resolving a problem of "protecting our borders" from "criminals" with beefed up law enforcement it might be better to see these people as what they are: economic refugees, not immigrants. This could likely cause us to recognize the root of the problem (which so far is largely off the radar): racism and economic injustice.
The Zapatistas began their rebellion on the day NAFTA went into effect and they have long connected their problems in