My family and I joined tens of thousands in the streets of Phoenix this weekend to march against SB 1070 and for the human rights of immigrants in America. The crowd was ethnically diverse, filled with righteous indignation, creatively colorful and utterly without the fear that has plagued them for years. It was a remarkable demonstration at a critical time and I am more convinced than ever of the basic decency and common humanity of those being demonized by some factions as criminals and undesirables.
The signs and chants were telling in their essential tragicomedy. “Undocumented and Unafraid.” “We’ve read the law and it sucks.” “Don’t separate my family” (held by a small child). “Somos Arizona, No Nazizona.” “1070 = 1984.” And of course, “Si se puede.” Politics aside, this rally served as a powerful reminder that, behind the abstractions of debate, there are real people struggling for dignity, survival and respect.
It was also clear how much these communities add to the larger culture. “I pay taxes and you treat me like this?” said one marcher. Notwithstanding right-wing rhetoric about lost jobs and drains on social services, immigrants actually contribute to the economy of the nation (and this region in particular) on many levels, creating a net surplus according to most studies. Moreover, crime rates among immigrants are actually on par with or even lower than national averages, again despite the bogus claims of moral entrepreneurs who seek to incite public fears and antipathies for their own purposes.
In this sense, one remarkable aspect of all of this is the manner in which the obvious inanity of Arizona’s recent laws targeting immigrants, ethnic studies programs and even teachers with accents has served to galvanize public outrage and mobilize people to activism. As a practical matter, it may well be that SB 1070 in particular does little to change the realities of daily life experienced by Latinos here; episodes of racial profiling and raids on communities have been the norm and the new law just makes evident what has been common practice for years. But symbolically, the Orwellian nature of Arizona’s dalliances has touched a nerve worldwide and, in the process, has awakened a sleeping giant made up of multitudes with nothing left to lose but their chains.
Funny thing, though, that with all the talk about immigrants and their purported impacts on security and the economy, little of that angst is directed toward targets that merit much greater scrutiny and condemnation. As if to reinforce the point, upon our return from the march in Phoenix, we were greeted by the grim news that BP’s “top kill” mitigation plan had failed and that oil would likely be spewing into the besieged Gulf at least for months to come, potentially constituting one of the worst disasters in human history. Yet, this grave security issue and economic sink has not drawn the ire of the pundits and politicians who regularly lead the anti-immigrant charge with typical vitriol.
My family and I marched in Phoenix for many reasons, including that we still can hear the stories from our not-too-distant immigrant forebears about fleeing from oppression and economic hardship and desiring a better life for their children. When they arrived here in the US, they too faced discrimination and were constrained to work in menial labor jobs. However, they also enjoyed certain advantages of skin privilege and geographical proximity (i.e., their home countries were distant and not adjacent to America) that allowed them, over time, to blend in and avoid the same levels of long-term persecution that are evident when it comes to migrants from nearby places like Mexico.
My family and I also have strong connections to the Gulf region, as well, including tracing our immediate genesis to post-Katrina New Orleans and being infused with the politics and culture of the place. Environmentally and economically, this oil spill threatens to complete the job begun by Katrina (and its neglectful aftermath) of decimating a once-proud region that is thoroughly unique on these shores. The historical importance of New Orleans as a multiracial city in the south, home of the first freed slave communities and locus of music and culture befitting those roots is unquestionably potent in America’s “land of opportunity” narrative. In this sense, we can begin to connect the dots between the ethos of immigration and the spirit of resilience displayed by the people of New Orleans and the entire Gulf region.
The Louisiana marshlands are a critical aspect of the environmental security of the whole continent. Migratory birds and numerous species of marine life depend upon the Gulf for their survival. The marshes are a skirt that shields the region from the worst impacts of hurricanes and other potential disasters and act as a buffer between the rampant industrialization of the area and the bare necessity of preserving habitat. Economically, the fishing industry there is a crucial employer in the region with deep cultural and traditional underpinnings. And the shipping port into New Orleans is one of the world’s busiest, constituting a critical point of entry into the US for myriad items.
On this level, the BP catastrophe portends a far greater economic and security risk to America than even the fabricated logic of anti-immigrant forces can muster. A single corporation (with help from a few others) has done more to undermine the fabric of the nation than all of the purported negative impacts generated by millions of immigrants. Now, with the newly-affirmed right of corporations to enjoy the benefits of personhood – which are being actively denied to immigrants, by the way – we should likewise require that they be held to the concomitant responsibilities of natural persons as well. I would like to propose this as a simple solution and ostensible starting point:
Deport BP. It’s a foreign corporation that poses a grave threat to the nation. In fact, let’s round up all of the immigrant companies operating on our shores and (a) demand to see their papers and (b) deport them for even the smallest of infractions. Surely this makes about as much sense as what Arizona is doing these days and it would fit squarely with the impetus of reactionary protectionism being plied by the usual suspects in the media.
It will be interesting to see who marches in the streets to protect the rights of alien corporations. Will there be signs like “Unincorporated and Unafraid” or “We wrote the laws and they suck”? Somehow, I doubt many tears will be shed over the fate of these nonhuman persons. Hardworking immigrants, however, are bona fide human beings who deserve rights well beyond those afforded to artificial entities. Let’s level the playing field by respecting migrants and, instead, deporting the worst perpetrators in our midst.