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Immigration's strain on democracy

Guest Blogger

The United States has always been enhanced and challenged by immigration. America’s democratic ideals have kept the gates open to those seeking a freer, and more prosperous, life. But the flood of undocumented immigrants has put pressure on American tolerance and the preservation of civil liberties. Robert Koulish, a visiting senior fellow at the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland, worries that U.S. efforts to control the influx of undocumented immigrants has resulted in undemocratic policies. In “Immigration and American Democracy: Subverting the Rule of Law,” he points to excessive use of private contractors in immigration roles, social control measures in the name of state sovereignty and unconstitutional surveillance activities.

By Robert Koulish

Efforts to control undocumented immigrants challenge some of American democracy’s most basic precepts. At bottom, such efforts deal with the almost unresolvable struggle in democratic society: to locate people (most of whom are of color) who are unidentifiable for lack of records or documents without creating an apartheid police state.

The new Arizona law SB 1070 makes it a criminal offense to be an “illegal alien”— and mandates local police to identify and arrest unauthorized immigrants. In a border state like Arizona the loose legal standard of “reasonable suspicion” which some insist will restrain police power, actually translates into racial apartheid against all Latinos.

Rather than being out of step with federal priorities, however, the Arizona law actually matches up quite well with recent immigration control activity coming out of the nation’s capital, which few inside the Beltway would concede, and which is quite alarming.

Arizona’s legislation fits right in with existing federal programs and proposals: Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), two efforts that empower state and local police to identify, arrest and detain suspected undocumented immigrants; ongoing detention and dataveillance programs; and Sen. Schumer’s comprehensive immigration reform REPAIR proposal, which focuses on immigration control to the near exclusion of legalization.

Since 9/11, public-private partnerships in America (DHS contracts with Boeing, Geo Group; Unisyss; the Carlyle Group) have built a multi billion-dollar immigration control complex that has been tasked with identifying, detaining and removing several million unidentified immigrants, and have failed miserably.

Such acts of social control deploy an extremely wide net of strategies -- zero tolerance policing in such federal-state programs as the criminal alien program and “secure communities”; expedited removal programs; biometric ID cards about to be proposed in comprehensive immigration reform; and such national databases as IDENT or U.S. VISIT -- which struggle to identify persons who enter and leave the country lawfully, but are not designed at all to identify and collect data on undocumented immigrants who live in fear of being detected and thus seek to avoid it at all costs.

Although aspects of this immigration control complex have repeatedly drawn the scornful criticism of Congress and the GAO for ineptitude, wasteful spending, and a lack of transparency, the Obama Administration has double-downed on some of the most egregious excesses.

The 2010 federal budget allocated $1.5 billion to the criminalization of immigration. Specifically, much of this money is being directed to the “Criminal Alien” and “Secure Communities” programs. Like the Arizona law, these programs encourage police to cast a dragnet over Latino communities.

One reason for the expansion of such programs despite repeated failures is that the system of identification, policing, detention and removal is quite profitable to private firms as well as being quite appealing to re-election minded politicians whose support for immigration controls generates ads saying they are tough on crime and undocumented immigration.

For these reasons, the immigration control regime enjoys bipartisan support in Congress and from the President Obama and President Bush before him.

Regrettably, it matters little that these strategies racially profile and intrude upon civil liberties and basic human rights, because they rely on meta-strategies of sovereignty -- as opposed to the constitution -- for legitimacy. Sovereignty is a nation’s sense of radical independence and has inspired some of society’s most racist impulses for more than a century, and for some in Arizona it legitimizes the racialist core of the state’s new law. The meta-strategies focus on creating and deploying control systems rather than catering to individuals.

As offensive as the Arizona law is to democratic sensibilities, its existence is understandable when viewed in the context of REPAIR and Secure Communities. It seems America’s phrase -- the land of the free, the home of the brave -- couldn’t be further from our reality at this time in our history when it comes to immigration control.
Instead of a government of the people, by the people, a racialist neoliberal corporatism reigns.

By Steven E. Levingston  |  May 18, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags: arizona immigration law, civil liberties and immigration, flow of undocumented immigrants  
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Anti-Amnesty? Go to NumbersUSA for the truth. There are 20 to 30 million illegal immigrants in America and they are continuously feeding of your taxes.

Posted by: infinity555 | May 18, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

"Strain on Democracy" -yep. With an invasion by millions from a culture that has little respect for the rule of law (bribery, corruption, border jumping, tax evasion...) and academic dropout rate our democracy is indeed under threat.
The solution is simple: repatriate those who have trespassed and created this disaster. These folks were able to get here; they can be assisted back.

"Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent." - Adam Smith, economist and ethicist

Everything you need to know about immigration and what to do about it humorously told.

(Roy Beck and NumbersUSA are the "gumball" heroes)

Posted by: wandagb | May 18, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Label sovereignty any way you want. People gave there live so we could have our freedom and sovereignty. The government
doesn't make criminalization of immigration. Immigration is legal. It is the criminal trespassers we want out of our country.

Trying to lump illegal aliens with legal immigrants is a big pile of dribble.

