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2013 is over, and immigration reform has not passed. The Obama Administration continues its policy of mass deportation, with over 1,100 families being separated every day. I believe, or at least I want to believe, that in 50 years or so, our current immigration system will be looked upon in the same way we look back at Jim Crow laws today. Because that is precisely what our immigration system today amounts to--the creation and oppression of an entire group of people based upon their race and background. Yes, I did say their race. It seems clear to me that our immigration laws today continue to be, as they have been since their creation, a way in which to racially and ethnically control the makeup of the US population. In order to understand the reality or our immigration system today, it is important to look at the history of US immigration law, and how it has been used to racially control the population. This history reveals how policy creates and maintains racial categories and polices the boundaries of whiteness. As we continue analyze our current immigration laws and call for immigration reform, I call on us to recognize and vocalize the racialized roots of our immigration laws.

On its surface modern immigration law in the US may not seem connected to race. Yet, any historically rooted examination of contemporary immigration policy must conclude that immigration law is a form of racist policy that justifies the subordination of entire groups of people—in the contemporary context this group is Latinos. As with other forms of law that create racial categories, and then use those categories to oppress certain racial groups, the ultimate purpose of immigration law in the US continues to be to police the boundaries of whiteness and maintain white supremacy. Undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom are Latino, are currently forced to live in the US with no access to the rights, benefits or protections that come with citizenship.

Since its inception, immigration to the US has been tied inextricably to race. The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited eligibility for citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person.”  Thus, from 1790 until 1952, when this qualification was removed—over one and a half centuries—whiteness was explicitly a necessary qualification for citizenship in the US.  (The only exception to this was created through the Naturalization Act of 1870, which extended naturalization to "aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent," thus allowing former slaves to become citizens. However, other non-white persons still could not be naturalized.) Although whiteness stopped being the only path to citizenship in 1952, the government continued to explicitly restrict immigration along racial lines until 1965.

In examining Latino, particularly Mexicans' relationship to immigration, the role of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo cannot be ignored. In 1848, after the Mexican-American War, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established Mexicans’ eligibility for US citizenship. However, the treaty did not mention race, thus not addressing the fact that at this time eligibility for citizenship was tied to whiteness (and providing a loophole through which the US could prevent Mexicans from claiming a right to citizenship in the future). In this same treaty, large portions of what had previously been México became part of the US essentially overnight. The US gained basically the entire Southwest, including California, much of Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Arizona, from Mexico. Looking at the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is critical to understanding the immigration law in relation to Latinos because it points to a fundamental difference between Mexicans and other immigrant groups, such as Asians or Europeans—Mexicans did not travel thousands of miles to come live in the US. Many simply happened to be living on land that was appropriated into the US by force. Even though Mexicans have been living in portions of what is today the US for much longer than white Americans, they are still considered somehow more foreign.

Currently, no legal status is available to most of the 11.1 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. Undocumented immigrants must live with the constant fear that they could be detained, deported, and separated from their families at any time. The dominant conservative discourse around immigration has dehumanized undocumented immigrants by labeling them as “aliens,” and criminalizing millions of people simply for entering the US without first gaining legal status. Although it may not be explicit, this discourse is almost always racially targeted toward Mexicans and Latinos, often regardless of their actual immigration status. Thus, although immigration law today may not explicitly mention race, it functions to racialize and other a significant portion of the US population in a manner that can be compared to Jim Crow laws—undocumented people are legally relegated to an underclass in American society.

These 11 million undocumented people, including around 2 million children, are hardworking members of our society. Yet the reality is that it should not matter how hard they work, or how much they contribute. Access to rights and citizenship in our republic should not be based upon race or any other qualifications, beyond being a human being and living in our society. If we conceived of citizenship as a fundamental human right rather than a privilege, state policy would have to be fundamentally altered to confer equal rights and opportunities to all residents of the state, regardless of their existing status within the national community. From a basis in human rights, the legal category of noncitizen, or someone who is completely undocumented, must be recognized as an inherently unequal status.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well, it's not administration policy. (0+ / 0-)

    Policies are set and funded by the legislative branch to be carried out by the executive. Congress has put much effort into perpetrating the myth that the executive is in charge, mostly so that the members can pretend to have clean hands as they go about pandering to the basest instincts of their supporters and dump on someone other than their own kind.
    Since various forms of segregation and exclusion have been identified as inconsistent with the country's overt commitments, recent migrants, who come here to work without authorizing papers, are the latest and last (?) remnants of populations whose exclusion is deemed admissable.
    caution, snark ahead
    For goodness sake, somebody's got to be excludable! How else can we demonstrate that the U.S. is the best place on earth? If we're going to be exclusive, somebody's got to be excluded and it certainly can't be people who arrive with lots of dollars in their purses or bank accounts. If it weren't for that Constitutional provision which says every person born within its jurisdiction is to be considered native born and qualified for citizenship, we could deport the whole family cohort and save ourselves a bunch of money!

