Immigration notes

A blog from a different world: Long Island Wins. This is a blog concerning immigrant-related tensions there and takes a “can’t we all just get along” approach. (More about their goals here). It’s not clear what political interests are funding the site, but it is an accessible window on that side of that particular argument.

Here in Upstate New York the argument is not about day laborers hanging around on street corners (bad economy = no day laborers), but very much about migrant laborers working on farms. The federal government is cracking down especially hard on Upstate fruit growers who rely on these workers to get the crops in. While I think the immigration situation in this country is far past the point of “Let’s just build a fence, and deport moms away from their kids, and pretend that will make the issue go away,” I admit I don’t much care for the usual cliches Democrats offer, such as “They clean your house. They are nannies for your children.” I clean my own house, and I don’t even know anyone who employs a nanny. However, we all eat food that has been harvested by immigrants who entered the country illegally. So, who should pick Upstate’s crops? (This is not a rhetorical question – I’m interested in people’s thoughts.)

And then of course there’s Spitzer’s driver’s license plan. My head is spinning. I have to admit I didn’t really go to bed at night worrying about illegal immigrants driving without licenses, but I suppose I should. Gotham Gazette has a good overview of the debate and looming conflict over this issue. What is interesting is how this article proposes that this is really a Downstate problem that needs to be dealt with. I wonder if Spitzer would ever take a bold public stand on the problems of fruit farms in western New York, and if he would ever insist to the federal government (as he has done to Mayor Bloomberg) that they are “wrong at every level–dead wrong, factually wrong, legally wrong, morally wrong, ethically wrong” in hunting down Upstate’s undocumented workers.

(Then again, Spitzer can’t even keep the federal government out of the Delaware and Mohawk Valleys threatened by NYRI…)

20 thoughts on “Immigration notes

  1. threecollie

    I have no answer to exactly how this problem will be solved, but across the nation ugly things have been done in the name of capturing illegals. On one western farm, which suffered an ICE raid, the family’s teen aged son was taken out of their house, handcuffed, wearing nothing but underwear and held for hours. He was clearly not an illegal, having been dragged out of the shower in the family home. I was appalled by oficial tactics, which included allegations that a friend of the farm family was held with a gun to his head and that some workers were thrown on the ground when asked for documentation. The family was left to milk 700 cows with no help.

  2. JS

    to me, spitzer is fast becoming a big disappointment. he continues to lose ground to bruno, a guy who should either be in jail or forced into retirement (and who, either way, is just killing NY for the sake of his ego).

    i buy the argument that illegal immigration hurts illegal immigrants, mostly by lowering wages, keeping them off the books and not subject to fair or equitable employment practices and laws, and by forcing them to take other illegal activity such as identify theft and driving illegally.

    the essence of any democratic country is in the rule of law. either something is illegal or not, with gray areas sorted out deliberatively, by advocates in an adversarial system, to best protect basic and fundamental freedoms. selecting which laws to enforce, or ignore, diminishes the rule of law, and the trust of the public in it.

    we seem to forget that the federal government has only those powers delegated to it

    that story sounds kinda suspect to me, threecollie. but either way it supports my point, i think. say those abuses did occur, a legal immigrant might have felt more safe in going to police to report these crimes (yes, crimes) by ICE. had those immigrants come into the country legally, they would enjoy all protections accorded to US citizens. beyond that, as humans, illegal aliens should receive those rights essential to all humans.

    to me, a driver’s license is not one of them. part of a bad design is the paradoxical effects, like the AFL-CIO fighting the mismatched SS# letters in court (almost 800,000 of its members had mismatched numbers), while also fighting for workers’ rights. when somebody appropriates somebody else’s SS#, that’s crime…and there’s currently a double standard.

    so my answer, any local citizens or even legal migrants should be picking that fruit, the key word being legal.

  3. wild turkey desire

    I also recently shared some of my thoughts surrounding this issue in an article I wrote entitled: Upstate: Migrants, CAFOs, ESL, and ICE! (with photo/drawings)

    I was an English as a second language teacher on the migrant farms this past year, so it’s kind of a personal reflection… I Anyways, I just wanted to share a couple of thoughts from it with you.

