Some who favor restrictions on immigration will accept all this. “Yes, the history is evil,” they admit, “but an economy cannot function without controls on immigration. So for everyone’s good, we must uphold the laws, whatever happened in the past.” Again, let’s consider this argument with a clear view of the actual social function of immigration policy. The U.S. economy has always profited from cheap labor. From “subhuman” African slaves laboring in plantations, to Irish “trash” dying in mines and factories, to “Chinese devils” building railroads, to the migrant farmworkers, hotel maids and nannies for the wealthy of today, it has always been convenient for capitalists to have at their disposal a desperate and insecure work-force, if only to undercut more organized elements.
This is the ugly reality behind talk of “immigration reform.” Like so much, this reality is obvious to much of the world, but white America hides its eyes, chattering on about the rule of law, as if history and economics do not exist. We white Americans live in a land conquered through genocide and war. We Hoyas attend a university built on indigenous land by slave-owning European priests. Some of us descend from the original murderers and thieves; some came later, perhaps as last century’s hated immigrant. Some of us worked for what we have, and some had it handed to them. But in every instance, our opportunities and life exist within an economy that controls the hemisphere and exploits workers, legal and illegal, here and in other countries. Our wealth—all wealth in this nation—was built on the backs of slaves and despised immigrants, using stolen land.
If you can face that honestly, you are in a position to begin thinking honestly about the issue of immigration. What counts as fair treatment of someone who lost their job in a U.S.-owned maquiladora, perhaps for daring to talk about unions, after working 15-hour days for a fraction of our minimum wage? If you first face your own history, you can decide whether to scorn such people for sneaking into California to scrub toilets so as to feed their children. You can decide whether to deny them health care.
Perhaps, after facing reality, you will decide that someone else altogether should be making such policy decisions. For myself, I dream of a council of elders from the remaining indigenous peoples of the Americas formulating a hemispheric policy on immigration. And I dream that white people would, for once, shut the **** up and accept it.
But that, of course, is merely a dream. And while I don’t really suppose it is more than that, I do have a message for my white brothers and sisters: no more debate as if history does not exist. No more blind, willful ignorance. Face reality first, and then tell me how immigrants to this land deserve to be treated.