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De-Romanticizing Our Immigrant Past: Why Claiming "My Family Came Legally" Is Often a Myth →

Many people assume that their family immigrated to the U.S. legally, or did it “the right way.”  In most cases, this statement does not reflect the fact that the U.S. immigration system was very different when their families arrived, and that their families might not have been allowed to enter had today’s laws been in effect.  In some cases, claiming that a family came “legally” is simply inaccurate—undocumented immigration has been a reality for generations.

[…]

Many of our ancestors would not have qualified under today’s immigration laws.  Today’s requirements that potential immigrants have close family ties to qualified U.S. citizens or permanent residents, or have employment offers in particular fields, would have effectively restricted many of our families from coming legally to the U.S. 

Until the late 19th century, there was very little federal regulation of immigration—there were virtually no laws to break.  The new nation needed workers, and immigration was “encouraged and virtually unfettered.” There was no border surveillance to allow only those with proper documents to enter the U.S.  Potential immigrants did not have to obtain visas at U.S. consulates before entering the country.  Rather, immigrants would simply arrive at ports of entry (such as Ellis Island and other seaports), be inspected, and be allowed in if they didn’t fall into any of the excluded categories.

[…]

Prior to the 1920s, there were no numerical limitations on immigration to the U.S., but certain persons were banned from entering.  The first “illegal” immigrants were people, like the Chinese, who were banned from entering the U.S.  The Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882.  Over the years, immigration laws were passed that restricted certain categories of persons from immigrating, but no numerical limitations or quotas existed.  Those persons barred from immigrating included Asians (except Japanese and Filipinos), prostitutes, paupers, polygamists, persons with “dangerous and loathsome contagious disease,” persons likely to become a public charge, anarchists and radicals, the “feebleminded” and “insane,” and the illiterate.  The vast majority of people who arrived at a port of entry were allowed to enter.  Of course, some people lied about their health and political beliefs and entered “illegally.”  The Immigration Service excluded only 1 percent of the 25 million immigrants from Europe who arrived at Ellis Island between 1880 and World War I.

[…]

Every restriction generated illegal immigration.  The Asian exclusion laws resulted in an “illegal” Asian population.  As laws were passed to keep out less desirable Eastern and Southern Europeans, immigrants from those countries—as well as others who could not pass literacy tests, pay the head tax, or enter through the quota system—began to enter illegally.  In 1925, the Immigration Service reported 1.4 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.  A June 17, 1923, New York Times article reported that W. H. Husband, commissioner general of immigration, had been trying for two years “to stem the flow of immigrants from central and southern Europe, Africa and Asia that has been leaking across the borders of Mexico and Canada and through the ports of the east and west coasts.”  A September 16, 1927, New York Times article describes government plans for stepped-up Coast Guard patrols because thousands of Chinese, Japanese, Greeks, Russians, and Italians were landing in Cuba and then hiring smugglers to take them to the U.S. illegally.  Many immigrants were also violating the laws of their home countries which required them to get permission to migrate, complete military service, or pay off debts prior to leaving.

Many European immigrants benefited from amnesties.  Acknowledging the large numbers of illegal Europeans in the U.S., the government devised ways for them to remain in the U.S. legally.  “Deserving” illegal European immigrants could benefit from various programs and legalize their status.  The 1929 Registry Act allowed “honest law-abiding alien[s] who may be in the country under some merely technical irregularity” to register as permanent residents for a fee of $20 if they could prove they had lived in the U.S. since 1921 and were of “good moral character.”  Roughly 115,000 immigrants registered between 1930 and 1940—80% were European or Canadian.  Between 1925 and 1965, 200,000 illegal Europeans legalized their status through the Registry Act, through “pre-examination”—a process that allowed them to leave the U.S. voluntarily and re-enter legally with a visa (a “touch-back” program)—or through discretionary rules that allowed immigration officials to suspend deportations in “meritorious” cases.  Approximately 73% of those benefitting from suspension of deportation were Europeans (mostly Germans and Italians).

Click for the full fact sheet from The Immigration Policy Center (via)

dreamactnow:

Julio Salgado’s work is simple, beautiful, and cuts like a knife.

dreamactnow:

Julio Salgado’s work is simple, beautiful, and cuts like a knife.

