Thursday, August 26, 2010
Immigration is a hot topic that invokes very strong feelings on both arguments of the issue. It is also very much a feminist issue. The majority of immigrants are now women and they are suffering the backlashes.
Yesterday, I attended an Immigration Reform Conference sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and the debate over immigration has many layers. The question arose of whether the U.S. is experiencing an immigration crisis or not. Perhaps it is not a crisis for those who enjoy U.S. citizenship, but for those undocumented "illegals", it is very much a crisis. There are an estimated 12 million undocumented persons living in the U.S. today who are exploited, discriminated against, and treated like second-class citizens who are denied the protection of the U.S. constitution.
Undocumented persons are denied their fundamental human rights and this practice clashes with American ideals. There is a huge gap between what the government preaches and what they actually practice. The very fabric of this country was built upon immigration, and American values preach the beauty of the melting pot and diversity. America was also built with the ideal that all human beings all created equal and therefore are all entitled to fundamental human rights. But this ideal is destroyed by our reality of "illegals" being treated like animals. The U.S. is constantly separating families, immigrant workers suffer from low wages, dangerous and harsh working environments. Immigrants are raped, murdered and made the target of other violent crimes because they are least likely to report crimes to police in fear of being deported.
It was suggested by one of the panelists at the conference that the immigration debate continues to surface during harsh economic times. The dialogue is used as a tactical poly by politicians in an attempt to single out a scapegoat and deflect attention from their own mistakes made in office. Immigrants are socially constructed as the "other" and their image is infused with negative perceptions as un-desirable and inferior. This fuels the grounds for discrimination against immigrants.
But it is important to note that not all immigrants are discriminated against equally. When one uses the word "immigrant", they are often referring to Mexicans and people from south and central America. Latino or Hispanic immigrants are hit the hardest by this discrimination and are the target of anti-immigration legislation. One only needs to look at the new Arizona immigration laws that encourage racial profiling and racism against Mexicans.
The misconception that fuels this discrimination against Latinos/Hispanics is centered around the premise that immigrants are taking jobs that belong to American citizens. However, this is simply not the case. Immigrant labor does not drain the economy, it fuels it. There are also strong historical ties between the U.S and Mexico/central America that keeps immigrants traveling to America, another fact that is constantly ignored.
Americans have mixed feelings about immigration, but there is absolutely no reason to discriminate against people who are fighting for a better life. Most immigrants are extremely hard-working, family oriented and share the ideals of the American Dream.