Wednesday, April 12, 2006



Today they march, tomorrow they vote

(Image stolen from the New York Times)

That's a scene from Washington DC yesterday, where tens of thousands of people assembled to protest against a xenophobic law which would speed up deportations, make unlawfully entering the US or assisting an illegal immigrant a felony offence, and provide funds to build an Israeli-style "separation wall" on the Mexican border. And it was a scene repeated across the USA. Half a million marched in Dallas, and tens of thousands more in Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Atlanta... even Anchorage (in Alaska) saw protests. All told, over two million turned out - an unprecedented number. But more important perhaps than what they're protesting against is what they're protesting for: they want to be citizens, they want to belong. In the words of one protestor,

"We want to be legal," said Mr. Arita, a construction worker who has lived here for five years. "We want to live without hiding, without fear. We have to speak so that our voices are listened to and we are taken into account."

It's a powerful demand, and one which is already being compared to the demand for black civil rights in the 60's. There are almost 40 million Hispanic Americans - and 11 or 12 million (or around 4% of the total US population) of them are unregistered illegal immigrants with few rights and no say in how the country is run. They can mow America's lawns, clean its pools, work in its factories and meat-packing plants - but they can't vote, and will never be able to; being "illegal" means never being able to legalise your status. And that is simply intolerable in a modern democratic state.

Also powerful is their slogan: "today we march, tomorrow we vote". Illegal immigrants can't vote of course - but their legal friends, relatives, and even children can. Traditionally turnout has been low among American Hispanics (and that's low by American standards), but that may be about to change. And if it does, it will mean serious changes to American politics. I guess we'll have to wait till November to find out.

These marches are democracy in action. And we should all hope that the US responds to them as it (eventually) did to the campaign for black civil rights: with its better nature, rather than its worse one.

8 comments:

Still the catch 22 is if illegal immigrants become legal were they really illegal in the first place? and if that is the case do you really have a boarder? Or is it jsut a citizenship free for all? And what does that say about the structure of countries and government control?

I quite like the idea of us al having citizenship everywhere but there are a lot of things that need working out.

Posted by Genius : 4/12/2006 07:21:00 AM

How should it respond? Coming from the multicultural melting pot here in New Jersey, many hispanics who are legal citizens are staunchy against granting amnesty to 9 million law-breakers who knew they were engaging in illegal activities when the crept across the Rio Grande. Why shouldn't they be sent home, rather than rewarded for breaking the law?

Now, before you start on about 'exploitation', it's worth considering that most economic studies, right and left, conclude that illegals only marginally benefit the US economy, if at all. As left-of centre economist Paul Krugman from the NYT notes, the real losers are legal blue collar workers, who have watched illegal immigration drive wages down. The working class left here is one of the groups that is most staunchly against amnesty being granted - which would be an almost unheard-pf act of generosity, given the sought-after nature of US citizenship.

And please tell me why having laws to prevent illegal immigration is xenophobic?? Does that mean New Zealand is xenophobic too? Or are you just continuing on your usual way by critisising the US for things you wouldn't dream of raising elsewhere? Like citizenship laws??

Posted by Anonymous : 4/12/2006 10:50:00 AM

The regulation of just who can be a citizen is critical to the functioning of any state. The US or any country has the right to say "we don't want you" to potential immigrants for a variety of reasons unrelated to any question of "human rights". You have no natural right to live in the US (or any country, other, I suppose, than your birthplace).

Posted by mashugenah : 4/12/2006 11:48:00 AM

Do illegal immigrants in the US pay taxes? A foundation of the US Republic was "no taxation without representation".

Posted by Anonymous : 4/12/2006 12:24:00 PM

They are not US citizens, so they do not have the right to vote, and fair enough. If they want to vote, they should have entered the country via legal means like everyone else has to.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/12/2006 12:56:00 PM

I'm still waiting hopefully for idiot to tell us all why a citizenship law like any other is "xenophobic". C'mon idiot - you posted it - why is it xenophobic to expect immigrants to follow due legal procedure? America grants close to one MILLION citzenship applications per year, from all around the world - so where's the xenophobia??

Posted by Anonymous : 4/12/2006 03:23:00 PM

You may find this person's blog an interesting perspective on the current US noise about Hispanics, illegal immigrants, et al.

http://alisavaldesrodriguez.blogspot.com/

Posted by Anonymous : 4/12/2006 05:40:00 PM

Adrien: yes, all citizenship and immigration laws are xenophobic, by definition - they are prejudiced against and based on fear of foreigners. How could they not be xenophobic?

Posted by Anonymous : 4/14/2006 10:02:00 AM