Saturday, February 27, 2010

Refuting Anti-Immigrant Ignorance

"WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Press 1 for English. Press 2 to disconnect until you learn to speak English. And remember only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you, JESUS CHRIST and the AMERICAN SOLIDER. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom. If you agree... copy and paste in your status"

As many of you may expect, I find this Facebook status meme to be odious on multiple levels. For the purposes of this blog I will ignore the platitudes about "JESUS CHRIST and the AMERICAN SOLDIER" dying for us, as the substance of this nativist status meme concerns how one should treat immigrants who do not speak English.

Now, ignore that this country has no national language, and it's merely an emergent property of our society that English is the dominant tongue. We should at least grant a few things to the nativists here, after all. Assume that a country where we all speak the same language, English, is an important goal.

Alright, for the remainder of this discussion we assume that the priorities of this status meme are sound. We assume that a populace with one language is superior to a population where some speak English and some speak Spanish, presumably because English speakers were here first. We'll ignore the fact that most of the early European immigrants on this continent didn't take the time to learn the indigenous languages.

A national language is important, dammit! And it's clearly the fault of immigrants for not learning our language, right? I mean, that's indicative of intellectual laziness. It's not as though they have anything else to do.

Oh wait.

Most immigrants to whom nativists object, particularly those who don't speak English, are economically disadvantaged individuals who are working hard to build a better life for their family. Now, typically that can require a full time job, which can interfere with the already challenging task of learning a language. If only that were the only challenge and time commitment faced by immigrants in this country. Sadly, our bureaucratic, tough on crime, xenophobia exploiting government has decided to make their lives even more difficult, further cutting into each alien's time to learn English.

The remainder of this essay shall document a few of the difficulties faced by immigrants which are direct results of government policies, or have been exacerbated by government policies.

First, we shall discuss the difficulties faced by "illegal", or rather undocumented/unauthorized immigrants. The most obvious of these is the blatant trampling of their constitutional rights. The agency most concerned with using the law against unauthorized aliens is the Border Patrol. And unlike the rest of our law enforcement community, the Border Patrol is not bound to follow the standards for search and seizure established by the Fourth Amendment. The American Civil Liberties Union has termed the border, specifically all areas within 100 miles of the external boundary of the United States, to be a "Constitution free zone," because Border Patrol agents are permitted within this vicinity to stop any vehicle for a "routine search." No warrant or probable cause is required. Now, it's not just immigrants who face the impact of this. Indeed, by the ACLU's population estimates, "fully TWO-THIRDS of the United States’ population lives within this Constitution-free or Constitution-lite Zone. That’s 197.4 million people who live within 100 miles of the US land and coastal borders." So, it's not just immigrants who face the impact of this policy, but still, when one has a full time job and is being sought by an agency unrestrained by usual Constitutional safeguards, learning English might be a tad bit difficult. And that's still ignoring the fact that Border Patrol further moves their search into powerful privacy invasion mode via technology, including: "watch list and database systems such as the Automated Targeting System (ATS) traveler risk assessment program, identity and tracking systems such as electronic (RFID) passports, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), and intrusive technological schemes such as the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBINet) or “virtual border fence” and unmanned aerial vehicles (aka 'drone aircraft')." A more detailed expose on how the Border Patrol regularly violates constitutional rights may be found in this post at Fr33Agents.

