Saturday, June 16, 2012

Wishful Thinking and Obama

Many previously disaffected left-leaning people are suddenly glowing after Obama's "bold new move on immigration". I can't tell you how many facebook updates I've seen heaping huge amounts of unqualified praise on Obama. Despite his Administration's consistent pursuit of policies that benefit the 1%—at home and abroad—this act seems to prove for many left-leaning people that Obama really is on "our side."

Yet these people are seeing reality as they want it to be, not as it actually is. They are being encouraged—and don't forget that we are in the midst of campaign season—to project their hopes and desires onto a politician and a party that has no commitment to those hopes or desires whatsoever. Obama's basic campaign strategy is to encourage and exploit wishful thinking—i.e. the tendency to form beliefs on the basis of what's pleasing or agreeable rather than what the facts are.

Those people who are excited about Obama's "bold new move" have reason to be excited. The Obama Administration has broken previous records and deported more immigrants than Bush's did in his entire two terms combined. Let me say that again. The Obama Administration has deported more immigrants than Bush did in his entire two terms combined. Moreover, Obama's government has expanded the powers of local police—the "polimigra"—to take a leading role in deporting undocumented people. His government presides over a host of opaque, "secret ICE castles" where undocumented people can be detained and imprisoned indefinitely without rights. This in spite of the fact that latin@s formed a huge part of his electoral support in 2008. Any respite in this cruel onslaught against an oppressed and vulnerable population is to be welcomed.

So my point isn't that we shouldn't bill this as a victory—even if it's only a small and highly qualified one. My point is that we need to put it in context so that we don't allow ourselves to be lulled into giving a free pass to a President that has broken all of the records and deported more undocumented people than anyone in the history of the United States. We need to keep in mind that the organizations charged with breaking up families, raiding homes, harassing and detaining immigrants are not an external force that Obama has stepped in to thwart. Those forces are a part of him and the Federal Government over which he presides. Legally speaking, he's the one giving the OK to every single deportation and raid.

What's happened is a little like a bully telling you that he's only going to beat you up three-days-a-week instead of five. Now, that's something—a victory of sorts—but it doesn't obscure the fact that he's still the bully. The power relations haven't changed and neither have the interests of the parties involved. And who knows: maybe that three-day-a-week promise won't even be kept.

So, I'm with everyone who is excited that this recent shift might mean that we're moving closer toward the goal of full citizenship rights for all. But let's be clear that Obama is no ally in this fight—he's the bully responsible for record-high levels of deportations. And let's not forget that the small victory here was won on the basis of a long, determined (and ongoing) struggle by undocumented people and allies to fight for full amnesty and legalization. That's why those in the movement are making sure to keep critical distance from Obama's (as yet unfulfilled) promise.

Nothing Obama does in public is accidental. Every gesture is calculated and, with an election looming, aimed at securing the funding and votes necessary to beat Romney. If you stand for full legalization and support the slogan that "no human being is illegal", then my advice is to hold fast that commitment and see whether or not Obama and the Democrats actually fight for it. Don't graft your own hopes and desires onto a party that actually opposes them—even though the Dems will do everything in their power to encourage you to make that mistake. There is an alternative to the cul-de-sac of two-party duopoly, and we're seeing it right now in Quebec and Mexico, and we've seen it here with the Occupy movement. We need to build the independent social movements which have laid the basis of every major progressive gain in US history.


Anonymous said...

Nice post. I am curious what you would say to those who argue that the dreamers "butted in line" ? It is, as you know, very difficult to get a visa to the US, and it seems as if these individuals were able to get a spot simply because their parents lived in an adjacent country (Mexico). Of course, I am uneasy with any immigration restrictions, but as long as some are in place I think we must be able to respond to this objection. Thanks.

t said...

I see where you're coming from, but it seems to me that the key is to avoid the temptation for immigrants from different parts of the globe to be pitted against one another--rather than united in opposing the racist, imperialist immigration policies of the US government.

The movement has to stand up for *all* immigrants. It must also stand in solidarity especially with those from the Middle East who are being subject to islamophobia and state repression associated with the so-called "war on terror". The key is to see the links between the racism/xenophobia leveled against recent Mexican immigrants and the racism/islamophobia heaped on immigrants from the Middle East.

