Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Case for Open Borders

The immigration issue has been introduced, shortly before the midterm elections, seemingly as a way for Republicans to shore up their political base. The choice of this issue is odd, since it serves more as a "wedge issue" in favor of Democrats, dividing the nativist right wing from the big business Republican constituency. Bush has attempted to appeal to immigrant voters as a counter to the solid African American vote that the Democrats often take for granted. He, and others, also recognize that business interests rely on the low-wage labor of non-citizens and this had led him to propose a guest worker program to legalize such exploitation. Another element of the immigration issue, border security, relates to national security in a time when fears of terrorism are palpable. Immigration is a complex issue and the public response to the issue has been equally complex and polarizing.

The minutemen and other extralegal possees of citizens have risen up to lock down the border and round up noncitizens. Some in Congress have even suggested ammending the constitution to disallow citizenship for those born in the United States to illegal immigrants. At the same time, millions of noncitizens have taken to the streets in protest, demanding that they be recognized and treated as human beings. A series of threats and actions have emanated from both sides, creating an atmosphere of brinksmanship. Immigrants have threatened to go on strike and nativists have threatened to build a wall across the US/Mexico border. The immigrant protests have helped to humanize the issue, but many have responded to their presence with hostility.

The most common compromise has been to allow for a path to citizenship or guest worker status for those already here illegally, but not without first completely locking down the border and barring future illegal immigration. This course of action would only legitimize nativist, nationalist, and sometimes even racist, sentiments. The proposed guest worker program would merely create an underclass of laborers and continue to drive down wages. Essentially, this is only a compromise between right wingers and big business Republicans.

In this way, perhaps the immigration issue will end up serving to divide Democrats rather than Republicans. In a shrewd way, the immigration issue may act as a "wedge issue", dividing working class Democrats and middle-class progressives. Working-class Democrats often fear that a guest worker program would essentially bring the offshoring of jobs home. Once legally endorsed, businesses could recruit workers from other countries and pay them well less than the minimum wage mandated for citizens. Middle-class democrats do not often fear competition from immigrants and frequently favor humane treatment of undocumented immigrants and value cultural diversity. This split could be politically damaging.

Democrats need to reframe this debate. Nativism should be ridiculed as the value historically embraced by the most despicable political movements. The Ku Klux Klan, Nazi's, and the Boers of South African apartheid were all characterized by xenophobia and racist nationalism. These sentiments are fundamentally opposed to an ideal American ideology that values liberty, equality, the pursuit of hapiness and universal human rights. Instead of nativism, an ethic of cosmopolitanism (meaning citizenship of the world) should be further realized. Insofar as there is an "American culture", it should be defined not in terms of nationality, but instead as an abstract collection of values. If being American refers to being a part of a society that embraces freedom and social justice, then it becomes counter-intuitive to exclude anyone from taking part in the American project.

Our laws should apply to anyone working in this country. To allow for the exploitation of undocumented workers or to deny them access infringes on the inalienable rights of all human beings. Furthermore, closing the border denies fundamental rights as well. Why shouldn’t one be free to cross a "border" to escape oppression or in search of work to sustain one's life? Borders to a free society are oxymoronic (or just moronic) and they do more to stigmatize those who cross them than they do to restrict passage.

But what about the terrorists you ask? If the United States is to effectively discourage terrorism it will be through a comprehensive shift in policy. Our policies should be based on the fundamental values that shape and define our culture. This supposed "war on terrorism" is more a war of ideas than a conventional battle. If we are to challenge Islamic fundamentalism, our weapons should not not be violence and hatred but the Enlightenment principles of reason and universal rights. Our interventionist foreign policy is based on the same sentiment of nationalism that our immigration policy is based upon. These policies are what spawn terrorism and hatred of the United States. The only permanent solution to terrorism against the United States is to abandon these policies and reevaluate our fundamental values. Building a wall is akin to burying our heads in the sand. We must challenge terrorists with the superiority of our ideas and values, not shrink behind our borders and beg for our government to protect us through any means necessary.

Prior to and during World War II, U.S. government officials intentionally used immigration controls to prevent German Jews from seeking refuge from the horrors of the Nazi regime. Examples such as the infamous "voyage of the damned", which refered to the refusal of the U.S. officials to permit a ship full of Jewish refugees to port at Miami Harbor, are all too common in American history. I am under no illusion that the United States has lived up to its founding principles. History shows, however, that America is at its best when it moves towards the realization of these values. Emancipation, universal suffrage, the civil rights movement, the New Deal reforms- the United States has at times achieved great progress by appealing to fundamental rights and values. Reverting to nationalism and racism will only hinder this progression and set a dangerous precedent in a dangerous world. Open the borders and redefine American political culture!


Blogger adiloren said...

Bush to send national guard to the border

4:34 PM  

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