September 26, 2008

For the Undocumented: Threats, More Repression

By Mark R. Day

The atmosphere of repression against immigrants is so strong now that it will be very difficult to turn it around, even if Barack Obama is elected president of the United States in November.

This is the conclusion of journalist David Bacon, Author of the book, “Illegal People” (Gente Illegal): How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants. Bacon’s recent talk at the University of San Diego Sept. 17 drew such a large crowd that several audience members had to stand in a hallway, straining to hear his words.

“The message to undocumented workers is clear from recent Immigrant and Custom’s Enforcement (ICE) raids in Iowa and Mississipi,” said Bacon, a former union organizer who writes extensively on immigration matters: “If you are not legal, you have no rights. And if you are permitted to come to the U.S., you can’t bring your families and you will not be able to vote.”

David Bacon at the University of San Diego.

Furthermore, Bacon indicated that for those who continue To cross the border illegally, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff has issued severe warnings: “We will send you to Federal prison. And if you don’t have a valid Social Security number, we will arrest you and send you to a federal prison.”

When the moderator asked if wages for U.S. workers would rise if undocumented workers were denied permission to work, Bacon said the answer was negative. “The only time wages rise is when workers organize and bargain collectively.”

Bacon referred to the infamous bracero program (Public Law 78) that authorized hundreds of thousands of Mexicans to work for specific periods, then return home. The program began in 1942 and terminated in 1964. A year later the United Farm Workers Began their successful grape strike and the lives of farm workers improved dramatically.

Bacon believes truly humane immigration reform recognizes that globalization uproots people and drives them to immigrate. Scapegoating and criminalizing them only creates a polarized society and social chaos.

In his book Illegal People, Bacon puts a human face on these immigrants and their daily struggles. Bacon convinces us that by joining the struggle of these workers will we help create a better country for all U.S. citizens.

What’s fascinating about Bacon’s writing is that takes place out in the field and on the ground floor. He introduces us to scores of hotel housekeepers, farm and factory workers, and gives us closeups of their daily lives. Illegal People is a book well worth reading.

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