    “Migrants live on the edges of a Network. There are at least three networks at work here. The border network, the migrant network, and the network in between. All overlap, none are isolated. The nodes that make up the border network consist of check-points, fences, government institutions, surveillance technology, Private detention corporations (Halliburton and Wackenhut especially), vigilante groups, anti-immigration think tanks (FAIR, for instance), maquiladoras, and anti-terrorist legislation. The migrant network is composed of extended families, day labor sites, coyotes, deserts, fields, slave labor, humanitarian aid groups, churches, worker centers, mosques, synagogues, anti-detention and anti-deportation groups, ESL classes, and no border camps. In between are drug cartels, unions, political parties, media, contractors and middlemen. Each crack in one is an opening for another. Hubs emerge when links become more and more dense, for instance, at churches, during elections, at labor sites, and after an economic recession.”

    “This is nothing but the global regime of borders. Its weapons are detention and deportation; its lackeys are government agents, capitalist bosses, and racist neighbors; its protocols are immigration laws; its prisons are maquiladoras; its technology is surveillance; its dissemination is viral; its form is a decentralized network; its message is “homeland security”, but its meaning is “submit or die.” The border is a ghost that haunts every workplace, every highway, every courthouse, every field, every suburb, every city. It’s the foundation of our nation, and we all know what that means: without it, the nation falls.”

    “With 17 federal detention centers, hundreds of county ones and thousands of private ones, the border escapes its geography and encroaches inland. By the fall of 2007 the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will spend an estimate $1 billion per year to detain over 27,500 immigrants. ICE operates eight Service Processing Centers (SPCs) and seven contract detention facilities. Additionally, immigration detainees are being held in local jails and private prisons across the United States. This is the deterritorialization of the border, when the border traps you in time and holds you indefinitely, instead of trapping you in space.”

  4. Robinia

    Intersting perspectives. JS thinks “that story sounds kinda suspect…” I, too, thought that the stories I was hearing from farmers about raids were maybe a bit much, until I heard so many different ones. They are not making this up, and it is a change from the past. There is harrassment of the farm families as well as the farm workers. This is exactly the kind of martial abuse that our founding fathers had in mind when they addressed “unreasonable search and seizure” I think. In the name of “homeland security” we have lost access to some of our basic rights.

    Interesting discussion on this topic (farmworkers and immigration issues) at some events this week at Syracuse University– a talk by Alice Waters and Judy Wicks, and then, the next day, a panel discussion on “What Would a Just Food Landscape Look Like?” with a number of geographers and urban anti-hunger activists from both far and near. Great program, lots of ideas shared.

    One thing that occurs to me is that the structure of agriculture has been shaped by federal policies that have not taken the provision of good, basic jobs as a goal. In the cycle of always pushing for more production to ameliorate the price declines caused by overproduction, farm work has been deskilled and made more tedious, dangerous, and unpleasant than it need be. Growing food as gardening is one of America’s most popular hobbies; growing food on industrial-scale farms is one of America’s least popular jobs. Perhaps if agriculture subsidies structured the ag industry to favor smaller, more human-scale farms, we could manage our regional ag workforce needs without relying on a system that disadvantages immigrants by making them vulnerable to abuse and causes concerns about social costs (identity theft, depressed wages for low-wage workers competing with undocumented workers, etc.).

  5. Ellen

    Wow, thanks for all the thoughtful responses, everybody. (It seems to me that whenever I post something about immigration, it spawns an active comment thread…)

    JS, I definitely share your view that illegal immigration is a very lucrative and morally dubious franchise. I place more blame upon the larger forces that are driving this problem and less on employers of illegal immigrants. (I’ll pass along this clip from a movie called “Queimada” with a monologue by Marlon Brando that seems to me to speak to this problem… scene in question begins about 30 seconds in: ) It’s possible that this subject arouses such passions because really, in effect, this is the “abolition question” of our time, although there are new wrinkles on it.

