The Old Jim Crow in the New South

In a country where Latino and Black communities will soon become the majority, the United States is faced with a political dilemma. Should undocumented immigrants be allowed to become citizens or should politicians tighten border policing and increase deportation rates?

This hotly debated topic has views that fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. While President Obama deported as many people in his first term as George Bush did in two, some progressive measures have been advocated by his administration. In June of 2012, President Obama issued a Department of Homeland Security directive to stop the deportation of undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 who obtained a high school diploma, its equivalent or served in the military. Meanwhile, many Republican legislators who rejected proposals like the DREAM Act derided the President’s decree, equating it to amnesty. In the same month then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney claimed he would veto the DREAM Act if it came across his desk, but he would work hard to pave the way for legal residency – a move away from his previous recommendation of “self deportation.” This type of immigration policy focuses on exploiting financial gains from legal immigrant labor instead of granting migrants what they really need – citizenship and voting power to improve their access to basic human rights like healthcare, education and labor protections. If an estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants – a large portion of which are anticipated to vote democratic – are granted citizenship, they could put the Republican Party in danger of losing political strong holds like Texas and Arizona.

Immigration ReformIt is also important to recognize the racial undertones that exist in the debate. During President Obama’s first term, both Alabama and Arizona passed severely strict, harsh and discriminatory state immigration laws that caused many undocumented immigrants to flee their homes. As Armando Macias proclaimed to the Washington Post,
We have made mistakes, but we are not criminals or terrorists. We came here to work, and Alabama is our home, but now we’re not wanted.
In the process of requesting documentation papers and deporting thousands of “illegal immigrants,” these new immigration laws have paved the way for state officials in Alabama and Arizona to use race as a determining factor in questioning immigration status. Ironically, after expelling thousands of immigrants, Alabama faced a labor shortage and had to resort to importing African and Haitian refugees. In addition, regardless of citizenship, laws that block access to social determinants of health – like education, housing and water – violate basic human rights. Furthermore, to think of undocumented immigrants as solely of Latino descent creates a paradigm that encourages racial profiling. Meanwhile, it is estimated that 2 million undocumented immigrants are not from Latin America. The issue of immigration is complex but by becoming informed on the issues we can read between the lines of bigoted laws. The American Civil Liberties Union, DreamACTivists and the Immigrant Advocates Network are just some of the thousands ways you can get involved in advocating for immigrant’s rights.
by Emilie Romero
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