Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Confusing Immigration and National Security

Note: Prepared by AFSC's Newark Immigrant Rights Program

Our shift from a welcoming posture to one that equates immigrants with crime and terrorism stems from a place of fear and uncertainty. This tension and the impression that we need to protect ourselves from immigrants has been the placement of all immigration agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Within this context, myths abound. The focus has been one of building fences and jails, increasing the number of people who are detained and now form part of the profitable 'human warehousing industrial complex.' Too often, facts are ignored, and feeding the fear frenzy has become a disturbing national pastime. Defining factors such as the reasons for migration are also ignored. Survival, political oppression and the search for freedom, economic hardship, family love and reunification are some of the factors that are altogether side stepped.

Locked up, Locked out: The Detention Industrial Complex - The US has dramatically increased the jailing of immigrants to fight global terrorism. This poorly thought out strategy has seen a rise in the detention of immigrants with an Arab or South Asian background or surname. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of counterterrorism at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), argues, "[T]he detention of thousands of Middle Eastern and South Asian nationals after September 11 risked ‘alienating’ the very people on whom law enforcement depends for leads.” (12/19/02, The Nation). Indeed, immigrants -- whether they have adjusted their status or remain in an undocumented situation -- will be less likely to report crimes that occured in their communities if they cannot trust law enforcement agencies.

The Border Gets Militarized - Border security accounts for most parts of “national security;” this new action has also led to the militarization of the nation's southern border. The increased presence of the Border Patrol, expanded fences, lights and high-end integrated technology by now dot the southern border at an enormous cost to taxpayers. In addition, the militarization process has also disrupted the region's enviornment and the quality of life of border communities.

Code Language that Separates - Code words such as 'alien,' 'illegal,' and others are used to dehumanize the other. In the current political lexicon, an 'alien' is seen as the other -- is not entitled to receive any public assistance outside of emergency relief. Increasingly, we see the efforts to deny access to housing, social services, health care and other components of the nation's social safety net. Indeed, some wish to change the Constitution's 14th Amendment (citizenship to those born on US soil). Stripping a person of their basic human dignity and of their respect is at the core of language that feeds on stereotypes, misguided policies and ignorance.

It's Not Just the Economy - In fact, studies show that undocumented immigrants contribute more to the economy than they actually take back, through paying various taxes (property, sales, and often income). Most undocumented immigrants are unwilling to accept any form of public assistance as they fear it will impact their ability to obtain lawful residence status later and expose them to the authorities. Many would rather go without service than to threaten the future possibility of adjusting their immigration status and that of their spouse or children. Even if (and when) long-time permanent residents qualify for some benefits, studies have shown that they often underutilize public benefits and assistance. (For specific benefit or statistics, check out information from the Center for Budget and Policy Priority or Urban Institute websites listed below).

Did You Know?

“… the estimated seven million or so illegal immigrant workers in the United States are now providing the [social security] system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year.” (April 5 2005, New York Times)

“..the Social Security Administration reports that it holds $420 billion from the earning of immigrants who are not in a position to claim benefits.” (Fact sheet from National Council of La Raza in 2006)

“The 1996 welfare bill eliminated food stamp eligibility for most legal immigrant noncitizens (other than refugees). … According to USDA more than 4 million Latinos who are eligible for food stamps are missing out on benefits. Only half of Latinos who are eligible for food stamps participate in the program, and among eligible non-citizens the share that participate is even smaller (42 percent).” (Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 2007)

“… illegal immigrants are in the same situation as millions of Americans who have no health insurance, although undocumented people tend to be more reluctant to use public health services than uninsured Americans.” (Julia Preston, May 2007, NY Times)


Learn the FACTS on immigrants, social security and public benefits, visit:

AFSC - http://www.afsc.org/ImmigrantsRights/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/72496

AFSC - Newark, NJ Immigrant Rights Program - 973-643-1924 http://www.afsc.org/nymetro/ht/d/sp/i/68515/pid/68515

Budget and Policy Priority - http://www.cbpp.org/

Urban Institute - http://www.urbaninstitute.org/

National Immigration Law Center - http://www.nilc.org/

Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, - http://energyofanation.org/