    When I made my post, I realized that in his rant to Bloomberg, Spitzer had said “legally wrong” as one of his points, and then I thought that bit wasn’t really analogous to the problems with Upstate raids because there’s no denying workers are in the country illegally. However, hearing more about the nature of the raids, I think I would leave that part in, since it seems that ICE is using some very dubious and possibly illegal tactics. Again I ask, where is Eliot Spitzer on this issue? I guess he has to wait until enough Upstate farmers get treated this way?

    I am disappointed in Spitzer in that it becomes increasingly apparent to me he is not really up to the task of tackling complex problems that often have dual effects along regional lines. But that’s a garden variety disappointment having to do with his inexperience. I think he cares about Upstate, but it’s hard to effectively care about something you don’t have a feel for. I am disappointed to hear that Republicans are finding brave new fields of making trouble for him now with this immigration thing, as county clerks are rebelling (ironically probably a lot of the same counties where farmers are trembling in fear due to the threat of raids). The real enemy here is a heavyhanded federal government that does not know how to best deal with the unstoppable force of corporate-driven global migration (a force they helped create) and if the GOP would just pull its head out of its butt they would confront the real issues here instead of grandstanding in Monroe County. (If Upstate ever was independent, God save us from the Monroe County GOP who apparently believe it is forever 1960.)

  6. Taylor Made

    I find it fascinating that folks are conveniently forgetting that the Pataki administration altered the rules regarding who could and could not get a driver’s license; that is the reason Spitzer administratively changed the DMV policy. Ask any international student about the tons of hoops they have to jump through to get a NY driver’s license pre and post-Pataki. Plus if you were undocumented pre-Pataki you could get a driver’s license.

    The reality is that this conversation is really about the browning of America it is not about driver’s licenses. There have always been a ton of illegal Irish and Italians in New York. Heck doesn’t anyone remember the meaning of wop – it is an acronym for with out papers. Assemblyman Tedisco has to have had at least one distant relative who entered the US “illegally.” Or how about the descendants of illegal French Canadians who have moved to Vermont or Maine?

    There are a number of factors that have driven folks to cross the border and begin working in the United States. Each and every time that you buy those nice vegetables in Wegmans from California you are touching something harvested by someone who probably is NOT a US citizen. The same is largely true every time that you buy chicken, beef, carpet, etc. The reality is that it has been OK to get cheap veggies as long as the brownies stayed in the West. What has inflamed this issue is that brown folks speaking Spanish and indigenous languages have suddenly begun to appear in the most xenophobic of places like the South and your usual intolerant ethnic enclaves in the North.

    A number of factors have driven this wholesale movement – things like NAFTA, which made it economically impossible for indigenous folks and mestizos to work their lands. In addition, I’d like to suggest that this debate is really about Anglos striving to reassert their identity as European Americans. I note this because those brownies that are showing up are as indigenous to this continent as the Haudenosaunee. In fact, the brownies showing up are the ones that first: cultivated corn, told the stories of the twins, played team sports, etc. The Haudenosaunee know this truth and the relationship between Quetzalcoatl and Dekanawida.

    I have a modest proposal to solve the driver’s license and immigration issue. One, take down the Statute of Liberty, erase the Emma Lazarus poem about “send me your tired, etc.” and send the pieces back to France. Two, anyone who cannot prove that they have a direct ancestor who was here prior to European contact should immediately be deported to the Old World. I’d make an exception for a spouse but heck why not separate folks for their own good since they entered the continent illegally in the first place. Now that would solve the immigration issue once and for all……….

  7. Gear Of Zanzibar

    >>The reality is that this conversation is really about the browning of America it is not about driver’s licenses.>Heck doesn’t anyone remember the meaning of wop – it is an acronym for with out papers.

  8. Gear Of Zanzibar

    Let’s try this again, shan’t we?