The constitutional rights of unauthorized immigrants face further threats beyond the powerful Border Patrol itself. Take perhaps the most egregious example: Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. Radley Balko of the libertarian magazine Reason describes Arpaio with the following colorful language: "The publicity-loving self-proclaimed 'Toughest Sheriff in America' made himself famous with his desert tent prisons, chain gangs, reality TV show, and, most recently, with his almost certainly illegal crackdowns on undocumented immigrants. Arpaio is now the subject of a federal grand jury investigation." That's right; Arpaio's tactics for cracking down on immigrants are so legally dubious that the United States Department of Justice is engaging in an investigation of Arpaio and the police department he runs. This is the same Department of Justice which wrote a legal brief advocating that prosecutors have absolute immunity from lawsuits if they deliberately falsify evidence. Yet even they note constitutional problems with Joe Arpaio. Their investigation involves charges that Sheriff Arpaio engaged in racial profiling in violation of the 14th Amendment and that he blatantly violated the procedural rights of the accused in his anti-immigration crackdown. The Sheriff's lesser known comrade, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Peyton Thomas, has engaged in quite a few legally dubious moves himself. One of the most relevant for immigration is that he has attempted to charge immigrants with human trafficking for smuggling themselves into the country. And though the ACLU, widely considered a left leaning organization, is among the leading critics of Maricopa County's tyrant wannabes, these bumbling authoritarians face a certain amount of ire from the libertarian right as well. Arizona's right leaning think tank the Goldwater Institute has quite a few choice words for Joe Arpaio and Andrew Peyton Thomas. For instance, after Thomas issued a subpoena to obtain the IP information of all who access the website of the Phoenix newspaper "New Times" (in retaliation for a critical article about Arpaio), Clint Bolick, a former Reagan Administration official and current constitutional expert at the Goldwater Institute, stated "That may have been the broadest subpoena ever issued in the history of the United States. It literally violated the rights of tens of thousands of people. Including me, I should add. I read the New Times online." Needless to say, Arpaio and Thomas defile the rights of both native citizens and immigrants in their jurisdiction, but one of their primary focuses has been cracking down on unauthorized immigration. Something tells me that learning English isn't your top priority when you're being harassed by tyrannical law enforcement agents.

Another key thing to consider is that unauthorized immigrants, already economically disadvantaged, are often put at a further economic disadvantage by government policies. Example: The health reform bill. At this point, almost nobody argues that health care for unauthorized immigrants should be subsidized by the taxpayers. However, the Senate bill takes this attitude even further. Under the Senate bill, unauthorized immigrants are not permitted to privately buy the cheaper insurance which would be afforded by the new health insurance exchange. Yet at the same time, it's possible that unauthorized or undocumented immigrants would not be exempted from the individual mandate (The House bill does not feature that exemption). So, in other words, they would be legally obligated to buy insurance, and it would automatically have a higher price and be harder to find than that available to US citizens. A full explanation of this was written in Reason Magazine here. I'm sure the extra financial burden will be quite conducive to educating oneself in the mechanics and subtleties of the English language. /sarcasm

So, all these burdens faced by unauthorized immigrants raise an interesting question: If there are so many disadvantages to illegal immigration, why don't the immigrants simply work through the legal immigration process? The answer is that our path to citizenship is now run by a bloated, inefficient, and downright labyrinthine bureaucracy, as illustrated in this flowchart from Reason Magazine. I challenge anyone who copied and pasted the status to which this post is a response to navigate that kind of tedious bureaucratic process while on a low income and learning a new language.

Now, the point of this note is not to say that there wouldn't be advantages to all or nearly all American residents knowing English. Doing so might well do wonders for ease and efficiency of commerce and communication, as well as for social cohesion. But learning a new language is also easier said than done. If the "learn to speak English" crowd really wants an America where we all speak English, they shouldn't be complaining about the immigrants. Instead, they should be complaining to their representatives, asking them to create a more streamlined, efficient, and immigrant friendly system in which immigrants would have the time to learn English. Hell, perhaps they should even push for publicly funded English classes, and create incentives by making success in those classes a key to a faster route to citizenship than is currently offered. But somehow I doubt many of them will do this. Because fundamentally I doubt their objections really are founded in the potential advantages of all Americans sharing a common language. Instead, I strongly suspect their concerns are grounded in fear, bigotry, racism, nationalism, nativism, and xenophobia. And I think I've documented quite well how destructive such tendencies are to our rights and our prosperity.

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