By Meteor Blades
Depending on whom you believe and how you count, somewhere between 1300 and 600 generations ago, groups of my ancestors migrated to this hemisphere, humping it in over the Bering Strait before it filled with glacial melt or paddling ashore on America's west coast. They didn't call it America. That had to wait for another wave of migration from another direction. Between those two waves, there's considerable disagreement over how many other waves occurred or where all of them originated. Disagreement ranging from respectfully mild to sulfurous, smear-laden academic and cultural warfare, accompanied by ideological motivations or religious claims not supported by science.
For instance, many American Indians, including the late Vine Deloria, object to the Bering Strait theory itself. Cherokee Orrin Lewis explains succinctly here. As you can see, long before we come even close to the legislative atrocities contained in the demented xenophobia of HR4437 - and other schemes - we're already into an argument about immigration.
But, whether one believes the ancestors of Indians migrated here, or that they were created in this place by sky beings the way literalist Christians believe Adam and Eve were created in the Garden, there is no disputing the fact that first peoples appeared. They multiplied. Some of us carry their DNA and a remnant of their culture and worldview as passed down to us by our grandfathers.
When the indisputably largest-ever wave of migration to America began 500 years ago, descendants of the first peoples were everywhere, with varying degrees of achievement and sophistication, governed by everything from democracies to some nasty authoritarian theocracies engaged in perpetual warfare - rather like their European conquerors, except Europe had nothing even close to a democracy then. These new migrants did, however, have gunpowder, steel and beads, as well as the holy book, and they used these to pry America out of the hands of those already here. Those that didn't die of the pox, that is.
Overall, the new migrants didn't treat the first peoples very nice. They said things like God gave us this land and dominion over you red savages, so how about moving over there? Well, maybe not there, how about over there? Whoops! We found gold on that bit, how about moving across the big river? No? You shouldn't be so hostile. How about you move or we shoot your ass, and your kids' too? As a reward, when you do move, we're going to send those kids whose asses you saved to some schools so good you won't even recognize them when they come home. By the way, we've got this government agency to help you make heap big money off that land where we moved you. Trust us. Don't be a renegade. Oh. And that deal we convinced your grandfather to sign against his good judgment? Well, you know, what can we say, chief, that was yesterday, and we're sorry and all, but, geez, you've got the casinos.
I know what some of you are thinking: We've all heard this before, and it's a terrible shame, and everybody knows it's a dishonorable stain on the nation's honor, but it has diddly to do with today's situation. That goes for your silly headline, too. America's immigration laws are broken. The consequences are problematic, maybe catastrophic, and it adds nothing productive to fantasize about what might have been if Taino minutemen had scuttled the ships that Isabella and Ferdinand paid for, or if Massasoit had built a double fence around Plymouth Rock and deported all the Pilgrims except a handful of the best-skilled. That was yesterday. Get over it. We need answers for now, for the future.
I hear you. I understand the sentiment. But you can't make the past slip away just by calling it irrelevant. Long ago affects right now. And not just in some ephemeral, peripheral way. Suppose, for example, that the American warlords who finally managed to provoke a conflict with dictatorial but slave-free Mexico had chosen in 1848 to seize all of that country instead of the 40% piece they sliced off? Suppose the Manifest Destinarians had overcome their Catholic phobia and annexed all the way to Costa Rica? We certainly wouldn't be having this conversation.
The past matters. Compartmentalizing the past from the present is a lie. Basing immigration policy on lies solves nothing, makes matters worse.
First off, let's dump the word immigration. It's acquired a formalistic, rule-driven tinge that obscures what's really going on, which is, simply, migration, the latest in many waves of migrations, this one being a continuous tsunami since Columbus said, Hi there, we come in peace. What's that shiny yellow thing around your neck?
Second, previous migration policies have substituted ideology, ethnocentrism, religious bias and a twisted economic self-interest for reason, justice and fairness, victimizing human beings who often were already victims. If you think that's bullshit, weigh the policies governing migration from Cuba vs. Guatemala two decades ago. Cuba vs. Haiti today.
Third, the relative impact of migration has been far greater in the past. From 1880 to 1890, and from 1900 to 1910, the average annual flow of migrants equaled more than 1 percent of the American population. Currently, it's a third of 1 percent. The foreign-born made up 10.4% of the total population in 2000; they made up 8.8 percent in 1940 and 14.8 percent in 1910.
Fourth, globalization that allows the free movement of goods, services, capital and finances around the planet while forcing labor to stay on its side of the fence and ignoring the ecological consequences of reckless economic "development" is a recipe for disaster. Outsourcing and migration can't be unentangled. Bioregions pay no attention to political borders.
Among the plethora of hot discussions in wwwLand about what U.S. migration policy should and shouldn't be, I especially liked the different perspectives taken by DuctapeFatwa in How to Stop Illegal Immigration, Intrepidliberal in Our Immigration Conundrum, buhdydharma's Yo Soy Immigrante, Yo Soy Spartacus and in and in Land of Enchantment's Fence the Border? Foolishness!!! I also found a lot to like in the AFL-CIO's proposals on guest workers. Yet none of these ideas will take us half far enough.
First things first. Like the half-million-plus protestors, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who turned out Saturday in Los Angeles, and those who came out today, the first step, obviously, is to stay singlemindedly focused on smashing the inhuman and utterly unnforceable HR4437 into the rocks. The Senate debate starts tomorrow. Already the bill has taken some hits from those who think it's a piece of wackery. Trouble is, it's not amendable into something good. It needs to snuffed.
Once that happens, we can get serious about coming up with an alternative. I have no hopes that, even if they could, elected Democrats would follow the Iroquois model of looking ahead seven generations in evaluating the possible effects of any policy decisions they make in this matter. Can I at least suggest they look beyond the November elections in choosing a stance? That they remember migration is about people, both the ones who arrived long ago and the ones who will come next week? That they view migration not in isolation from other economic and social policies? That they make the environment and sustainability a high priority in their deliberations? That they deal realistically but not hysterically with the national security aspects of migration? That when they plan for tomorrow, they recall what happened yesterday?
Ideally - I know, what a scary word - migration policies ought to focus on directing North America toward becoming an ecologically sound model of sustainable economics in which the borders will, decade by decade, lose their importance, and "globalization" will not mean exploitive homogenization nor be a synonym for corruption and greed.
That ideal world can't spring full-grown from one policy change. I'm not suggesting we throw the borders completely open Wednesday morning. Real world politicians must confront the negative effects of the global transition in which outsourcing, downsizing, wage-and-benefit lowering, and other grim economic news has so many Americans fearful and eager to blame and punish outsiders for causing. Reining in corporate excess has to be on the agenda. We can do all this without a fence and without otherwise making life more difficult than it already is for those migrants who seek us out.