Sunday, November 16, 2014

Amnesty Sweepstakes

As many as five million lucky undocumented immigrants may be granted amnesty from deportation as early as this week by executive order of President Obama. So let the Latino community rejoice, right? The odds of winning are just slightly lower than fifty-fifty!

Well, not so fast. All those deportees-in-waiting could have their newly-issued working papers, drivers' licenses and other paraphernalia of "legality" yanked out from under them at the drop of a hat. Or, as Obama himself sensitively put it on Saturday,
There is a very simple solution to this perception that somehow I’m exercising too much executive authority: Pass a bill I can sign on this issue. Give me a bill that addresses those issues, I’ll be the first one to sign it. And metaphorically I’ll crumple up whatever executive actions we will take and toss them in the waste basket because we will now have a law that addresses these issues.
It's good to know that the president will only "metaphorically" crumple up the hopes and dreams and civil rights of the newly reprieved and throw them away the minute the Republicans signal they want to make a deal on immigration reform. His statement is bound to cheer up the 11 million people in this country "illegally" as well as the American-born children whose parents had the poor taste to be born across some border that exists only for human beings without much money in their pockets.... but not for the southbound border-crossing guns, and NAFTA-enabled, outsourced jobs and mobile factories which cross it each and every day. And not for the drugs and profits and cheap labor that flow north into the pockets of American oligarchs each and every day.

Obama's temporary granting of amnesty actually falls to the ideological right of the relief granted by Ronald Reagan to several million alien residents in 1986. As Julia Preston writes in the New York Times,
 Unlike that law, which gave permanent-resident green cards to 2.7 million immigrants, Mr. Obama’s executive actions will not provide any formal, lasting immigration status, much less a pathway to citizenship.
 The actions will, however, have a large and, White House officials hope, swift impact on the daily lives of many immigrant families, removing fears that relatives could be separated from one another by deportations. Many immigrants will also receive work permits, which will give them Social Security numbers and allow them to work legally under their own names and travel within the United States, although not abroad. In some states, they will be able to get driver’s licenses and professional certificates.
All of which the president will gladly crumple up and toss in the circular file the minute the Republicans pass a bill which would not necessarily be so generous. As a matter of fact, the previous Senate bill that died in the House was light on the humanitarianism and heavy on the militarized border and rewards to Silicon Valley in the form of cheap imported tech labor. The "pathway to citizenship" contained in that bill included a draconian ten-year waiting period for actual civil rights while still requiring foreign workers to pay income taxes. No taxation without representation would not apply.

So while my first impulse was to applaud the president for his gesture of humanity, I am now having my usual cynical second thoughts. Obama, the deporter-in-chief of more people than under any previous administration, could simply be using these millions of people as political pawns and eventual human waste product. Combined with his other recent liberal gestures --  calling for net neutrality, and the joint promise with China to curb pollution -- this immigration action could simply represent just another check on his legacy to-do list.  The object is for Barack Obama to be perceived by the Latino voters as trying to do the right thing, and for Republicans to be perceived as the only bad guys in the neoliberal duopoly.

If, however, Obama orders universal and unconditional amnesty, with no strings attached, I will be the first to stand up and applaud his political courage under fire.

But here's what I'm afraid of: His executive action will simply serve as the magnet to bring five million undocumented people out into the open and more exposed than ever. The better to catch them and jail them and deport them, my dears. 

Meanwhile, the Latino advocacy group Presente.Org is not happy with the president's piecemeal approach, because it gratuitously leaves out half the undocumented immigrants -- based solely on the fact that they don't belong to a "traditional" (read, Republican) family unit:
As President Obama considers options for an upcoming executive order on immigration policy,, the nation’s largest online Latino organizing group, strongly rejects rumored administration proposals for an executive order covering less than half of the more than 11 million undocumented Americans in the US-- and is instead pushing for relief for all undocumented immigrants.

