We've got a war going on today. It's not in Iraq or Afghanistan; it's right here in America. It's not the War on Drugs or the War on Poverty. It's a war on North Americans, working in restaurants and factories around the corner and across the country.
The War on Immigration is creating new victims on a daily basis, both citizens and immigrants alike. Each arrest, each deportation puts at risk the life of the immigrant and the livelihood of the citizen counting on them for labor.
Take a look at the recent raid on Casa Fiesta, where 58 employees at eight restaurants throughout Ohio were arrested. You may call them what you like, but these immigrants are men and women, fathers and mothers looking for work and the hope of a better tomorrow. They're not so different from the immigrants who came by boat to populate Youngstown with Italians, Germans, Polish, Hungarians, and so many other ethnicities many years ago, except that they've come by land rather than sea.
They also missed out on a more liberal immigration policy. When President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, the government had the brilliant idea that penalizing the employment of undocumented immigrants would reduce their opportunities and wages, thereby decreasing the amount of undesirable immigration. As we know, however, the numbers continue to grow. So do the problems.
Gravely troubling is the story of what happened in Iowa this May, when federal immigration agents raided a meatpacking plant after a long investigation into its workplace conditions. But, as the New York Times pointed out in an editorial last week, after amassing "evidence of rampant illegal hiring," "a videotape by an animal-rights group [showing] workers pulling the windpipes out of living cows," and "an ugly reputation for abusing animals and workers," "the government swoops in and arrests ... the workers, hundreds of them, for having false identity papers."
The workers are then charged with "aggravated identity theft," as if the workers' sole aim in visiting the United States was to defraud the government rather than earn what wages they can for their families, accepting whatever conditions they must in the process:
"Some said they worked shifts of 12 hours or more, wielding razor-edged knives and saws to slice freshly killed beef. Some worked through the night, sometimes six nights a week.
One, a Guatemalan named Elmer L. who said he was 16 when he started working on the plant’s killing floors, said he worked 17-hour shifts, six days a week. In an affidavit, he said he was constantly tired and did not have time to do anything but work and sleep. “I was very sad,” he said, “and I felt like I was a slave.”"
- Accept increased labor mobility
Capital has become mobile, but labor has not kept pace, because we have restricted its flow. The labor market must likewise become global and free-flowing, if well-regulated.
- Incorporate robust enforcement and safeguards
We accept that there must be limits on legal immigration and there must be security at points of entry to our borders to acknowledge today's threats. At the same time, we must ensure our practices in dealing with immigrants and border security are humane and in accordance with the personal rights and privacy that are the foundation of our Constitution.
- Protect U.S. workers
We've taken too many backwards steps in the protection of workers, towards a new gilded age. We need to ensure workers retain the right to organize, can earn a fair wage, and may change jobs freely without fear of retribution or loss of a safety net for their families (e.g. health care)
- Increase and diversify legal immigration
We tend to think of immigration with an eye only towards our southern border, but there are all types of immigrant workers. The report cites 25% of "venture-backed companies founded between 1990 and 2005" started by immigrants and the $130 billion in revenue and 220,000 U.S. workers employed in the same period by "immigrant-founded publicly traded" companies. Overall levels of legal immigration should be increased to take advantage of the varied forms of immigration that power our economic engine.
- Resolve the status of the undocumented
There are millions of workers currently benefiting our economy, though with an undocumented status and with no legal rights. There must be a fair, firm path to become legal to escape the current exploited status in which the undocumented workers exist and to secure opportunity for those workers and U.S. workers alike.
- Foster an inclusive American identity
American society has always been influenced by immigrants, and the future will continue to find this to be the case. We must find a balance between promoting our traditional values and acknowledging that people must bring with them their own values to stay true to their heritage.
What can you do to help? Start by connecting with those who are already making a difference: organizations like Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Youngstown. You don't have to be a Catholic—or even a believer—to believe in their mission: "helping meet basic human needs, strengthening families, building communities and empowering low-income people."
And even thought its Web site clearly states that the group provides "outreach and ministry to immigrant and migrant populations," when I met with Executive Director Brian Corbin recently, he explained that when he speaks up on immigration, he regularly gets calls from angry donors who want their money back.
Reach out to organizations like Catholic Charities to help fight poverty and racism in America and make a difference in Youngstown and Northeast Ohio.
Write to your congressperson, and insist on a fair immigration policy that follows the guidelines set forth above.
Keep your eyes and ears open and stay educated on the subject of immigration, and be prepared to confront issues as they surface in conversation. Don't let racism go unchallenged. By standing up to hatred and ignorance, you can set an example and change minds.
Love one another.
Have a topic you'd like to read about? Or just want to give your feedback? E-mail me at reason -at- tylersclark.com