(via espritfollet)

In which Terry Gross interviews a xenophobe who compares human beings to donuts →

Krikorian’s statements about immigration and immigrants really are that callous and bizarre.

"But they broke the law!" is not and never will be a good argument against undocumented immigrants. Laws can be wrong or deeply flawed, as most Americans of color, women, and poor folks can tell you.

Jose Antonio Vargas Came Out as Undocumented, NOT “Illegal” →

When we take the i-word out of the equation, we can start asking why this system is not working, and stop putting the blame for its failures on the people who are struggling to make sense of it—and who are then portrayed as not respecting laws that are inhumane in the first place.

The concept of a person as illegal is one that political operatives manufactured to shut down conversation and stoke racial fears.

Colorlines goes on to discuss how some journalists and media outlets are starting to use “undocumented immigrant” rather than the AP-approved “illegal alien”.

So why is “illegal” a problematic term to apply to people?

…In 2007, Lawrence Downes, a member of the New York Times editorial board, wrote “What Part of ‘Illegal’ Don’t You Understand?.” In his piece, Downes makes the case that use of the word “illegal” pollutes the debate, blocks solutions and reduces a large and largely decent group of people to a criminality. And a crucial point: “as a code word for racial and ethnic hatred, it is detestable.”
[…]
The i-word is not neutral. It is racially charged and has been promoted by restrictionist advocacy organizations like NumbersUSA 4 and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), founded by eugenicist John Tanton. Frank Luntz, a Republican Party strategist, recommended operatives promote use of the term “illegal immigrants” in a 2005 memo, explaining that it would encourage an understanding of immigrants as criminals and create politically useful division among voters. With clear direction to use “illegal immigrant,” the shorthand slur has become just as common among media pundits and political campaigns.

Finally, Colorlines also has its own style guide for covering immigration.

Georgia's anti-immigrant law leaves millions in crops rotting in the fields →

Georgia’s tough anti-illegal-immigrant law drove a sizable fraction of the migrant labor pool out of the state, and as a result, “millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops [are] unharvested and rotting in the fields.” The jobs the migrants did paid an average of $8/hour, without benefits, a wage that is so low that the state’s probationed prisoners have turned it down.

Yet another story that demonstrates why harsh immigration policy is short-sighted and ultimately fucks us, as a country, over.

(And yes, I’ll continue unashamedly to put immigration reform in cost-benefit terms. I’m a social scientist; it’s in my blood, damnit.)

In which I choke back my indignation to clarify that post about Jose Antonio Vargas

broadcloth:

Pulitzer prize winner reveals that he is an undocumented immigrant

downlo:

(image source)

Jose Antonio Vargas, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his Washington Post coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings, added a lengthy New York Times Magazine piece to his impressive stack of achievements. What he reveals in the piece — and in an upcoming ABC News interview, just about the most public forums possible — puts him at risk for deportation: Vargas illegally immigrated from the Philippines and left his mother behind at the age of 12, he writes, at tremendous cost to his grandparents, naturalized citizens who helped the family buy the necessary fake documents.

Vargas didn’t even realize anything was fishy until 16, when a kind clerk at the DMV whispered to him that the green card he’d happily presented wasn’t real. His family assumed he would have to take the sort of low-paying, low-status jobs that are often the only option for the undocumented (at least until he married an American — but since Vargas is gay, that wasn’t such an easy option, either). Instead, he won a scholarship to college and went on to that juggernaut journalism career, somewhere along the line just starting to check the “citizen” box on the paperwork at each new job after a discouraging meeting with an immigration lawyer.

Even after Vargas had become a certifiable success, the worry took some of the joy out of it: “I was trying to stand out in a highly competitive newsroom, yet I was terrified that if I stood out too much, I’d invite unwanted scrutiny.”

In an amazingly brave move, Vargas chose to ‘out’ himself through The New York Times Magazine piece as a way to protest the defeat of the DREAM Act. The Act would have allowed people like Vargas to stay in the country and eventually gain legal status.

It is a crying shame that ideologues would rather deport talented people due to their legal status than figure out a way to keep them here, where they can benefit the country.

Dude, fuck benefitting the country.

People have reasons why they come here.  They want to be here.  It isn’t always safe where they come from.  Let them be here, whether they’re talented enough to merit your approval or not. 