    ::The reality is that this conversation is really about the browning of America it is not about driver’s licenses.::

    Why, of course it is. That’s why opponents of illegal immigration, like myself, are almost invariably white. I hate the brownies.

    Well, except for my significant other that happens to be a shade lighter than black coffee. And, you know, our cafe au lait offspring. And the horde of menacingly dark-skinned relatives that seem to fill my caucasian castle every holiday season, the notably non-white gang of craftsmen that help me make a living, and circle of friends that range in shade from Nordic gods as white as snow to the incredibly black blackness of the Masai family that lives down the street.

    Oddly enough, many of the “brownies” that are part of my life happen to be legal immigrants that..surprise, surprise…take a dim view of illegal immigration.

    I know this is just anecdotal evidence, but do you think it’s even remotely possible that people opposed to illegal immigration aren’t racists? Or is that outside your realm of belief?

    ::Heck doesn’t anyone remember the meaning of wop – it is an acronym for with out papers.::, it isn’t. It’s a corrupted version of the derogatory term for thugs, dandys, and ne’er-do-wells found in multiple Romance languages. At least that’s what the “brownie” from darkest Africa looking over my shoulder says.

  9. Taylor Made

    Yeah Gear — I guess that is why there is so much hysteria about building a wall around the northern border.

    I noticed that more than slight elision regarding my modest proposal and your attempt to reframe this away from the plight of the indigenous on this continent.

    I’m not surprised since folks from the Old World sorta think all of this belongs to them.

  10. Gear Of Zanzibar

    ::Yeah Gear — I guess that is why there is so much hysteria about building a wall around the northern border.::

    Obviously that hysteria is driven by racism and has nothing to do with the actual numbers of illegal immigrants crossing those respective borders.

    ::I noticed that more than slight elision regarding my modest proposal and your attempt to reframe this away from the plight of the indigenous on this continent.::

    If those indigenous people had spent less time cultivating corn and hanging around the ball court and put some effort into developing tool steel and mounted cavalry they’d probably still be in charge.


    See? That’s how you use snark to shut down serious discussion.

    ::I’m not surprised since folks from the Old World sorta think all of this belongs to them.::

    Damn them and their materialistic ways.

  11. Ellen

    Perhaps if they’d spent less time showing the hapless starving Pilgrims how to cultivate corn. ;-)

  12. Taylor Made

    Gear thanks for making my points — you do look around and think that Old World fashioned boundaries have merit and exist because Old Worlders declare them valid. In other words at best your response has shifted away from some feigned form of “identity” into barely disguised xenophobia mixed with that good old fashioned oafish dash of the White Man’s burden.

    I guess you’ll run out to the next pow wow and tell us how much you identify with Native American values.

  13. Gear Of Zanzibar

    ::Perhaps if they’d spent less time showing the hapless starving Pilgrims how to cultivate corn. ;-)::


    To bring this back to the farming issue, if they’d actually listened and tried to understand why those planting methods worked there’s a good chance our system of agriculture would be significantly different today, to everyone’s benefit. Accepting the idea of soil as a living thing earlier, as opposed to the chemically reductionist view that was shaping agricultural science, might have helped prevent our reliance on high-impact farming methods. Instead we had to wait two centuries for Howard to rediscover and popularize organic farming.

  14. Ellen

    It seems to me that no one is really in essential disagreement that the system as it is, is exploiting a class of people for cheap labor and driving down wages and protections for other workers.

    This is exactly the problem (the “free labor vs. slave power” question) that drove most mainstream political opposition to the institution of slavery.
    Perhaps looking at illegal immigration as a socioeconomic *institution* comparable to slavery as a socioeconomic institution, maybe that will help clear the rhetorical air a bit.

    We forget that the anti-slavery movement itself in America had serious ideological divisions. There were abolitionists who hated the exact same things about slavery as other abolitionists did, but who firmly believed that sending freed slaves back to Africa had to be part of the ultimate solution. Who knows what their psychological motivations were? No doubt there was difference even among the Colonization Society people. Some were probably outright racist and couldn’t imagine blacks melting into white American society or didn’t believe they SHOULD, and just wanted them out of their lily white nation. Others were probably not confident that freedmen could assimilate to freeborn society – a cultural gap in other words. Others probably genuinely believed that the place for African Americans was in Africa where they could uplift themselves in their “own” homeland (although of course they were generations removed!) and felt nothing but concern that the “Africans” should have the right and speedy assistance to do that.

