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Arizona’s Immigration Law and Mayday

By John Jacobsen - Fellow Worker Jacobsen is a labor activist currently living in Seattle, Washington. He works as a welder’s apprentice with the Boilermakers Local 104, and is an organizer with both the Seattle Solidarity Network and the Industrial Workers of the World. He has written and spoken on labor and anti-war topics to audiences from Seattle to Portland to London. Originally Posted at Trial by Fire

The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act would require immigrants in the state of Arizona to carry their alien registration documents on their persons at all times. It also requires police to question any person they may reasonably suspect is in the U.S. illegally.

The Act comes after years of increased public outcry for better enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.

In response, grassroots organizations all over the country, from faith-based groups to labor unions, poured into the streets on May 1st to demand a repeal of the Arizona reforms.

May 1st, also known as International Workers’ Day, has traditionally marked the anniversary of the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, 1886. But recently, the holiday has served as rallying point for labor activists and immigrant rights advocates to gather around.

Backlash – Mayday, 2010:

In all, over 90 cities saw tens of thousands of protestors march, and a large number of high-profile politicians and celebrities speak out against the Arizona law.

In this video, you can see U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) being arrested for participating in an act of civil disobedience at the white house.

In another high-profile disagreement with Arizona, the Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement condemning SB1070.

In Chicago, between eight and fifteen thousand people gathered in support of immigrant rights only days after activists attempted to physically block deportation vans in their city. In Dallas, around 20,000 rallied.

Los Angelas saw by far the largest protests, massing about 50,000 marchers at its height, focusing predominantly on the Arizona reforms. Five coalitions, representing over 150 labor, faith, and immigrant rights organizations banded together to put out the call for the protests. Protestors in the march chanted “boycott Arizona,” and wore t-shirts asking “do I look illegal?”

Leon Franco, a Sylmar construction worker who attended the march told reporters, “in Mexico, there’s no way to get ahead. Back home, I had a very poor life. If it wasn’t for this country, I don’t know where I’d be.”

Franco’s wife, an illegal immigrant, was arrested a year ago and deported to Mexico. Since then, he has had to be both “mother and father” to his stepson, Daniel, 14, and son, Johnny, 12.

“My kids would like to have their mother here with them,” Mr. Franco said. “I’m here because we don’t want to happen to other kids what has happened to these two,” pointing to his sons.

It’s a common story amongst immigrants, many of whom have friends or relatives which are in the country illegally.

In fact, the number of immigrants detained and deported from the U.S. has been on the rise in recent years. In 2009 alone, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) deported over 380,000 individuals, and have set a controversial new quota to get numbers up in 2010.

Increased Regulation:

Racism still clearly an issue:

The intensity of the debates are no doubt due, at least in part, to the wide range of people it effects. Immigration raises issues amongst a very diverse set of groups.

Amongst the wealthy, for example, it’s common to focus on the possibly negative effects of immigration on tax rates. Rich people may worry that increased demand for social services will outweigh the taxes immigrants have paid, forcing the government to raise taxes on everyone.

Working class Americans, on the other hand, are often anxious over job competition and eroding welfare programs in areas with high levels of immigration. They may fear competition from immigrants who will work for less money, or who may put a strain on social services benefits for everyone.

A recent study conducted by MIT’s Jens Hainmueller and Michael Hiscox has shown us, however, that these are by no means the only, or even necessarily the most important factors in the debate.

Take, for example, the idea that working class Americans are most worried about job competition from immigrants. If this were always the case, we would expect that lower-income Americans should be more resistant to immigrants with the same job skills as themselves. But, as Hainmueller and Hiscox’s study shows, over half of low-income Americans living in states with low immigration rates oppose immigrants who are “highly skilled” laborers.

In other words, despite living in states with little competition from any immigrants, and despite working in industries with no competition from highly skilled immigrants, many working class Americans still oppose highly skilled foreign workers moving here.

Clearly, issues of culture and race are effecting this debate.

To this end, people in positions of power regularly give credibility to racist ideas. When major social commentators such as Bill O’Reily repeatedly call Mexican immigrants “wetbacks,” or when Lou Dobbs openly endorses armed white hate groups such as the minute-men, they are doing just that.

Likewise, many politicians can scarcely hide their bigotry, as when Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia called immigrants “invaders” or when Rep. Brian Bilbray of California recently claimed that you can tell who is illegal simply by looking at their clothes.

Our representatives regularly harp on the crime illegal immigrants commit – such as when John Mcainn claimed that immigrant drivers “intentionally cause accidents.”

It’s a popular argument for increased regulation of immigrants, amongst conservatives at least, that immigrants commit more crimes than natives – and so, in Seattle, counter protestors on May 1st carried signs with pictures of white Americans, with the caption “murdered by an illegal.”

Of course, immigrants to the united states do not come to commit crimes or, as Glenn Beck put it, to ”escape the law.” Largely, their migration is an issue of economic necessity; people need work.

The inverse is also true. Where there is less opportunity, there is less immigration. In the graph bellow, we can clearly see that at the onset of the 2007 recession, immigration from Mexico (by far the leading country of origin for U.S. immigrants) fell dramatically.

Likewise, the H1-B visa program, which links high skilled immigrants to employers in the U.S., had a tremendous amount of applications still available this year. In previous years, all 65,000 applications had been filled in less than a week. But within 211 days in 2010, nearly 20,000 applications were still available.