    Obamacare at your fingertips: 1-800-318-2596; TTY: 1-855-889-4325

    by hannah on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 06:09:46 AM PST

    •  No, deporting all immigrants would NOT save money. (0+ / 0-)

      When you say,

      "If it weren't for that Constitutional provision which says every person born within its jurisdiction is to be considered native born and qualified for citizenship, we could deport the whole family cohort and save ourselves a bunch of money!"

      you are completely mistaken. ICE has estimated that it would cost the government $94 BILLION to deport all of the 11 million immigrants currently living in the US undocumented, so I cannot imagine how much it would cost to deport all of the children of immigrants who were born in the US as well. Additionally, if all immigrants were naturalized, they would have greater job and educational opportunities, which would result in greater contributions to the economy and a larger tax base. The reality is that passing immigration reform would boost the economy, and mass deportation would further harm it.

      Finally, your comments about exclusivity and your label of the US as "the best place on earth" seem to demonstrate precisely what I am talking about in my post. This idea that as Americans we are somehow better and more deserving of rights, and that we have the right to oppress others to maintain this is highly problematic. We are all human, and no one is more deserving of rights than anyone else.

  •  I have no problem with legal immigration (0+ / 0-)

    I DESPISE ILLEGAL immigration.  Screaming racism isn't going to get me to change my stance.  It will only harden it.

    "It's not surveillance, it's data collection to keep you safe"

    by blackhand on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 08:15:52 AM PST

  •  A few points (0+ / 0-)

    One paragraph above could use slight revision

    Since its inception, immigration to the US has been tied inextricably to race. The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited eligibility for citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person.”  Thus, from 1790 until 1952, when this qualification was removed—over one and a half centuries—whiteness was explicitly a necessary qualification for citizenship in the US.  Although whiteness stopped being the only path to citizenship in 1952, the government continued to explicitly restrict immigration along racial lines until 1965.
    There are a few historical events missing there. First is the 14th Amendment, passed in 1868. It did not affect naturalization but did make citizenship automatic for all children born here, except for Native Americans born on reservations. That exception was done away with later by the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

    Second, and more germane to the diary, is the Naturalization Act of 1870, which extended the naturalization process to "aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent," although other non-whites were not included.

    I mention these not to pick a fight over the general thrust of the diary, with which I am in sympathy, but so the diary's factual accuracy can be as unassailable as possible.

    I do have a more substantive quarrel with one part of the argument presented, though. Although I am not in favor of completely open borders and automatic citizenship for all comers (I do not believe we have the resources to accommodate unlimited population growth), I am quite uncomfortable on a quota system for immigrants based on nationality. So thus far I am with the diarist. However, I am not with the diarist on this point:

    If we conceived of citizenship as a fundamental human right rather than a privilege, state policy would have to be fundamentally altered to confer equal rights and opportunities to all residents of the state, regardless of their existing status within the national community
    .

    I am unconvinced that US citizenship is a right automatically belonging to all people who cross the border and wish to claim it. Deporting non-citizens who are felons (which has been a major thrust of the current administration) does not, at least in theory, disturb me much at all. Nor can I see why it should.

    My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.
    --Carl Schurz, remarks in the Senate, February 29, 1872

    by leftist vegetarian patriot on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 09:33:19 AM PST

    •  ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      leftist vegetarian patriot

      Thank you for adding to the historical context. You are right that I should have added that black Americans were included. I will add that into the post.

      In terms of your second comment, I do not mean that anyone should be able to simply arrive in the US and immediately be a citizen, but rather that a fair and unbiased path to citizenship should be granted to all immigrants. I am sure that many with criminal records would not meet these qualifications (although this is a whole other issue), but as it stands now almost no one even has a realistic chance. I am arguing that a class of people who are completely undocumented and have no rights should not be allowed to exist, and that everyone should have the right to a reasonable path to citizenship.

      •  I am in agreement with your overall point (0+ / 0-)

        which I take to be this:

        a fair and unbiased path to citizenship should be granted to all immigrants. [...] I am arguing that a class of people who are completely undocumented and have no rights should not be allowed to exist, and that everyone should have the right to a reasonable path to citizenship.
        I don't believe any human rights or the vast majority of legal rights are or should be contingent on citizenship. I also agree that the citizenship process should be simplified and expanded. If we wish to discourage or limit immigration of undocumented aliens, I firmly believe it should be via penalties to those who employ them, not by penalizing people who are just trying to make a life for themselves and their families.

        I wrote the first part of my first comment only to fill in the historic record (I figured if I knew the missing history, others might as well and be dissuaded by the omission from considering the more salient points of your diary) and the second part mostly to disagree that US citizenship="fundamental human right" and bring up a facet of the issue (deportations of felons) that seemed unaddressed. I very much appreciate that you took the comment in the spirit in which it was intended.

        My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.
        --Carl Schurz, remarks in the Senate, February 29, 1872

        by leftist vegetarian patriot on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 12:47:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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