No Human Being Is Illegal

by Peter Rachleff

“In April 2006, hundreds of thousands of immigrant rights protestors marched in cities across the United States.  They countered prolonged debates about the pros and cons of comprehensive immigration reform with a short but sweet affirmation, scrawled on placards: “No Human Being Is Illegal.”  Their direct assertion challenged the deeply entrenched practices of our government and a deep wellspring of racism in our culture.  Their actions also evoked traditions of protest, organization, and resistance.

Since the days of slavery — well before the establishment of the United States itself — the government, buttressed by popular culture, included some residents as citizens and  excluded others as outsiders, as what historian Mae Ngai has called “impossible subjects.” Not only were slaves defined as outside the political and social community, but freed slaves and their children were typically excluded from citizenship.  The federal constitution counted slaves as three-fifths of a person.  The Naturalization Act of 1790 offered citizenship to “free white persons.”  The Alien Act of 1798 authorized the president to order the deportation of any alien “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States” during peacetime.  Once the government began to regulate immigration, argues Professor Ngai, it had begun to create the “illegal” alien.

Race was the central criterion by which such decisions would be made, and thinking about race was shaped by popular prejudices, beliefs, and passions.  A dual process cast the racially different as “other,” while securing a place on the inside for all those accorded “white” status.  The outsiders were vulnerable to the worst forms of economic exploitation, from slavery and servitude to sweatshops, in the most dangerous conditions at the lowest wages.  Yet they enriched their employers.  Just a step above these outsiders on the economic ladder, from their own position of insecurity, simultaneously threatened by the wealth and power of those above them and the lack of power manifested by those below them on the socio-economic ladder, working class whites struggled to hold on to what status and privilege they had.  They practiced discrimination and even mob justice at times, and they sought laws, court orders, and enforcement from the state to shield them from competition with the outsiders.  And hence a pattern took shape which would be seared into the American body politic.  When insecurity spread among working class whites and popular discontent threatened to swell, the elite and the state responded by scapegoating and exorcising “the other,” both people of color and immigrants.

This pattern has dominated our society since its founding to the present day.  When the industrial revolution undermined the independence of white artisans in the first half of the 19th century, they began to organize unions and independent political parties.  But one state after another revised its voting qualifications from property ownership to whiteness and maleness and the discontent subsided.  The deep depression of the 1870s and the political turmoil it occasioned led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first law which proscribed a particular race.  Amidst the economic and political turbulence after World War I, Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, the nation’s first comprehensive immigration restriction law.  It established numerical quotas on immigration and a racial and national hierarchy that favored northern and western Europeans over southern, central, and eastern Europeans, most of whom at that time were not considered to be “white.”  An enforcement bureaucracy blossomed, attentive not only to borders and ports, but also to cities, fields, factories, and mines throughout the country.”

Read the rest here.


An update on the Postville raids

Court Interpreter for Workers Rounded Up in Largest Immigration Raid in US History Breaks Confidentiality Code to Speak Out: Watch the Video

In the July 14th episode of Democracy Now!, there is an interview about the Postville raid and the preceding court case. It starts at about 41:15. (Play the video, pause it and allow it to load fully, and then drag the cursor to that time if you are having trouble.)

Erik Camayd-Freixas is professor of modern languages at Florida International University in Miami. He was a court-appointed interpreter at the trial of the nearly 400 workers arrested in an immigration raid in Postville, Iowa in May. He has written a scathing account of the trial. It’s called “Interpreting After the Largest ICE Raid in US History: A Personal Account.” Read Erik Camayd’s personal account of the raid [Download pdf]

If you want something shorter the New York Times had a Sunday Editorial titled,

The Shame of Postville, Iowa:

“Anyone who has doubts that this country is abusing and terrorizing undocumented immigrant workers should read an essay by Erik Camayd-Freixas, a professor and Spanish-language court interpreter who witnessed the aftermath of a huge immigration workplace raid at a meatpacking plant in Iowa.

The essay chillingly describes what Dr. Camayd-Freixas saw and heard as he translated for some of the nearly 400 undocumented workers who were seized by federal agents at the Agriprocessors kosher plant in Postville in May.

Under the old way of doing things, the workers, nearly all Guatemalans, would have been simply and swiftly deported. But in a twist of Dickensian cruelty, more than 260 were charged as serious criminals for using false Social Security numbers or residency papers, and most were sentenced to five months in prison.

What is worse, Dr. Camayd-Freixas wrote, is that the system was clearly rigged for the wholesale imposition of mass guilt. He said the court-appointed lawyers had little time in the raids’ hectic aftermath to meet with the workers, many of whom ended up waiving their rights and seemed not to understand the complicated charges against them.

Dr. Camayd-Freixas’s essay describes “the saddest procession I have ever witnessed, which the public would never see” — because cameras were forbidden.

Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10.”

