Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Great Immigration Panic

The New York Times
June 3, 2008

Someday, the country will recognize the true cost of its war on illegalimmigration. We don't mean dollars, though those are being squandered bythe billions. The true cost is to the national identity: the sense ofwho we are and what we value. It will hit us once the enforcement feverbreaks, when we look at what has been done and no longer recognize thecountry that did it.

A nation of immigrants is holding another nation of immigrants inbondage, exploiting its labor while ignoring its suffering, condemningits lawlessness while sealing off a path to living lawfully. The evidence is all around that something pragmatic and welcoming at theAmerican core has been eclipsed, or is slipping away.

An escalating campaign of raids in homes and workplaces has spreadindiscriminate terror among millions of people who pose no threat. Afterthe largest raid ever last month — at a meatpacking plant in Iowa —hundreds were swiftly force-fed through the legal system and sent to prison. Civil-rights lawyers complained, futilely, that workers had beensteamrolled into giving up their rights, treated more as a presumptivecriminal gang than as potentially exploited workers who deserved a fairhearing. The company that harnessed their desperation, like so manyothers, has faced no charges.

Immigrants in detention languish without lawyers and decent medical careeven when they are mortally ill. Lawmakers are struggling to imposestandards and oversight on a system deficient in both. Counties and towns with spare jail cells are lining up for federal contracts asprosecutions fill the system to bursting. Unbothered by the sight ofblameless children in prison scrubs, the government plans to build up tothree new family detention centers. Police all over are checking papers,empowered by politicians itching to enlist in the federal crusade.This is not about forcing people to go home and come back the right way. Ellis Island is closed. Legal paths are clogged or do not exist. Somebacklogs are so long that they are measured in decades or generations.

A bill to fix the system died a year ago this month. The currentstrategy, dreamed up by restrictionists and embraced by Republicans andsome Democrats, is to force millions into fear and poverty.There are few national figures standing firm against restrictionism.

Senator Edward Kennedy has bravely done so for four decades, but hisSenate colleagues who are running for president seem by comparison to bein hiding. John McCain supported sensible reform, but whenever hementions it, his party starts braying and he leaves the room. HillaryRodham Clinton has lost her voice on this issue more than once. BarackObama, gliding above the ugliness, might someday test his vision of anew politics against restrictionist hatred, but he has not yet done so.

The American public’s moderation on immigration reform, confirmed inpoll after poll, begs the candidates to confront the issue with courageand a plan. But they have been vague and discreet when they should beforceful and unflinching.

The restrictionist message is brutally simple — that illegal immigrantsdeserve no rights, mercy or hope. It refuses to recognize thatillegality is not an identity; it is a status that can be mended bymaking reparations and resuming a lawful life. Unless the nationcontains its enforcement compulsion, illegal immigrants will remainforever Them and never Us, subject to whatever abusive regimes thepowers of the moment may devise.

Every time this country has singled out a group of newly arrivedimmigrants for unjust punishment, the shame has echoed through history.

Think of the Chinese and Irish, Catholics and Americans of Japaneseancestry. Children someday will study the Great Immigration Panic of theearly 2000s, which harmed countless lives, wasted billions of dollarsand mocked the nation’s most deeply held values.

From http://www.nytimes. com/2008/ 06/03/opinion/ 03tue1.html

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