Obstacle course to citizenship

Most mainstream supporters of "reform" are pro-immigration, but anti-immigrant.

INJURY IS when politicians call those who toil without legal papers at some of the hardest jobs in America a bunch of cheating freeloaders. Insult is when these same politicians claim to be on our side.

Columnist: Danny Katch

Danny Katch Danny Katch is a New York City based writer, activist and wiseass. He is the author of America's Got Democracy! The Making of the World's Longest Running Reality Show and has contributed to other long-titled books such as Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action that Changed America and 101 Changemakers: Rebels and Radicals Who Changed U.S. History.

Here is Barack Obama speaking about immigration in his State of the Union address:

Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earn citizenship, a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.

Obama was referring to a plan from a bipartisan group of senators that involves guest workers, further militarization of the border and a "path to citizenship."

In other words, businesses that exploit immigrants would get more indentured servants, businesses that hunt and jail immigrants would get more contracts, and immigrants themselves would get nothing but a vague promise of equality--someday--if they pay taxes for benefits they never received, return to their home country, and wait. "No nos llaman. Les llamaremos." ("Don't call us. We'll call you.")

"Earned citizenship" and "going to the back of the line" are clever buzzwords to make us imagine the spoiled brats of this country aren't the rich kids, but their maids and gardeners, who have arrogantly cut in front of the decent folk waiting patiently to work in the U.S.

The metaphor that our immigration system is one big line is false. There are different lines for different people, and the lines for Mexicans and Filipinos take 20 years longer than the lines for Germans and Swedes. Some states in this country used to have separate lines like that for water fountains. If I remember correctly, they also had buses where some folks were told to "go to the back."

As for earning citizenship, I'm not sure what more you can do than generate lots of American wealth by working your ass off on a farm or construction site, all the while dealing with wage theft, sexual harassment and racial harassment, and paying more money in taxes than you receive in services. By way of comparison, here's how I earned my citizenship: I got born to someone who happened to be here. (Thanks mom!)

The idea that people like the day laborers who cleaned up the wreckage of Hurricane Sandy haven't earned their citizenship fits right in with a culture that alternately ignores and shits on all of its workers. This is a place that thinks people who spend 30 years on an auto assembly line don't deserve their pensions, but that Steve Jobs earned every penny because he "made" an iPhone that he neither designed nor produced.

But native-born workers are supposed to feel flattered by the concept of earned citizenship, which implies, like the old "membership has its privileges" ad campaign, that we belong to an exclusive club. Unfortunately, the perks of belonging to Club USA--like Social Security and Medicare--seem to be going up in smoke.

Heck, it turns out that American citizenship doesn't even protect us from being assassinated in our own country by our own government without even being convicted of a crime. I'll be honest with you. I never even stopped to consider that particular privilege until I found out I didn't have it.

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WE TALK about the immigration debate as if there are two sides but there are actually three sides and two debates--one about immigration and the other about the rights and humanity of immigrants. Here's a little table to help sort it out:

(Danny Katch)

Most of the supporters of "immigration reform" who appear on the news are pro-immigration and anti-immigrant. That is to say, as representatives of corporate interests, they want a steady stream of super-exploitable workers, which is why they favor guest-worker programs and hypothetical paths to citizenship that will keep the undocumented in a state of suspended animation, without clear rights for decades to come.

Supporters of immigrant rights who don't know what to make of this triangular situation should consider the debates over slavery in the early 19th century. Today we learn about a two-sided struggle between slave owners and abolitionists. But at the time, anti-slavery forces had to deal with a third side known as the American Colonization Society (ACS).

The ACS, led by the powerful Sen. Henry Clay, was against slavery and slaves, whom they viewed as immoral, unintelligent and unfair competition to white labor. Their plan, supported at times by Abraham Lincoln, was to buy slaves from their owners and send them to Africa to start an American colony.

Some Obama apologists who have become experts at finding silver linings in miserable compromises might think that slaves and their supporters viewed the ACS as a positive first step towards ending slavery. Let the record show that the great abolitionist Frederick Douglas took a different view:

No one idea has given rise to more oppression and persecution toward the colored people of this country than that which makes Africa, not America, their home. It is that wolfish idea that elbows us off the sidewalk and denies us the rights of citizenship. The life and soul of this abominable idea would have been thrashed out of it long ago, but for the Jesuitical and persistent teaching of the American Colonization Society.

Douglass' spirit was alive and well in 2006 when millions of women, children and men protested proposed anti-immigration legislation by proudly waving the flags of both their native and adopted countries, and demanding the rights of citizenship. The Bush administration responded cruelly with a wave of workplace raids and deportations that drove the undocumented movement underground. But many protesters took heart when a Democratic presidential candidate promised to change the Bush policy.

I guess you could say that Barack Obama kept his word because he did change Bush's policy in two ways: First, by doubling the number of deportations, and second, by issuing a series of false statements that undocumented workers without criminal records wouldn't be targeted so he would appear to be a champion of immigrant rights.

It's typical Obama: Talk like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while you act like Bull Connor.

If you think that comparison is too harsh, save your concern for those more deserving. On every single day in the first half of 2011--weekends included--more than 250 parents of children born in the U.S. were deported. If that rate is indicative of Obama's entire first term--and Homeland Security hasn't provided data for any other period--that means more than a quarter-million mothers and fathers had to make an unbearable decision about their children: whether to leave them without a parent or without their country.

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OF COURSE, in 2013, no crime against humanity is enough to keep the Republicans from labeling you a softy, and so the debate rages on about whether Obama has done enough to "secure our borders."

What does that phrase even mean? It's not as though the thousands of miles of ocean, desert and forest that make up the boundaries of the United States can just be caulked up like floorboard.

And why do these people not seem to care about the actual menaces that easily penetrate our borders? I'm talking about oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, hurricanes fueled by climate change from the Atlantic, and Justin Bieber tours swooping down from Canada.

We can expect the proposed immigration legislation to keep moving further to the right in order to appease the Republican know-nothings who will still vote against it in the end. Obama doubtless thinks he can pass almost anything without having to worry about losing support among immigrant communities.

Sadly, he might be right about some of the best-funded immigrant organizations based in D.C. But he should be wary about taking for granted the support of the young immigrant activists who have been fighting for the DREAM Act, which would decriminalize those who emigrated as minors. While most progressive groups folded themselves into Obama's reelection campaign last year, the DREAMers occupied his campaign offices.

Marco Saavedra went a step further, purposely getting locked up in a detention center so he could report on the many immigrants without criminal records who are being deported, despite Obama's claims to the contrary. Tell me Marco Saavedra hasn't earned his citizenship.

Back in 2006, the DREAM Act was seen by immigrant rights activists as a demand of the moderate wing of the movement. At the time, there was a widespread call for a general amnesty, while the DREAM Act put forward amnesty for a more limited group of youth. Today, the DREAMers are the radicals, boldly declaring themselves "undocumented and unafraid."

Seven years of broken political promises have surely played a role in transforming these activists. But I also think that many of them have grown tired of listening to politicians who support the DREAM Act saying things like, "We should not hold innocent children responsible for the sins of their parents."

It doesn't take a PhD in political science to recognize that anyone who talks shit about your mother like that doesn't really have your back.