We've spent a trillion dollars on meaningless wars and put men on the moon and in the same breath claim we can't control our borders. Whatever happen to the American can do attitude. Yes we can!!!

It is real simple bookworm.
Control the border and deport all illegals.
Americans welcome legal immigrants with open arms.

Why do Illegal's deserve amnesty?? There are people lawfully waiting in line to get in this country and many people all over the world are in worse economic distress than the current crop of illegals. Kick out the illegals and replace them with legal immigrants facing starvation in Ethiopia or others facing ethnic cleansing.

Posted by: joejoe2000 | May 18, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

enforce the laws now, we need not put racial profiling into this,and we do not need to use race as a means not to enforce the laws,if immigration is to get stopped then the only way is to enforce the laws,The presedent of Mexico should be spending his time trying to do for its people what he demands of the U.S. Government, Mexico is the most inhumane of all not to mention the immigration laws it has.

Posted by: pisstoff | May 18, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, Rob, for your post. Check out my post to the National Catholic Reporter last weekend about what old(er) movies can tell us about specifically about Arizona and identity papers and what it means for immigrants who look to the USA as the fulfillment of their dreams: The Hunt for Red October. Things can change - but maybe with enough shared wisdom they don't have to go the way of Arizona

Posted by: rpacattepaulinemediacom | May 18, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

This article and the buffoon who wrote it provide ample evidence as to wh this paper failed.

Posted by: spqr_us | May 18, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

I comment on this here:

If you run a website and want to send a message to the WaPo about their strong support for massive illegal activity, link the author's name to that post.

Posted by: LonewackoDotCom | May 18, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

There's a distinction that anti-Arizona pundits are deliberately blurring -- and that is the difference between illegal and legal immigration.

I support legal immigration and the process that allows a reasonable flow of newcomers into the country.

I do not support a wholescale invasion of newcomers who have no apparent interest in learning our language or conforming to our laws, but nevertheless expect to enjoy all the benefits and privileges of legal residents and citizens.

'Civil' rights, by definition, belong to citizens -- not to foreigners. Immigrant invaders may have human rights, but these do not include free admission to the United States.

Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were found and deported en masse in the early 20th century, and we can certainly do this today, with the right application of will and funds. The project will pay for itself in saved Medicaid and welfare subsidies that deported aliens no longer exploit.

Posted by: jcline1 | May 18, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Two most important things to do? Build the--REAL--double fence and make it mandatory for employers to use E-Verify. Self-deportation by--ATTRITION for illegal aliens. Any employer caught not using E-Verify goes to prison for 5 years. No options! Learn more at NumbersUSA Stop illegal immigrants welfare from draining each states tax base. Patriotic Americans-MUST-fight the battle as one. We must UNITE-to Survive. Join the Tea party to finally halt the illegal immigration occupancy of our nation. Remove Sen. Harry Reid and send a message to all incumbents who are extremist pro-amnesty, pro-illegal immigrant, and anti-sovereignty and anti-US Constitution. Reid has absolutely the worst record, when it comes to combating the illegal alien invasion and must be given the boot in June.

Posted by: infinity555 | May 18, 2010 7:47 PM | Report abuse

great article! It is more and more obvious that our country has many crazy extremist people whose only task is to pick on something or somebody. Racism, xenophobia and hatred is spreading across our country and it is sad. Immigrants have always been a part of our society, and many ancestors of the people who post anti-immigrant comments here were probably discriminated against as well, when they came. The Germans, Irish, Italians, Poles; all where called names and where bullied, now it's the Mexicans time...The funniest thing is that people don't realize that until we fix the current law, we will always have a flow of undocumented workers or people will become illegal, even though they come legally. The system doesn't work, and this is the reason that we have 10 million of undocumented immigrants in this country that many here hate so much for trying to get better live for themselves and their families. It makes me sick! This is not what America is about. This country was built by legal and illegal immigrants, and all of them deserve our respect and better treatment. What they definitely deserve is legalization instead of bullying and discrimination.

Posted by: wachnick | May 19, 2010 12:04 AM | Report abuse

SB1070 is a dangerous bill that will inevitably racial profiling and drives a wedge between communities. It basically says - if you happen to look foreign, you need to prove your citizenship. It goes against the civil rights and fundamental values that America was founded upon. What we need is to fix our broken immigration system through workable solutions that unite us together - and reform that respects due process and fairness allows us to celebrate the values that we hold dear - fairness, opportunity and due process. When we deny due process to some people, ultimately it will affect all of us. To take action go to

Posted by: RestoreFairness | May 19, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

The following state by this author is bogus:

The new Arizona law SB 1070 makes it a criminal offense to be an “illegal alien”— and mandates local police to identify and arrest unauthorized immigrants. In a border state like Arizona the loose legal standard of “reasonable suspicion” which some insist will restrain police power, actually translates into racial apartheid against all Latinos.

Local police that detain an undocumented resident for another crime, will inquire of the FBI and ICE, as to their identity.
The fact these residents are undocuments, is reasonable suspision, they may be illegal.

If they are illegal residents, ICE will simply make their normal, "hold or release" decision.

Posted by: magyart1 | May 20, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

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