So, I'm uneasy with the "butting in line" metaphor because it makes it sound like there's a competition among immigrants who are pitted against one another with separate interests, fighting over scarce visas. I think the movement, at its best, has embraced the slogan that "no human being is illegal" and it has to stick to that if it is going to win.

Richard said...

the most telling event of the week was not the immigration decision, but Jaime Dimon's appearance before the Senate Finance Commitee

the true power relationships of US society were exposed for all to see, where a man who runs a bank that lost unknown billions through speculation was gingerly treated as a respected authority on financial regulation

this is the post-Citizens United world, where even the pretense of democratic participation and policymaking is dispelled

Obama or not becomes the equivalent of whether you are going to put sugar in your coffee

-sf said...

I'm confused how is US immigration policy imperialist? How exactly do laws designed to control who becomes a citizen of a country impact the domestic policies of a foreign country? I'm also confused as to what about US immigration laws (as opposed to their enforcement) makes them racist?

As an immigrant, and the child of LAW ABIDING parents, who waited patiently for all of our visas, green cards, and finally citizenship, I can say that it definitely feels like immigrants are all competing for a limited number of visas. Of course, with both of my parents having advanced degrees, we had a much easier time becoming citizens. That's just smart policy: if you have to pick between unskilled farm workers or doctors and scientists as potential new citizens, who wouldn't prefer the doctors and scientists? I would say that its true that no person is illegal (an aside: I'd like to see this logic applied by Lefties to people living on the wrong side of a certain Green Line), but there are millions of people in this country who are CRIMINALS. They broke the law. That their children have to suffer for their choices is tragic, but this child of immigrants certainly feels a tinge of resentment that while my parents had to jump through all sorts of hoops to make sure their children have a bright future in this country, others are having their bad behaviour rewarded, essentially by fiat that contravenes the democratic process. Now you may agree with Obama's decision (and I do too), but his bypassing of Congress and the American people in this decision is not that diffirent from his decision to bomb Libya or kill Anwar al-Awlaki (again decisions I tend to support... the latter with reservations)

t said...

I don't know why you're confused. Perhaps you should do some critical thinking once in a while.

Why they are imperialist: because, like all US foreign policy, they serve the basic interests of domestic elites.

Why they are racist: they specifically screen out subaltern and racially oppressed groups ("undesirables") and go easy on whites from core capitalist countries in Europe. Compare and contrast US immigration policies re: Canada and Mexico.

I like that you're using the same arguments as the Minutemen about bare "legality" and those "bad" "criminal" people who break the law. The whole point, of course, is that the LAW ITSELF (look, I can capitalize things too!) is unjust. To step in and say, "hey, it's the LAW" is basically bullshit. It begs the question. The obvious point, of course, is that the laws that regulate the flow of persons across the borders serve the interests of the US ruling class, thus they should be torn to shreds. No one should have to suffer for having broken unjust laws--those laws should suffer, not the working-class people who broke them. Are you prepared to say that white college kids arrested and incarcerated for marijuana possession deserve their lot and are "badly behaved" criminals who should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law?

People risk their lives to cross the US-Mexico border to find a better life for themselves and their children. They risk everything and jump through all manner of hoops. Give me a break with all this moralistic crap about how they deserve scorn and resentment for having "done wrong". The law is set up against them. I think its perverse to blame undocumented people for a system of immigration controls that are designed to exploit them as effectively as possible.

-sf said...
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-sf said...

Ooh ad hominem… very persuasive and indicative of your confidence in making a substantive argument. Way to go!

Moving on:

1. Imperialism is defined by domination and subjugation of another country. How is the US deciding who is allowed to enter and stay within the country dominating or subjugating another country? It is by definition a domestic policy. Maybe in the bizzarro world of Leftist academia this makes sense, but you’re going to need a lot more than buzzwords to convince skeptics. As the preceding post indicates there’s no intellectual acrobatics that is beyond the pale of Leftist academic thought, no matter how flimsy the evidence, and perhaps this is what you mean by “critical thinking?” Your usage of the phrase translates to “use your imagination.” Maybe in your head domestic policy subjugates a foreign country, but no matter how appealing the hypothesis, you still have to find preponderance of evidence to support it without contradictory evidence opposing it before anyone is going to buy your bullshit outside your ivory tower echo chamber. (sorry if my naïve, inquisitive approach pissed you off, but I figured I’d let you actually provide evidence for your argument before sharing my opinion).

