Immigration's strain on democracy
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.
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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