Following the government shutdown debacle, Congress and the White House are planning to push forward on the president’s next agenda item: comprehensive immigration reform. After a bipartisan immigration reform bill passed the Senate in June, the House will certainly be the biggest obstacle. DREAMers — a movement of young, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States at a young age — have re-energized the immigration reform debate. They’ve forced Americans to put a face to the term “undocumented” or “illegal,” and are aggressively advocating for the right to stay in the only home they know.
Certain Tea Party Republican leaders have made numerous derogatory comments aimed at a particular group in the very core of this immigration debate. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), a central voice in the debate, said in an interview that he would be opposed to a path to citizenship for DREAMers. And who could forget Congressman Steve King (R-IA) accusing DREAMers of smuggling marijuana across the border, saying, “they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes”?
The following excerpt from The DREAMers: How The Undocumented Youth Movement Transformed The Immigrant Rights Debate by Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam Walter J. Nicholls details not only the importance and prominence of the DREAMer movement, but why it is so critical that Americans stop stigmatizing this group and support its efforts.
You can purchase the book here.
“We Are All Human!” This prominent slogan captures the essence of the immigrant rights movement. At its core, this is a struggle over who should be considered fully “human” and how those deemed “less-than-humans” should be treated by the government and members of the national community.
Anti-immigrant forces justify stripping undocumented immigrants of basic rights on the grounds that they are less than truly human beings. They produce discourses and arguments that deprive immigrants of the “humanity” needed to be considered eligible for basic rights in the country. For example, Hector Tobar of the Los Angeles Times highlighted some of the comments made by readers of his op-ed columns on immigration. One reader argues, “‘Illegals are like fleas on a dog. . . . By definition they are a class of criminals and you [Tobar] romanticize them. Perhaps we can starve them out with no benefits.’” This rhetoric reveals a logic common of anti-immigrant reasoning: undocumented immigrants are a criminal and parasitic population, and because of this, they need to be denied basic rights and starved out of the country. Failure to do this because of “romantic” feelings places the national host at risk of being devoured by this outside force. Reducing immigrants to this less-than-human threat makes them ineligible for rights and subject to inhuman and despotic forms of repression (“starve them out”). If weak and romantic immigrant sympathizers reject these arguments, the default response of anti-immigrant advocates is some variation on “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” This retort denies recognition of basic human rights to undocumented immigrants because of their status. They cannot speak, make claims, or argue for rights in public because of their “illegality.”
These sentiments have helped shape government polices over the last twenty years. The federal government has introduced countless measures to militarize borders, monitor “illegals,” restrict access to basic rights and fundamental services, roll out infrastructure to deport hundreds and thousands of people on a yearly basis, and recruit frontline service providers to assist in enforcement measures. National and local restrictions have been designed for the purposes of creating an uninhabitable environment that would “starve” undocumented immigrants out of the country (that is, “attrition through enforcement”). As rights are systematically stripped away, undocumented immigrants in certain parts of the country are left with no protections from the arbitrary powers of the state and the tyrannical will of the majority. In states like Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama, they are reduced to “bare life,” with most legal protections suspended for this population. These outsiders are forced to rely on the “civility and ethical sense” of individuals to provide protection from a majoritarian and a revanchist state.