Look, part of the reason why people thought the DREAM Act might have a chance—even given the current xenophobic mood of the country—is that it would have let undocumented immigrants who were getting an education or serving in the military gain residency rights and legal status. Framing legalization as something that strengthens the U.S. as a country was a way of selling the idea to anti-immigration politicians and their constituents. Vargas is the epitome of the kind of amazing American that stupid immigration laws would boot out of the country for no good reason.

While yes, it would be great if anyone who wanted to could immigrate to the U.S., that sort of bleeding heart thing is simply not part of the political calculus today (and maybe never will be). The best we can hope for are saner and fairer immigration laws that would take into account the positives an undocumented immigrant brings to his/her community rather than just the negatives (e.g. criminal record).

"Talents" can include many things, not just prize-winning journalism. Most undocumented immigrants are fantastically hard-working and law-observing—that ought to count for something when it comes to reckoning whether they should get a chance at a green card or not. Observing the law, paying your taxes, maintaining residency—these are pretty basic things and have been part of past legalization proposals. While would-be community members are owed a fair hearing, the community itself can’t realistically be expected to take anyone and everyone.

DONE.

(via cream-and-stars)

Pulitzer prize winner reveals that he is an undocumented immigrant →

(image source)

Jose Antonio Vargas, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his Washington Post coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings, added a lengthy New York Times Magazine piece to his impressive stack of achievements. What he reveals in the piece — and in an upcoming ABC News interview, just about the most public forums possible — puts him at risk for deportation: Vargas illegally immigrated from the Philippines and left his mother behind at the age of 12, he writes, at tremendous cost to his grandparents, naturalized citizens who helped the family buy the necessary fake documents.

Vargas didn’t even realize anything was fishy until 16, when a kind clerk at the DMV whispered to him that the green card he’d happily presented wasn’t real. His family assumed he would have to take the sort of low-paying, low-status jobs that are often the only option for the undocumented (at least until he married an American — but since Vargas is gay, that wasn’t such an easy option, either). Instead, he won a scholarship to college and went on to that juggernaut journalism career, somewhere along the line just starting to check the “citizen” box on the paperwork at each new job after a discouraging meeting with an immigration lawyer.

Even after Vargas had become a certifiable success, the worry took some of the joy out of it: “I was trying to stand out in a highly competitive newsroom, yet I was terrified that if I stood out too much, I’d invite unwanted scrutiny.”

In an amazingly brave move, Vargas chose to ‘out’ himself through The New York Times Magazine piece as a way to protest the defeat of the DREAM Act. The Act would have allowed people like Vargas to stay in the country and eventually gain legal status.

It is a crying shame that ideologues would rather deport talented people due to their legal status than figure out a way to keep them here, where they can benefit the country.

Undocumented Immigrants Paid $11.2 Billion In Taxes While GE Paid Nothing →

robot-heart-politics:

(via cognitivedissonance)

I’m starting to gather a list of similar publications to send to my brother. He believes undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes and are all on welfare. Another reason he’s an asshole.

(via )

Dramatic drop for illegal immigration

About 300,000 immigrants illegally entered the country each year from March 2007 to March 2009, nearly two-thirds fewer than the 850,000 who annually crossed the border from 2000 to 2005, according to the report by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center.

An estimated 11.1 million illegal immigrants were living in the U.S. in 2009, an 8 percent decline from the peak of 12 million in 2007. That represented the first significant decrease in two decades, the report said. (via)

Kind of takes the wind out of the xenophobes’ sails, huh?

The article reports that the Obama administration is claiming that better border security accounts for the decrease. I disagree. Just check out the dates: 2000-2005 had lots of illegal entrances but the number dropped drastically between 2007 and 2009. What else happened during those years?

To me, the findings suggest the drop in illegal border crossings has more to do with the state of the economy than the effectiveness of border security. One could argue that illegal immigration isn’t hurting the American economy. The American economy has hurt illegal immigration. If the economy is booming, there are more jobs available, and more people will be lured over the border, legally or illegally. If the economy is shrinking and unemployment is rising, then we’ll see fewer undocumented workers entering the country. Logic!

Of course, this is just a theory. But I’m pretty certain that the rate of illegal border crossings will rise again when the economic climate in this country improves.