Tuesday, May 17, 2011
May 17, 2011: The Other Side
I’ve written here before about my Mom’s job, working in multiple roles with classes, kids, and families in Virginia’s Bright Stars program, a Head Start-like program that targets some of our society’s most at-risk children and families and tries to help them both in and outside of the public education system. A significant number of the families with whom she works are immigrants, and a significant percentage of those immigrant families are here in the United States illegally. And so she is in a particularly strong position to remind me, as she did today, of the other side of efforts such as the DREAM Act—the side in which the federal government seeks actively to find and deport illegal immigrants. As she rightly notes, the Obama Administration, to its great discredit, has been without question the most aggressive of any presidential administration in pursuing such deportations; and as she knows as well as anyone, in many if not most cases deportation also means the tearing apart of a family, and more exactly taking a father and/or mother away from their children (since the 14th Amendment, subject of a future post, still stands despite various proposed changes or repeals, meaning that a child born in the United States is a citizen in every case).
Leaving aside broader arguments over the concept of illegal immigration—although as I’ve also written here before, to my mind the very concept is deeply flawed, since it almost always assumes (in general usage anyway) that there is a set “law” that has been around for a long time and to which all immigrants must adhere; whereas the reality is that immigration laws have been around for only about a century, have in that time nearly always applied only to certain nationalities and ethnicities and served simply to limit who can come, rather than apply equally to all those who do, and have generally reflected an ever-shifting national narrative on immigration that is as far from a set law as it’s possible to imagine—there is to my mind no question that such deportations are not only profoundly cruel and immoral in their effects on families and lives but also entirely unproductive in any other, coldly practical terms. Numerous studies (such as those cited in the first article linked below) have long documented how much more illegal immigrants contribute to the American economy (in the work they do, in the sales taxes they pay, in the [per a 2004 study anyway] approximately $420 billion they pay into Social Security that they can never themselves receive, and so on) than they will ever take away from it. One can debate of course the costs associated with things like public education and emergency Medicaid, but given the tragically tiny percentage of our government budgets that overall spending on such programs entails, it’s laughable to imagine that individuals and families within our education or Medicaid systems are costing us anything significant. And it seems clear to me that the costs of aggressively pursuing deportations far supersede those minimal education and social costs—and do not, of course, result in better-educated and healthier members of society, with all of the resulting communal benefits that such improvements can offer.
Just as is the case with our current immigration laws overall, these deportation policies are also widely if not overwhelmingly applied to particular groups of immigrants: those from Mexico and Latin America. Yet as the first linked article below notes, by most accounts roughly half of those who are in the United States illegally did not come across a border, but instead have overstayed a visa or the like, and thus could well have immigrated from anywhere in the world. I’m sure that many of the individuals in that latter category are likewise facing increased chances of deportation, and I don’t mean to downplay their situations or challenges. But I’m also sure that the xenophobic national narratives on which opposition to illegal immigration is often based—narratives of disease-carriers, of threatening and criminal presences in our communities, of those seeking a “Reconquista” of the Southwest for Mexico, and so on—depend quite precisely on very specific images of who illegal immigrants are and how fully they can be defined as outside of our national identity. It is when those narratives are challenged, when we recognize that now, as ever, illegal immigration is a huge and shifting category and includes as much diversity and complexity as any other national community, that we are forced to recognize what most fully links all those different illegal immigrant communities, both to each other and to all of the rest of us Americans and humans: their individual identities, their social presences and roles, and most especially still their family relationships.
At the very least, every argument for deportation must engage with the other side of the issue: its effects here in the United States, and more exactly who is left behind and to what effects. It seems to me that it is difficult enough for impoverished and at-risk families in America right now, without our unnecessarily creating more divisions and abandonments and losses, more children without stable homes and present parents. At the end of the day, as with the DREAM Act, the other side is really just those kids, such as the 4 year-olds in a Bright Stars preschool classroom, who aren’t any different at all from any other American kids. More tomorrow,
PS. Three links to start with:
1) A pretty strong article on many of the narratives and the respective realities surrounding illegal immigration: http://www.rgj.com/article/20080920/NEWS05/809210310/Assertions-facts-about-immigrants?odyssey=nav%7Chead
2) An article on Obama’s deportation statistics: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2010/0812/Obama-as-border-cop-He-s-deported-record-numbers-of-illegal-immigrants
3) OPEN: What do you think?