Speaking of Women's Rights: Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back.

Seems like we’re always playing “Mother May I?” when it comes to progressive policies, laws and attitudes. That’s particularly true lately with respect to immigration. A Lebanese-born woman is the new Miss USA (hurrah! let’s ignore for the moment why we have the Miss USA and other beauty contests: we’ll take whatever progress we can get). Yes, you may take one baby step forward.

Mother May I take a giant step toward meaningful immigration reform?

No, but you may take two steps back for idiocy by the Arizona legislature in passing a xenophobic anti-immigrant law and racist abuse by Seattle police officers.

And while you’re at it, take three steps sideways because the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), the NAACP and other groups sued to challenge the Arizona law, but many advocates are disappointed that the U.S. Government has not done so.

We have a strange sort of willful blindness and selective memory about immigration: there’s the cliché that this is a nation of immigrants, compounded by the apparent tendency to ‘shut the door behind’ ourselves, with each successive generation objecting to the immigrants of the next. There’s also that weird veneration for families that have been in the country a long time. I’ll never forget one of my relatives who is seriously into genealogy asking a close friend, “When did your family get here?”. When he replied, “in the early 1900’s” her response was: “I am so sorry” as though somehow he and his family were to be pitied for not having arrived on the Mayflower.

Honestly, now --- what’s the inherent value in being able to trace your roots back to John and Priscilla Alden or Miles Standish? Does it make you more productive? Not really. More American? In what way? And why would that be good?

Just as insidious, but arguably more dangerous, is the tendency to avert our eyes from the reality that our economy depends on immigrants, both documented and not. Employers rely on cheap labor, and many exploit undocumented foreign nationals, yet until very recently, that side of the economic equation was simply ignored in the social and political debates. And it’s not just the U.S. economy: migration is both a critical and a contentious issue around the globe. Such deliberate ignorance, as well as many myths, abound regarding immigration, and you can find a good summary (and debunking) of those myths here.

Until we take off those blinders, face economic and geopolitical reality, and stop imagining that duration in the country means more than commitment to our nation’s ideals and Constitution, we won’t be able to grapple meaningfully with this issue.

So for now, let’s play a different children’s game:

If a cop stops you on the streets of Arizona and says, “Papers”, just answer “Scissors. I win.”