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April 11, 2006

Why Won't the Downtrodden Scapegoat the Immigrants?

Among liberals calling for a crackdown on immigrants, there is a trope of speaking on behalf of blacks, low-wage workers and others who are supposedly harmed by undocumented immigration. So it's got to be frustrating that organizations representing blacks and unions are refusing to play their parts and scapegoat the immigrants.

Here's the NAACP on immigration reform:

NAACP President & CEO Bruce S. Gordon said: “Our nation’s immigration policy must be consistent with humanitarian values and with the need to treat all individuals with respect and dignity. We must move away from the politics of ostracizing immigrants and instead look at the demographic shifts and needs of our nation in a larger context.

Gordon said that legislation to address genuine immigration reform should include proposals that would allow people to earn the right of citizenship through hard work, the commitment of several years, and meeting several monetary, security and related requirements. He said the NAACP “strongly opposes any efforts to criminalize undocumented immigrants.”
As for the unions, the AFL-CIO Executive Committee, a group that only acts with consensus among its unions, came out strongly for a humane defense of immigrant rights:
Immigrant workers, like all workers, should be full social partners. We will continue to support effective, credible and enforceable rights for all workers, regardless of their country of origin or immigration status. At the same time, we will ensure that our member mobilization efforts include our immigrant brothers and sisters, and ultimately place immigration squarely within a progressive and sustainable economic agenda that benefits all working families in our nation...Reforms must provide a path to permanent residency for the currently undocumented workers who have paid taxes and made positive contributions to their communities. Legalization is an important worker protection.
And if you think this is just "wimpy" unions, here's the Teamsters on immigration reform:
While our current immigration system is clearly broken, the Senate is heading down a course that will only make the situation worse. Most egregious is Majority Leader Bill Frist's proposal to criminalize millions of immigrants and anyone who assists them – from priests to doctors to union organizers.

On a positive note, the Teamsters Union does support measures passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee that include smart border security measures, as well as earned legalization for the 12 million undocumented workers in the country who are essential to our economy and communities.

What is remarkable is how unified religious, labor and civil rights groups are on this issue-- one reason you are seeing rallies on the scale we have seen in recent weeks and today. For those who see immigration as inevitably undermining wages for existing "American workers", that is the logic of segregationists who once feared equal rights for blacks would undermine white working class wages -- yet white-dominated unions overcame those fears to embrace an alliance with the civil rights movement. And the unions at least learned from that lesson that it is better to embrace the excluded to work together to build a better social system. Yes, globalization is threatening to workers, but the more people are pitted against each other, native versus immigrant, US workers versus workers in developing nations, the less likely real changes in the national and global economy can be achieved to reverse those assaults on working standards.

Those who see immigrants "inevitably" lowering wages assume a neoliberal economic system where supply and demand determine the allocation of justice in society. But for this new social movement, the assumption is that in unity, that inequality can be challenged-- from raising the minimum wage, expanding available employment through greater social investments, and through a fairer global trade system.

The resistance to embracing immigrant rights is reactionary in the definitional sense-- reacting to the present reality with no sense of the possibility of a better world and a better system beyond the present where workers are pitted against each other for crumbs at the bottom of the inequality divide. But for those willing to embrace the future-- because they see a reactionary defense of the present as a sure loser -- the unity around immigrant rights is natural.

Posted by Nathan at April 11, 2006 01:54 PM