Will Immigration Reform Reduce Race and Class Inequality? By Roger Algase
As immigration advocates in both parties, of diverse ethnic backgrounds, age groups, occupations, income and education levels, as well as religious and political persuasions, unite in that most American of all pursuits - namely bringing about immigration reform in the face of opposition from entrenched interests which are seeking to perpetuate bigotry and white supremacy by continuing to deport 11 million brown immigrants, it is worth taking a closer look at what reform really means and what kind of country America will be when it finally happens.
And, despite all the negative political factors which I never tire of focusing on in my comments, I am convinced that reform - though not necessarily in the form of the Senate CIR bill - will happen - especially after my having attended an event by a group of idealistic, enthusiastic and determined young reformers from many different parts of the world who are volunteering for fwd.us -something which I will describe in more detail in an upcoming post.
But when reform finally does pass - as it definitely will, sooner or later. how far will it go toward solving the underlying problems of racial and class inequality and injustice in America which this country has struggled with throughout its history ? We cannot pretend that immigration reform will be a magic wand that will automatically make these problems disappear overnight.
We must also make sure that reform does not actually perpetuate these injustices. These issues are discussed in detail in an illuminating article by Ruth Gomberg-Munoz, an assistant professor of anthropology at Loyola University Chicago in Anthropology News (published by the American Anthropological Association) on November 27 and entitled: Inequality and US Immigration Reform.
Professor Gomberg-Munoz writes:
"As restrictive immigration and border policies create a global class of non-legal migrant workers, so too do policies that create lawful status reinforce racial, class-based and gendered inequalities within the United States. Legalization policies favor immigrants who typify a 'hard working and tax paying' assimilationist narrative, while the working poor, unemployed and those with criminal records are often both ineligible for legal status and deemed undeserving of it."
"The resulting hierarchy of US immigrants both elides the complicity of US policies in creating categories of immigrant (and criminal) in the first place) and masks the degree to which contemporary policies reproduce historical inequalities. Given the recent slew of proposed and actual reforms in the US immigration system, I consider how changing criteria for legal inclusion uphold existing racial, class-based, and gendered inequities and form part of a larger body of practices that hinder poor people of color from exercising citizenship in a 'postracial' United States." (Emphasis added.)
While not overlooking the benefits to large numbers of people from President Obama's DACA and provisional waiver programs, as well as the legalization provisions of the Senate's CIR bill (whose chances of ever becoming law she describes, I think quite accurately, as "dim and fading fast") she also points out ways in which all of these initiatives perpetuate inequality and class divisions among immigrants.
I will continue to discuss this topic in a future post.