2. Demonstrate how US Federal immigration laws are racist (i.e. what are the substantive differences between US policy to Canadian and Mexican immigrants). As far as I know national-origin quotas were abolished in 1965 with the Hart-Celler Act. Instead there are Hemisphere specific quotas, with 120,000/yr from the Western Hemisphere and 170,000/yr from the Eastern Hemisphere. Considering how many more people live in the Eastern Hemisphere than the Western one, it seems pretty racist against European, African, and Asian people that the numbers are so damn close. Indeed due to the change in the 60s, as wikipedia argues (the qualifier here is to demonstrate skepticism from my part and to invite contradictory evidence), US demographics are shifting to where white people will be the minority by 2042 and the law “is the key turning point in the making of contemporary American society” link #6 from wiki So racist!

-sf said...

I presume that you are in part referring to the State laws in Alabama, Georgia, and Arizona. I can’t say I’m familiar with all the details of the Georgia/Alabama laws, but its hard to argue that the Arizona laws are racist by design (indeed the Arizona law explicitly prohibits using race as a factor for deciding whether someone is here illegally or not). By design, my parents, with their thick Russian accents, will also be asked for proof of legal residency in Arizona. Which is exactly why the law is stupid, because what naturalized American citizen is going to walk around with proof of legal residency on them? Admittedly, the law will likely be racist by practice, which is a bigger reason to oppose the law (although I suspect there will be plenty of cops cowed by the threat of being called racist who will ask people like my parents for proof of legal residency so as to avoid that charge). Is the law racist by intent? Perhaps, but I think considering the history of US xenophobia, its more about fear of any foreigner, regardless of race. 19th century Americans were just as hostile to Russian Jews and the Irsh coming to this country as they are towards Hispanic immigrants today. You might also be pointing to the walls going up on the Southern border but no the Northern border. I think that’s more reflective of a judicious use of resources based on the source of illegal immigrants (you know only one country is North of us, there’s dozens to our South). But I will concede that this lends to the perception of racism in US immigration policy. So you have one piece of circumstantial evidence in favor of racism Any more?

3. Yes I am certainly prepared to say that white college kids arrested and incarcerated for marijuana possession deserve their lot. Do I believe the laws are unjust? Yea! Do I break them? Plead the 5th, but if I did, I would certainly be ready to pay the price for violating the law. Illegal immigrants should too, and indeed civil disobedience requires that one is ready to face the consequences of breaking unjust laws. MLK’s letter would have been far less effective if written from the comfort of his living room. Do I think that unjust laws deserve respect by virtue of being the law? Nope (am I aware that I’m sounding like Donald Rumsfeld? Yea, but bear with me). Your argument is essentially, “Don’t condemn the murderer, because you break laws when you speed.” Weak sauce!

Unjust laws need to be changed (I’m accepting for the sake of argument that immigration laws are actually racist), but the way you change the legal landscape is through the democratic process. By the way, in the democratic process I include all of the means of forcing the ruling class to adopt the changes that the people demand that you suggest are necessary to build lasting change (something I tend to agree with you on). If you want to bypass the democratic process, and dismantle the system completely by whatever means necessary, my friendly advice is be careful, and trust no one.

-sf said...

4. No one has to risk their lives at the hands of minutemen or the cartels if they apply for entry and permanent residence like everyone else. You’re displaying precisely the type of racism that permeates the left: you view minorities exclusively victims. They are actors (I think of the German word “täter” which translates to “perpetrator” but is derived from the verb “tun” meaning “to do”… ie “täter”=“doer”), and by ignoring their agency and accepting lower standards of behavior, you reveal just how little you think of minorities. If my lilly white parents can become legally naturalized in this country, then Hispanic or Arab immigrants can too (unless you convince me on point 2).

5. Ёб твою мать. Just kidding! I am confidant two people can disagree on important issues without it getting too personal. (the capital shit was petty though, so yea suck my balls on that one… how else does one emphasize words textually without italics, bold, or underline?)

-sf said...

PS: racist america mulling wall with canada to keep them whities out

-sf said...

Only organized mass action can force the ruling class into abolishing racist immigration laws... oh wait...

Anonymous said...