Yes, We Know They're Illegal
May 5, 2006 - 4:31pm ET
Popular This Week
Also Worth Reading
What does it mean to oppose something on the grounds that it is “illegal”? Should we oppose non-heterosexual marriage based on its illegality? Shall we condemn San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom for the illicit marriages he allowed in 2004? Or are Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin (the first couple to be illegally wedded in San Francisco) to blame?
A passing glance at American history confirms beyond the shadow of a doubt that, as long as this nation has existed, it has existed under laws that have been nothing short of amoral. People of color, women, blue-collar workers, queers and yes, immigrants have been oppressed in appalling, inexcusable ways, all of which were legal.
So, no, these immigrants are not legal. But instead of opposing their presence in the U.S., we should oppose the laws that make them illegal. There’s nothing shocking about seeing a legal system with a long history of fostering unjust exclusion … foster unjust exclusion. And it is unjust.
There are currently slightly less than 12 million unauthorized migrants in America and just over half of them are from Mexico. (This, incidentally, does not excuse the use of the word “Mexicans” as an umbrella term for unauthorized migrants or authorized migrants or Hispanics in general. That is racist.) Why are they here?
U.S. trade policy. As “one Mexican farmer told a researcher, 'If the U.S. sends subsidized corn into Mexico, send it in trains with benches to bring back the Mexican farmers who will need jobs.'"
NAFTA went into effect in 1994. Interestingly, although “free trade” is right there in the name, the U.S. began selling subsidized (and therefore cheap) agricultural products (mostly corn) in Mexico. Unable to compete, 1.7 million Mexican farmers found themselves destitute. What were they to do? Before NAFTA, 7 percent of migrant farm workers in the U.S. were unauthorized. By 2004, that number had risen to 50 percent.
Not all the farmers NAFTA displaced came here. Some stayed on to work for a pittance at the 2,200 U.S. factories that just happened to wander South of the border—how fortuitous! Incidentally, there certainly is a link between illegal immigration and unemployment among U.S. citizens and that link is NAFTA. Flint, Michigan, famously plummeted into indigence shortly after GM took advantage of NAFTA and moved many plants to Mexico.
To put it crudely, it’s our fault. Our nation is continuing to pursue policies (see CAFTA ) that wreck foreign economies. It is, then, not our place to complain about unauthorized migrants. They do pay taxes. They pay a whole lot of taxes, in fact. They do not deflate wages. But that’s hardly even relevant. Whether or not they benefit us, we have the moral obligation to welcome them into the U.S.; any law that does not acknowledge this is, well, wrong. History demonstrates that determining whether something is right based on whether it is legal is, mildly speaking, inaccurate. Fortunately, history also demonstrates that we tend to eventually come to our senses. So, please, let’s.
Help us spread the word about these important stories...
Email to a friend
Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future