He wrote that they had waived their rights in hopes of being quickly deported, “since they had families to support back home.” He said that they did not understand the charges they faced, adding, “and, frankly, neither could I.”

No one is denying that the workers were on the wrong side of the law. But there is a profound difference between stealing people’s identities to rob them of money and property, and using false papers to merely get a job. It is a distinction that the Bush administration, goaded by immigration extremists, has willfully ignored. Deporting unauthorized workers is one thing; sending desperate breadwinners to prison, and their families deeper into poverty, is another.

Court interpreters are normally impartial participants and keep their opinions to themselves. But Dr. Camayd-Freixas, a professor of Spanish at Florida International University, said he was so offended by the cruelty of the prosecutions that he felt compelled to break his silence. “A line was crossed at Postville,” he wrote.”

Copyright NYT, Times editorial writers, July 13, 2008. To read it on their website, click here.

Main Street Project

The Main Street Project is ” a grassroots public policy, media justice and cultural organizing initiative that uses the power of relationships to create lasting change. We work to document the economic challenges facing people in increasingly diverse rural communities, give voice to their hopes and aspirations, and provide creative and practical tools to turn possibilities into realities.”

Below taken from their Programs page on The Main Street Project website.

Fifty-five million people live in rural areas of the United States. Rural populations are once again growing – in ethnicity and sheer numbers – even as fewer than ever families earn their living from the land. Today’s challenges range from economic obstacles to limited local resources, compounded by a limited voice in policy planning and government.

To grow and prosper, rural communities will need to tackle challenges from all directions, thinking and acting creatively, seeing the possibilities. That’s where the Main Street Project programs come in:

We are pretty focused on Minneapolis because we live here and there is a lot going on but their are people all across the state and country who live in rural areas as well as urban that must take different approaches towards building community and getting by. Check out their Latino Enterprise Center (LEC) as well. The project is in Northfield and it is a program of Main Street Project focused in economic development. The LEC’s mission is “to strengthen communities by organizing the programs and infrastructure, and the business environment needed to maximize the success potential of rural entrepreneurs.

Blogs that focus on Immigration and Mpls Hispanic news feed

Here are a few blogs that focus on immigration issues:

Migra Matters is a nonpartisan, educational effort dedicated to making information, news, and opinion about US immigration policy and immigration reform available to concerned citizens.

It is dedicated to the enactment of progressive reform that is practical, rational, fair and humane.

It is affiliated with no political party or organization, but supports those who work towards this common goal.

Citizen Orange is a U.S.-based, Guatemala inspired, weblog founded for the explicit purpose of organizing around global justice. It is the successor to Immigration Orange and operates on the principle that the pro-migrant movement in the United States has the greatest potential for eradicating a host of global injustices and generating respect for peoples born on a different piece of the earth.


Minneapolis Hispanic y Latino News & Info Noticias de Minneapolis

For the same web site with expanded information, including a blurb and the source of the article click here:

NY Times Editorial

This is an editorial by the New York Times from earlier in the week.
“”June 3, 2008

The Great Immigration Panic

Someday, the country will recognize the true cost of its war on illegal immigration. We don’t mean dollars, though those are being squandered by the billions. The true cost is to the national identity: the sense of who we are and what we value. It will hit us once the enforcement fever breaks, when we look at what has been done and no longer recognize the country that did it.

A nation of immigrants is holding another nation of immigrants in bondage, exploiting its labor while ignoring its suffering, condemning its lawlessness while sealing off a path to living lawfully. The evidence is all around that something pragmatic and welcoming at the American core has been eclipsed, or is slipping away.

An escalating campaign of raids in homes and workplaces has spread indiscriminate terror among millions of people who pose no threat. After the largest raid ever last month — at a meatpacking plant in Iowa — hundreds were swiftly force-fed through the legal system and sent to prison. Civil-rights lawyers complained, futilely, that workers had been steamrolled into giving up their rights, treated more as a presumptive criminal gang than as potentially exploited workers who deserved a fair hearing. The company that harnessed their desperation, like so many others, has faced no charges.

Immigrants in detention languish without lawyers and decent medical care even when they are mortally ill. Lawmakers are struggling to impose standards and oversight on a system deficient in both. Counties and towns with spare jail cells are lining up for federal contracts as prosecutions fill the system to bursting. Unbothered by the sight of blameless children in prison scrubs, the government plans to build up to three new family detention centers. Police all over are checking papers, empowered by politicians itching to enlist in the federal crusade.

This is not about forcing people to go home and come back the right way. Ellis Island is closed. Legal paths are clogged or do not exist. Some backlogs are so long that they are measured in decades or generations. A bill to fix the system died a year ago this month. The current strategy, dreamed up by restrictionists and embraced by Republicans and some Democrats, is to force millions into fear and poverty.

