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Monday, December 06, 2004

Taking Back the South, Pt. 3. - What Would a Progressive Immigration Policy Look Like?

The Bush Administration’s policy on immigration has been, to no one’s surprise, designed to facilitate the erosion of worker’s rights, the exploitation of illegal immigrants, the further flow of money from the bottom to the top and the destruction of the middle class. Democrats have been slow to define themselves on this front, in large part because immigration policy pits core values of the Democratic Party against each other – looking out for the rights of minorities and oppressed peoples vs. the protection of jobs and worker’s rights. The Kerry/Edwards campaign barely addressed the subject, yet polls show Americans clamoring for immigration reform.

How do we as Democrats define a progressive policy that balances the needs of a variety of social concerns? This is where practical needs and ideologies clash. This diary has far more questions than answers. The subject demands a whole lot of creative thinking, not sidestepping, so PLEASE CONTRIBUTE YOUR IDEAS!!!!

When I began this series of diaries on “Taking Back the South” and lead off with immigration reform, I was prepared for the inevitable accusations of “racism,” “jingoism” and “anti-immigration” that inevitably keep people from bringing it up in the first place. I am happy to report that for the most part this has not been the case, and I have been delighted with the thought provoking comments that the Kossacks have offered. Before I go any further, let me assure everyone that I am not “anti-immigration.” I believe strongly in the need for immigrant voices to contribute to the cultural dialog in a country that tends to forget that the rest of the world even exists, except as a nemesis.

One of my heroes is Sorious Samura, the African journalist who risked his life to remain in Sierra Leone after most journalists had fled the country in January of 1999. The footage he brought back showing the acts of violence committed by rebel soldiers and the Nigerian led so-called “peace keepers” was considered “too shocking” by the major networks, who refused to run it. When he won an award in London later that year for his work (which was finally broadcast on CNN), he looked down on the assembled brass from ABC, NBC, the BBC, etc, and said “Where were you when my country was on its knees?” Holding up his award, he said: “You see this? You can keep it if it means that you will start to tell the story of Africa properly.” (Brokaw managed to skip this one on his way out the door. Much easier to roll around in all that cushy “greatest generation” crap.)

In short, if we expect the media to advocate for the rest of the world in the American discourse, we will be sadly disappointed. I believe we need a progressive immigration policy that assures that these voices will steadily flow into the culture, and the present system most assuredly does not do that. What follows are talking points for what I hope will be an ongoing discussion about the sticky questions that revolve around the immigration issue, something I think about a lot and do not have any firm answers for. The list has grown so long I am going to divide it up over the course of several days, so PLEASE BOOKMARK THIS DIARY AND COME BACK AND PUT IN YOUR TWO CENTS!

. When it comes to immigration, one of the fundamental questions is how much is enough, and how much is too much? FAIR is an environmental group formed in 1979 to promote immigration reform into the management of population growth in the US. They quote Census Bureau figures that project the US population at current growth rates to be 404 million people in 2050 (116 more than our current population). The high scenario is 520 million people. FAIR and others believe this pits current immigration policy squarely against the interests of environmentalism:

Since 1970, our population has grown by over 85 million people. Over half of our current high rate of population growth is due to new immigration and the children born to immigrants here. More people means more demands for resources, more pollution, more energy use, and more waste. More land is required for agriculture, causing deforestation and soil erosion. More homes, factories, and roads must be built, destroying habitat for other species. If our population continues to grow, we won't reach any of our environmental goals. Our best efforts to conserve water and energy, reduce pollution, control sprawl, and preserve green spaces will continue to be overwhelmed by population growth.

Current US policy effectively adds one million legal and 700,000 illegal immigrants per year to the population according to SUSPS, or “Support US Population Stabilization,” a group of disgruntled Sierra Club members who thought the Club weenied out to the forces of “political correctness” in 1996 when they removed limiting immigration from their agenda to achieve zero population growth. SUSPS advocates balancing immigration with emigration (approx. 200,000 people annually). They, and others, claim that birth rates first dropped to replacement level in 1972; therefore current levels of population growth are the result of immigration policy. “Environmentalists need not apologize for acknowledging this demographic reality,” they state. “To the contrary, environmentalists who refuse to recognize the seismic shift of demographics in the U.S. betray their own cause.”

Most environmentally-based organizations focus on the elimination of illegal immigration and chain migration. For the purposes of discussion, I've included FAIR's recommendations for legal immigration regulation reform:

. Move from a system of expansive “chain migration” to one of discrete “nuclear family” migration.
. Eliminate the immigration categories for siblings and adult sons/daughters.
. Support an enforceable cap on overall annual immigration of about 200,000.
. Deduct the immediate relatives of an immigrant in the year the primary immigrant enters.
. Admissions under any special, new, or temporary programs (such as amnesties, paroles, or lotteries) should count toward the overall cap, and other admissions should be reduced accordingly.
. Enact a blanket moratorium on future immigration (other than spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens) in order to eliminate the backlog and to get a fresh start.
. Explain these ground rules clearly to the primary immigrant before he/she enters the U.S.

So the floor is open. How open should our boarders be? What are our responsibilities to include the voices of all cultures, and how should they be balanced with the needs for population control and environmentalism? I frankly don't know. But I hope there is enough fodder in the above to fuel a thoughtful discussion.

In the coming days I'll try to deal with the problem of the H1-B and L1 visa programs which several people have made reference to, which are creating such havoc in the tech world, as well as the neo-fascist underpinnings of Bush's proposed “guest worker” program.

Other posts in this series:

Taking Back the South Pt. 1 - Welcome to Flea Country"
Taking Back the South Pt. 2 - Bring Me the Head of David Dreier
Taking Back the South Pt. 4 - Immigration and "Democratic Values"