The book group reading Undocumented: How Immigration became Illegal has been identifying themes found in the book and unpacking those themes and applying them to present day.
Some things we have discussed include:
- The use of the law by those in power to develop, maintain, and enforce unjust social and economic structures
- The inherent contradictions in the immigration issue in the US:
- On the one hand the economy relies on very low wage workers like immigrants, but on the other these workers are criminalized because of how they arrived
- The US claims to be a nation of immigrants but has demonstrated hyper-xenophobia over the last 150 years
- For people from the US and Europe, freedom to travel is considered a birth right but freedom to travel does not apply to others
- The United States government demanded that US citizens in China be subject to US law, instead of local law
- Migration to the US has not really changed. What has changed are the laws;
- “Illegality is a way to enforce a dual labor market and keep some labor cheap, in a supposedly postracial era. Illegality uses lack of citizenship – that is, being born in the wrong place – to make workers more exploitable” (P. 39)
- The cruelty of US policy across centuries: the treatment of Chinese and Filipino immigrants who built the railroads that produced incredible wealth for this country but who were then tossed aside; the use and abuse of Mexican migrants who engaged in circular migration to come to work in agriculture and who were lynched by the Texas Rangers (after whom we have named a baseball team); and the current policy of the Border Patrol to not search for migrants at the border but to wait until they are dehydrated and starving in the desert so that it will be easier to deport them are just some examples;
- The role of hegemony in getting people to buy into the myth that immigrants are causing problems and that “our” ancestors immigrated “legally” when so-called illegal immigration did not exist until 1965. Chomsky notes that Europeans ‘have used religion, race, and nationality – that is, countries and citizenship – as organizing principles to divide people into categories and castes. Each has been used hierarchically to justify social inequalities and differential legal treatment of different groups. Once status is inscribed in the law, this becomes an automatic justification for inequality: “It’s the law!”’ (p. 24).
- The use of laws to justify covert racism. As with Blacks, criminalization could no longer happen because of race so immigrants of color were criminalized for their status (p. 15) and special laws were developed for them, not unlike the Rockefeller laws
- The use of law, and the internalization of believing that law is good, makes the process of dehumanization easier
- Immigration is the flipside of inequality