    I see a lot of parallels between yesterday’s pro-colonization abolitionists and today’s Americans who sincerely believe in stopping the flow of illegal immigrants and in “making them go home” and “make something of themselves.”

    But I personally don’t hear much coming from that side (at least in the media) that addresses the roots of the problem – such as stopping the metaphorical “slave ships” from perpetuating this institution. The powers that be in today’s corporate world (military industrial complex, whatever you want to call it) have come up with a rather ingenious new way of importing the labor: rather than sending slavers in to hunt and capture them and bring them through a deadly Middle Passage — although coyotes perform that service nicely in the deadly Arizona desert — they just do things to make conditions in their home countries so intolerable that the “slaves” flee willy-nilly into the farms and factories themselves. What a moral relief.

    And now we’re at the point where using “slaves” (or rather, “illegals” – since it’s of course not really slavery) has become institutionalized on American farms. How many farms (hardly evil enterprises) could stay in business without the institution of illegal immigration?

    In the 19th century, enemies of the colonization societies were the radical abolitionists who demanded not only emancipation immediately, but also a total and immediate cultural and economic assimilation. I’m not sure many people realize how utterly radical their ideas about this were. America was NOT ready for such ideas, as we have seen. And some of these radical abolitionists got very righteously impatient (see: John Brown, Harpers Ferry).

    We also forget that Lincoln’s ideas on slavery, abolition, and freedmen were very nuanced and complex (and perhaps distasteful to some), until war and the politics of war essentially forced his hand to act in ways he would never have considered before he became president.

    So I have patience for people who want increased border protection and value a good deal of what they have to say.

    What I have less patience for are the blunt and bland appeals I so often hear about “illegality.” Please, let’s stop this discussion-killer in its tracks. If “the law” (Constitution, for example) was paramount and not the “law of unstoppable migrating populations,” we’d all be living on Iroquois-controlled land right now and not complaining about it (as people especially in Oneida and Cayuga country often do – quite bitterly – and resort to lame legal tactics like attempting to apply property law to Constitutional trade and treaty law). If we make “upholding the law” the center of our arguments on immigration, we should be prepared to be held to examining other bits of Constitutional illegality. A sore point in upstate NY.

  15. Taylor Made

    Ellen — I’ll leave the field by making a few observations.

    The war that the United States fought against Mexico was considered by many an illegal and immoral war fought in the interests of slave holders. The so-called Texas Republic was formed because southerners wanted to reintroduce an outlawed practice, i.e., slavery into Texas. Thoreau, for example, spent the night in jail when he refused to pay the tax levied to support the war against Mexico. The fallout of that war was that Mexico lost roughly 1/2 of its territory and a fetid and festering scab called a “border” that periodically erupts.

    The state of historical amnesia suffered by most US citizens makes them think that they are the only Americans on a continent where many indigenous and their descendants still reside — the Haudenosaunee, the Poblanos, Chichimecas, Yaquis, etc. I guess none of them are “Americans.” To this day I am continually astonished by non-indigenous folks who still assume this is “their land” by right of butchery. The “illegals” from Mexico are by and large indigenous folks or mestizos (called Metis in Canada). They are here because of the power of global corporations to squeeze blood out of stones. Nonetheless, I’m always surprised when folks say — well so what or forget about that war or incident. It is the same language and frame practiced by folks who’ve perpetuated genocide against others. I don’t think there is a simple answer rooted in xenophobia. A simple answer would be to create some form of economic or political union for all of the Americas — enabling capital and folks to move across borders similar to what exists in the EU. I figure it will take 30-50 years and a US citizenry that isn’t always afraid of its own shadow.

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