There are few national figures standing firm against restrictionism. Senator Edward Kennedy has bravely done so for four decades, but his Senate colleagues who are running for president seem by comparison to be in hiding. John McCain supported sensible reform, but whenever he mentions it, his party starts braying and he leaves the room. Hillary Rodham Clinton has lost her voice on this issue more than once. Barack Obama, gliding above the ugliness, might someday test his vision of a new politics against restrictionist hatred, but he has not yet done so. The American public’s moderation on immigration reform, confirmed in poll after poll, begs the candidates to confront the issue with courage and a plan. But they have been vague and discreet when they should be forceful and unflinching.

The restrictionist message is brutally simple — that illegal immigrants deserve no rights, mercy or hope. It refuses to recognize that illegality is not an identity; it is a status that can be mended by making reparations and resuming a lawful life. Unless the nation contains its enforcement compulsion, illegal immigrants will remain forever Them and never Us, subject to whatever abusive regimes the powers of the moment may devise.

Every time this country has singled out a group of newly arrived immigrants for unjust punishment, the shame has echoed through history. Think of the Chinese and Irish, Catholics and Americans of Japanese ancestry. Children someday will study the Great Immigration Panic of the early 2000s, which harmed countless lives, wasted billions of dollars and mocked the nation’s most deeply held values. Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company”

All kinds of resources on immigration policy

Principles for an Immigration Policy to Strengthen and Expand the American Middle Class: 2007 Edition and A Spanish translation of the report’s executive summary, talking points, and discussion questions.  All from the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy.

1) Immigration policy should bolster-not undermine-the critical contribution that immigrants make to our economy as workers, entrepreneurs, taxpayers and consumers, because:

  • On average, immigrants pay more in taxes each year than they use in government services, and these taxes fund programs like Social Security that strengthen and expand the middle class.
  • Undocumented immigrants alone are estimated to have contributed nearly $50 billion in federal taxes between 1996 and 2003.
  • The middle class relies on the goods and services that the authorized and undocumented immigrants in the U.S. now produce.
  • By increasing consumer demand, immigrants generate economic growth that benefits the middle class: immigration is a major contributor to the expansion of Hispanic and Asian-American consumer markets-an estimated 12 percent of the nation’s 2004 purchasing power.
  • Immigrants also stimulate the economy by starting small businesses and attracting investment capital fromtheir countries of origin.

Since the American middle class relies on the economic contributions of immigrants both legal and undocumented, a pro-middle-class immigration policy must not include mass deportation or aim to shut down future  immigration arbitrarily.

2) Immigration policy must strengthen the rights of immigrants in the workplace

  • Under current immigration law, immigrant workers compete with their U.S.-born counterparts on an uneven playing field-to the detriment of both groups.
  • Because employers threaten undocumented immigrants with deportation, these workers cannot effectively assert their rights in the workplace by, for example, asking for raises, complaining about violations of wage and hour or workplace safety laws, or by supporting union organizing drives.
  • As long as this cheaper and more compliant pool of immigrant labor is available, employers are all too willing to take advantage of the situation to keep their labor costs down.
  • U.S.-born workers are left to either accept the same diminished wages and degraded working conditions as immigrants living under threat of deportation or be shut out of whole industries where employers hire predominantly undocumented immigrants.

When immigrants lack rights in the workplace, labor standards are driven down and all working people have less opportunity to enter or remain part of the middle class. A pro-middle-class immigration policy must therefore guarantee immigrants full labor rights so that employers cannot use deportation as a coercive tool in the labor market.””

I have borrowed this list of links from here. A lot of good resources, so check them out.

Talking points on immigration policy to strengthen and expand the American middle class:

For discussions on the DREAM Act:

On why guest worker programs are problematic:

Undocumented immigrants mythbuster:

Role of immigrants in the U.S. labor market:

Employers’ use of immigration status to exploit workers:

Demographic statistics on immigrants:

Effectiveness and cost of border enforcement:


“Espejos is a mentoring program for emerging Latino artists, will present this year’s artistic work June 5 at 7 p.m.” From the TC Daily Planet article Espejos: Reflecting the Latino community.

Espejos 2008
Gallery viewing starts: May 22
Opening Night Reception and Performance:6-9 PM Thursday, June 5, 2008.
Doors open at 6:00 PM, Performance from 7-9 PM
Intermedia Arts

2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis 55408
Free admission

An excerpt from the interview:

“”TCDP: Tell me about the Latino arts scene in the Twin Cities.

TERESA ORTIZ: We are diverse even in the Latino community.

In poetry, there are the Palabristas spoken word collective and other new poets being developed through different programs, such as the Loft. The Palabristas have published two chapbooks.

In painting or visual arts, Douglas Padilla and other people work through the Grupo Soap del Corazon collective, and other artists also are in the Twin Cities. There are not too many opportunities, especially for new talents, but it is being developed little by little.

And then there are the theater groups, like Teatro del Pueblo. There’s quite a bit of music, too, and dance – at least three groups of Danza Mexica (what is called Aztec dancing) and folk dance, too. Deborah Ramos works in another group for dance and visual arts.””