“We want relief from an all out assault on Latino family unity-- we need more than lip service to combat the rampant racial profiling and deportations currently plaguing our communities. Anything short of relief for all 11 million undocumented immigrants in America will ensure ongoing mass-deportations and separation of Latino families,” said Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of, the nation's largest online Latino organizing group. “With the amount of hate against Latinos on display shown by Republican leaders in the House, we need President Obama to seize the opportunity and fight back against his ‘deporter in chief’ status.”
Immigration amnesty under Obama sounds a lot like the for-profit health insurance marketplace sweepstakes. A few million people will be granted relief, while millions more continue to live in fear, suffer, and even die. You'll never find out if you win it because you'll never be told what's actually in it. Everything good is either temporary or stop-gap, to be renewed annually in order to keep the fear and confusion at the absolute maximum.

Somewhere along the way, human rights turned into a lottery, and the social contract got crumpled up and tossed in the circular file.



annenigma said...

I will one up you in the cynicism department Karen. Two words: cannon fodder.

Look for a special provision granting full citizenship and possibly a tax credit or exemption (and lifelong Democratic membership) in exchange for signing up for military service. Men, women, children, and the elderly welcome! The War Against ISIS is going to take decades after all, or the end of Empire, which ever comes first.

4Runner said...

You're probably all familiar with the classic Woody Guthrie song "Deportee". Altho written back in the days of the "bracero" program, its lyrics ring true today. Give it a listen, it's been covered by everybody from Judy Collins to Dolly Parton, from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen.

voice-in-wilderness said...

After having voted for the Lesser Evil two times and having lived in his Presidency for six years, I've developed a general rule:

Listen to the nice promises and plans President Obama talks about, but expect the actions and results to be nearly the opposite. Karen sketches out how this is likely to be the case with immigration.

Denis Neville said...

“In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: ‘It doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!’ The globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!” - Pope Francis

Why are there high fences and walls going up around the rich nations of the world in an age when globalization was supposed to tear barriers down?

“Almost a quarter of a century after the Iron Curtain came down, the walls are going up again. In steel and concrete, with watchtowers and barbed wire, mankind is building separation barriers at a rate perhaps unequalled in history.”

Bigotry is not the result of ignorance so much as it is of fear. Many people are poorer today. When people feel they're being mistreated, they lash out against people who are weaker than themselves, immigrants for example. It is really ugly.

Politicians pander to those fears. Washington is where sensible immigration bills go to die. Both the Democratic and Republican parties (those with “itching ears,” who “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings” and who “turn away from listening to the truth” and “wander into myths”) are guilty of conveniently denying the human dignity of certain people when it suits them.

“When the Supreme Court stated in 1893 that Congress had the absolute authority to expel Chinese migrants, that authority applied to all immigrants, at least in theory. In practice, however, immigration policy was much more forgiving toward unauthorized migrants from Europe. For a time, during the long civil rights era, Asians and Latinos were able to tap into that tradition. But that inclusionary impulse has since given way to exclusionary nativism, in which anxiety over migrant illegality has been arguably a proxy for racism against Latinos. But, in a twist of contemporary colorblindness, it also has become virtually impossible for all unauthorized migrants, regardless of national origin, to legalize their status. In a sense, Justice David Brewer’s dissent against arbitrary deportation in Fong Yue Ting, has come to pass: “It is true,” he wrote, that “this statute is directed only against the obnoxious Chinese, but, if the power exists, who shall say it will not be exercised tomorrow against other classes and other people?” – Mae M. Ngai, “Historically, America both legalized and deported migrants,”

“Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.
Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?

- Woody Guthrie, "Deportee,"

Denis Neville said...

“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.” – Lame Duck, May 2014

“We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” - C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

We are a nation in which children have become expendable.

The number of homeless children in the U.S. is at an all-time high:

"The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all cooperate and see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system.” – George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

But of course! The mass migration of children over our open southern borders, not our growing income inequality gap, is the reason for this increase of homeless children.

Politicians celebrate "family values," while making excuses for why America’s children are expendable.

“How often the priest had heard the same confession -- Man was so limited: he hadn't even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died: the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater the glory lay around the death; it was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or civilization -- it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.” ― Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory