Tag Archives: immigration

Structural Racism

Over the past several years, America has debated and (to some extent) confronted the extent of our country’s racism.The willingness of White Supremicists to make their animus explicit was triggered by the election of Barack Obama and evidence of shifting demographics, but we are still far from having a candid discussion of the ways in which that racism has infected the systems and structures of our society.

Far too many people think of racism as individual behaviors–the sorts of interpersonal  nastiness that goes viral after being captured by our ubiquitous iPhone cameras. Those of us who are white and middle-class rarely recognize the ways in which people of color have been systematically disadvantaged by official acts; I was shocked to learn about the federal government’s role in redlining from The Color of Law and similar books.

The Brookings Institution recently compared the treatment of South American immigrants with earlier treatment of immigrants from European countries. It was illuminating, to say the least.

Examining immigration policy through a systemic racism lens reveals that today’s largely Latino undocumented immigrants face far harsher consequences than white Europeans of years past for the same exact offense of unauthorized entry. A system that treats immigrants differently solely to their race is essentially the textbook definition of structural racism.

“Illegal” immigration was remarkably common in past decades. Around the turn of the century many Europeans came to the US “with a tag on,” a label sewn into their clothing to allow an employer or labor contractor who’d paid for the immigrant’s passage to find the newcomer at the dock on Ellis Island. While illegal—indentured servitude having long been outlawed[ii]–the practice was so widespread that one labor union official testified in 1912 that “more than 8 in 10” of the million immigrants who’d entered that year had a job waiting from an employer that paid for the newcomer’s passage.[iii] Others came as illegal stowaways aboard ships or unlawfully crossed the border from Canada, as CBS Evening News Anchor Nora O’Donnell recently discovered her Irish grandfather had done in 1924.[iv

According to the Brookings report, these “illegal” European immigrants faced few if any repercussions. In part, that was because there was little or no immigration enforcement, but even among those who were caught, few faced deportation. Migrants who entered unlawfully before the 1940s were protected by statutes of limitations and– in the 1930s and 1940s– by grants of amnesty. And before 1976, the government was extremely unlikely to deport parents of US citizens–the “anchor baby” accusation is a recent invention.

There weren’t restrictions on the ability of immigrants to access public benefits until the 1970s, and Brookings reports that it wasn’t until 1986 that it became unlawful to hire an undocumented immigrant.

In sum, from the early 1900s through the 1960s, millions of predominantly white immigrants entered the country unlawfully, but faced virtually no threat of apprehension or deportation. Businesses lawfully employed these immigrants, who were eligible for public benefits when they fell on hard times.

Times have certainly changed. Undocumented people today, most of whom are Latino and/or other people of color—are treated very differently. They enjoy none of the privileges  that were accorded to previous generations of white immigrants as a matter of course.

The toughening of immigration laws coincided with a shift of immigration from Europe to newcomers from Latin America, Asia, and Africa,[x] often in the context of racialized debates targeted mainly at Latinos. Researchers have documented how through the 1960s, racialized views of Mexicans shaped law and bureaucratic practice.

The report goes on to describe the increasingly draconian policies that followed the change in immigrants’ skin color. I encourage you to click through and read the entire, depressing  exposition.

Watching Derek Chauvin murder George Floyd was a horrific example of official disregard for the life of someone perceived to be different and thus lesser.  As a society, we need to send a message that such behaviors by individuals cannot be tolerated. But the larger challenge we face is the pressing need to ferret out the multiple ways in which similar attitudes have infected the structures of our laws and policies, and the multiple, less-visible ways those structures continue to harm not just the people being marginalized but also the country as a whole.

 

History May Not Repeat, But It Rhymes…

The quote with which I titled this post–history may not repeat, but it often rhymes–is attributed to Mark Twain, and it appears to be playing out in America’s increasingly bizarre politics.

It turns out, we’ve been here before, albeit without the extra “supercharging” provided by the Internet. Conspiracy theories and bigotries– and their effect on political life– are evidently as American as apple pie.

Case in point, the 19th Century Know Nothing Party. The parallels are striking.

The precipitous decline of the Know Nothings ought to concern today’s Republicans, because the resentments, conspiracy theories and rejection of reality and evidence that characterize support for Donald Trump all bear a striking resemblance to the resentments and angers that gave rise to the Know Nothings. As the linked article from Politico put it,

Much like QAnon, the Know Nothings started life as a secretive cabal convinced that the country was being controlled by an even more secretive cabal — and much like Trump-era Republicans, their anxieties were rooted in a country that seemed to be changing around them.

In the late 1840s, the United States was being flooded with immigrants, in this case from Ireland. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of poor Irish Catholics led to a rise of political groups in New York, Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia convinced that these immigrants could form a fifth column taking direction from the Pope. Under orders from Rome, the theory went, these immigrants would undo American democracy and steal jobs from hard-working native citizens whose economic prospects were hardly secure even in the best of times.

Though these groups had actual names, such as the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, their membership at first was guarded and secretive. Asked about their views and political plans, members would reply only: “I know nothing.” The nickname was born.

The anti-immigration panic of the time coincided with the weakening and subsequent demise of the Whig Party. When the Whigs imploded, the (aptly named) Know Nothings emerged to replace them. Interestingly, the Know Nothings avoided taking sides on slavery–the issue that was genuinely tearing the country apart. Instead, it supported laws against drinking and immigration. (The anti-alcohol focus has been attributed to the stereotype of the mostly-Catholic Irish as big drinkers– a focus that gained impetus from the widespread anti-Catholic bigotry of the day.) The Know Nothings supported a wide variety of anti-immigrant measures, including laws to prevent immigrants from attaining citizenship.

These were not marginal moves. At their height, the Know Nothings, newly christened the Native American Party (long before that connoted the original inhabitants of North America), controlled the state legislatures and governorships of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Maine and California. They also held numerous seats in state assemblies throughout the South, and they sent more than 40 representatives to the House and several senators, all adamant. Most of them supported stringent nativist, anti-immigrant legislation; all emerged from conspiratorial clubs that had spread theories about possible Papist aggression and plots against the sovereignty of the United States. (In their grotesque accusations about Catholic priests and nuns strangling babies and holding young women against their will, it’s not hard to see an early version of QAnon’s core obsession with imagined globalist pedophiles.) In 1856, the name was shortened to the American Party and its leaders nominated former president Millard Fillmore as their candidate for president under the slogan “Americans Must Rule America.”

Sound familiar?

The reason so few of us know this history is that the Know Nothing party split and declined almost as quickly as it had achieved its successes. But as the Politico article recognizes, the anti-immigrant nativism that drove its adherents never went away.

The lesson for today’s GOP is that simply being against something–or even against many things–isn’t enough. Without being for something, without being able to articulate a positive vision, growth is limited. Hate, anger and resentment can only take you so far.

Ultimately, successful politics requires addition. It requires a broadening of the base of support. The GOP’s embrace of crazy conspiracies, overt racism and self-evidently preposterous Big Lies has led instead to subtraction, as rational Republicans are increasingly exiting the party.

I think this may be where we pass the popcorn and watch the show…..

 

What Really Matters?

Assuming the accuracy of recent polling, even people who don’t follow politics or the news with the sort of intensity characteristic of people who comment on this blog have come to recognize that President Trump is insane.

The crazy tweets, the babbling, “word salad” responses to even soft-ball questions from Faux News, the cringe-worthy, extended defense of his wobbly descent down the ramp at West Point, and most astonishing (at least to me) his apparent belief that if we just don’t test people, the Coronavirus will magically go away–are finally taking their toll.

My own response to what I see right now might properly be labeled bipolar: on the one hand, I am terrified of Democratic complacency. This pathetic ignoramus won once–it could happen again. There is still a hard core of voters who respond to his racism and share his overwhelming sense of grievance. On the other hand, polling–both state and national–reflects widespread disapproval; credible media outlets have taken to calling lies, lies (not just “assertions for which there is no evidence”) and previously reliable Republican constituencies are forming pro-Biden PACs. (The Lincoln Group–the first such effort–is producing and airing some of the most devastating–and accurate–political ads.)

So… my thoughts have turned to the massive clean-up job that will await the Democrats if–as I devoutly hope–November delivers both the White House and the Senate.

That cleanup is by no means assured. Universal detestation of Trump has unified a party that is famous for its lack of unity. (Who was it who said “I don’t belong to any organized political party; I’m a Democrat”?) With victory will come the inevitable fractures between the moderates, progressives and leftwing factions of the party.

In the House, I have some confidence that Nancy Pelosi can avoid truly dangerous schisms; the Senate will be dicier, and if Moscow Mitch is re-elected, he can still do enormous damage as Minority Leader.

It’s all very uncertain, and that uncertainty is made worse by the fact that there is considerable ambiguity about what optimum “repairs”–both structural and policy– should look like. Some examples:

  • The federal courts. It’s not just the Supreme Court.  McConnell has managed to put 200 rightwing ideologues on the federal bench, a number of whom have been rated “unqualified” by the ABA. There are a number of proposed “fixes”–from expanding the number of judges to pursuing impeachment against those who engage in the most egregious misconduct. Whatever course of action is taken, returning the courts to the status of impartial arbiters should be a priority.
  • Other structural issues that cry out for attention sooner than later include gerrymandering, the filibuster, money in politics and the Electoral College. (Whether the Electoral College can ever be fixed–either by the Popular Vote Compact or Constitutional Amendment is a “known unknown.”)
  • Repairing the incredible amount of damage done by Trump’s Mafiosa-like cabinet–especially the savage assault on environmental protections by the procession of fossil fuel lobbyists who’ve run the EPA, and Betsy DeVos’ fundamentalist attacks on the very concept of public education–also requires immediate attention.
  • Repairing America’s reputation abroad–restoring our relationships with allies, signaling that yes, America had a psychotic break, but we’re recovering–is critical. We need to rejoin the alliances Trump discarded, reaffirm our commitment to NATO, etc.,etc. Fortunately, foreign policy has been Biden’s strong suit.
  • Attacking our appalling economic inequality by raising both taxes on the rich and the minimum wage.
  • On the policy front, it is long past time for comprehensive immigration reform–not just the immediate cessation of horrendous ICE practices under Trump, but a sweeping revision of immigration policy that discards the racism that has characterized it.
  • It is equally past time to ensure that all Americans have access to healthcare, whether that is via a public option or single payer. (And maybe we should reconstitute that pandemic task force.)
  • Then there’s our crumbling infrastructure. And the elimination of billions of dollars in subsidies for fossil fuel interests. And a long, hard look at farm subsidies (and who’s getting them.) And in the (highly unlikely) world of my dreams, beginning to dismantle and “defund” the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about.

I bet you all can add to this daunting list…..

Unlike culture-war quarrels about who’s using what restroom, or whether women should be able to control their own reproduction, these are the issues that really matter.

These are the issues that define–or defy–assertions of American “greatness.”

 

 

Lies, Damned Lies and Sanctuary Cities

A week or so ago, a commenter to this blog asked for an explanation of Sanctuary Cities and States. The question was understandable, because the Trump Administration–beginning back when Jeff Sessions was Attorney General– has consistently misrepresented the issues involved.

Anti-immigration activists and apologists for the administration insist that “sanctuary” cities and states are places where the rule of law has been suspended — places where evil Democratic-controlled governments have formed alliances with “open borders radicals” (as Sessions once put it) to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from arresting unauthorized immigrants even when they’ve been convicted of crimes.

Back when Sessions was threatening to withhold federal grants from cities and states that dared to declare themselves Sanctuaries, Vox did one of its “explainer” columns, in an effort to dispel misunderstandings on both sides of the political divide with what it termed “the wonky truth.”

The federal government has spent the past 20 years using local government (especially law enforcement) as a force multiplier to help it find, arrest, and deport immigrants more efficiently — and for almost as long, progressives have been trying to reassert local autonomy. At this point, the line between “obstructing” federal law enforcement and simply deciding not to help isn’t as clear as one might expect.

In the courtroom, the fight over sanctuary cities is narrow and technical. Outside the courtroom, it’s a culture war.

One of the problems is that–as the article points out–“Sanctuary city” is not an official government term. In fact, it has no legal meaning.

Lots of people use the unofficial term “sanctuary city” to refer to local jurisdictions (not just cities but counties and sometimes states) that don’t fully cooperate with federal efforts to find and deport unauthorized immigrants. If that sounds vague, that’s because it is, and it gets at the tension between federal policy and local law enforcement generally used to carry out those laws.

One reason for the confusion is that local police departments aren’t legally required to assist the federal government with just any policy the federal government might want to enforce. In 1997, in Printz v. United States, the Supreme Court confirmed that the federal government “may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the State’s officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program.”

Immigration law is federal law. Not only is immigration enforcement not a local law enforcement priority–as the article points out, local police don’t usually get involved with the enforcement of, say, federal tax law either–most police chiefs argue that helping apprehend otherwise law-abiding immigrants is a “net negative” for local law enforcement, because it makes immigrant communities leery of police and less likely to report crimes or cooperate with investigations.

So exactly how much assistance local governments should provide in immigration enforcement is an ongoing fight. At heart, it’s been a policy fight over what local governments should do. But under the Trump administration, in particular, it’s taken on the color of law: the idea that cities are refusing to do something they’re obligated to do.

The Trump administration alleges that local ordinances or state laws that bar the sharing of information about immigrants — like California’s SB 54, which prevents jail officials from telling ICE when a prisoner will be released (in many cases) unless ICE has a warrant signed by a judge — violate the federal law. Cities and states that have passed such policies, however, argue that sharing information about when someone will be released from jail or prison is different from sharing information about their immigration status, so it’s legal for the state to put restrictions on the former.

Whatever the technical legal arguments, the real fight over sanctuary cities or states is political and cultural. As the Vox article notes, in the aftermath of Trump’s election, a number of mayors signaled their “resistance” by declaring themselves sanctuary cities. It was also a way to reassure immigrant residents that while Trump might be making them feel unwelcome in red America, they would always be welcome in America’s (almost all blue) cities.

In response, Republicans have continued to stoke fears with dishonest rhetoric about those “criminal immigrants” and blaming cities and states controlled by Democrats.

Today’s Republicans are waging war with anyone who is  “other.” Meaning anyone who isn’t a white Christian native-born male.  They’re just reluctant to put it that baldly, so they settle for exaggeration and confusion.

 

 

The Urban-Rural Divide…Elsewhere

I’ve posted before about the urban/rural divide, and why it’s politically consequential.

In 2014, the Wall Street Journal quoted Neil Levesque, director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, for the proposition that the differences in the United States aren’t really “red versus blue” but “urban versus rural.” That observation has been echoed widely, as the differences between residents of rural and small-town America and those who live in urban areas have become steadily more pronounced.

Religion–a historically important generator of conflict– is one such difference: urban Americans are more than three times more likely than their rural counterparts to say that religion isn’t particularly important to them. (Attitudes on social issues reflect that difference: rural residents are far more likely to consider homosexuality a sin and to oppose same-sex marriage, to oppose abortion, and to support restrictions on immigration.)

A survey by Pew in 2018 found white rural residents twice as likely as white urban dwellers to insist that they don’t enjoy a social advantage by reason of their skin color.

Rural residents are more likely to be older and poorer and more likely to be isolated than urban dwellers. They are also far more likely to be Republican.

Despite the fact that some 80% of Americans now live in cities, the structure of America’s electoral system continues to significantly advantage rural voters, especially but not exclusively through the operation of the Electoral College. Whether what is called the urban/rural split is defined simply as city versus country, or by a more complex cultural regionalism, those ubiquitous red/blue maps attest to the measurable and consequential differences between urban and rural Americans.

This situation, according to the Washington Post, is not exclusively an American phenomenon.A report from 2016 suggests a very similar state of affairs in Europe.

What shaped European politics over the past two years might appear to some like a revolution of rural Europe rising up against the establishment and economic winners.

Support for Britain leaving the European Union was highest in rural areas in the June referendum.

It is also “rural France” that might empower far-right politician Marine Le Pen next year.

In Germany, the urban establishment underestimated the backlash the recent influx of refugees would provoke in less densely populated areas.

In rural northern Europe, the article tells us, younger, better educated men and women have moved to cities to find employment. That statement also describes states like Indiana, where small towns continue to empty out as young people depart for more densely populated cities.

Even in federal republics like Germany, which lack the dominance of one single capital city, an urban-rural disconnect is increasingly visible. Whereas Berlin has attracted foreigners and Germans alike, its surrounding areas have seen a rapid demographic change. Supermarkets have closed, and bus connections were canceled as a result. It is a pattern which can be observed all over Europe at the moment.

The description of those who have stayed in Europe’s rural areas is familiar here too: a feeling of being left behind has replaced the pride of place that used to characterize small villages and hamlets. Rural residents exhibit a sense of abandonment and replacement that the article suggests is largely responsible for the election of Trump and the vote for Brexit.

When people feel left behind, they want someone to blame.

And as these native Britons feel trapped with no economic future, they see images of an increasingly diverse population in the cities. To many Brexit supporters, concerns over an influx of immigrants were among the reasons they voted to leave the E.U.

In Germany, similar feelings have created a different kind of backlash: anti-immigration protests and anti-refugee attacks. Economically distressed eastern Germany has seen the vast majority of those attacks. That region, an area which consists of five states excluding Berlin, accounts for only about 15 percent of the German population. Yet the majority of anti-immigrant attacks took place in the country’s east in 2015.

In one way, it’s comforting to recognize that we aren’t the only country experiencing this problem. But while “misery loves company,” commiserating with that company doesn’t solve our problems.

A country with a functioning government would work to address the problems of rural decline–try to ameliorate the isolation and frustration that feed racial and ethnic resentments. But we don’t have a functioning government.

We have an administration that needs to keep fueling those rural frustrations and resentments. They are the sentiments that motivate the GOP base.