Towards A Good Samaritan World

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


"Give thanks for immigrants," writes Rupert Murdoch. "And for a president who understands their importance." Let me second that thought. And let me second Tamar Jacoby's praise for "Bush's immigration gamble." Jacoby remarks:

[A]n immigration initiative could conceivably pay off over the long term. Latinos — even second- and third-generation Latinos — could react to an overhaul much as blacks reacted to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, flocking all but permanently to the party that passed the landmark legislation.

While I doubt the electoral payoff will be as big as that, I think immigration is the civil rights movement of our generation in other ways. It is a cause in which freedom and equality are on the same side. A policy both unjust and inefficient is allowed to persist because a major social group is disenfranchised. As with civil rights, immigration reform brings foreign-policy idealism home:

And we see millions of immigrants living in an undocumented, vulnerable, sub-legal situation while they try to feed their families by providing services that our economy needs. If dark-skinned Third World nations were once persuaded by communist propaganda that portrayed white Americans as exploitative bourgeois pigs, it was because white Americans were behaving like exploitative bourgeois pigs towards dark-skinned Americans here at home. Likewise, if the images from Abu Ghraib strike hundreds of millions around the world the world as an accurate symbol of America, it is because scenes like those at Abu Ghraib are enacted every day in US embassies all over the world. No, there is no stripping naked and no hooding. But foreigners who pay us the compliment of wanting to come to our country are rewarded by being frisked and hustled through military checkpoints, crammed in endless lines, finger-printed, background-checked and eyed with suspicion like criminals, charged huge fees which will never be repaid even if the visa is denied, then have their lives and futures subjected to the arbitrary power of an official of Colin Powell's State Department, questioned and told to wait, left hanging with no information for a while, then, usually, denied, barred from a job or an education or a visit to friends and loved ones by US brute force. If they have to come illegally, they are deprived of the protection of the law and of basic life needs like a driver's license, deprived of the "inalienable rights" which the Declaration of Independence (written, significantly, by the slaveowning hand of Jefferson—this hypocrisy is a long tradition) proclaims. Of course, the American-born, who know they will never suffer the immigrant's indignities, tend to look at all this differently. But it is no wonder that Arabs, Iranians, Russians, Africans, Indians and Chinese find the images of Abu Ghraib so poignant, so symbolic, so familiar, so true.

And one more thing: I think this civil rights movement will require civil disobedience. In a way, that's already happening: ten million people are breaking the "law" (or at any rate, defying the threat of state-sanctioned violence) to live in the US; and many others are violating the law by employing them, and by not turning them in to the police. But this civil disobedience needs to be more organized, to come out of the shadows. I want to see an America where idealistic employers put up signs: "Help Wanted. Illegals Welcome." Where illegal immigrants, and college students and libertarians and liberals who sympathize with them, stage marches and demonstrations. If they start building a wall across the border, I want to have organizations in place that will drive out into the desert and start tearing it down as soon as it's built. A key part of civil disobedience is to be willing to do jail time. If you are ready to risk jail time, you can do everything in public. You can organize in public, you can attract the cameras, you can mobilize. When you face the cameras and do jail time with a clear conscience, when the state can employ violence against you but it cannot put you in the wrong, you delegitimize the law. And then you begin to test the will of the state to enforce injustice. Eventually, that will will break, and a great advance for freedom will be accomplished.

I want to start a movement here, folks. Or if the movement is already underway, I want to join it. Please, link your friends to this post. If you know of sites where activism is getting started, put a comment with the url and I'll check them out. We'll hope for a snowball effect. The goal: that all people, regardless of place of birth, should enjoy the right to live and work in the United States.


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