Aviva Chomsky: Fallacies of the immigration debate

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Aviva Chomsky is professor of history at Salem State College.]

The fact that people move around the world has been true ever since the human race stood up on two legs. There is nothing crisislike about this. To the extent that we are in fact facing crises, they are economic and environmental in nature. These two crises are connected with immigration because of the way resources are concentrated in certain parts of the world. The beginning of immigration typically comes with peasant communities' being pushed off their land by foreign corporations. That is one of the main reasons that people move. So the crisis is not the fact that they are moving, the crisis is the fact that they can't survive where they are.

When we look at immigration from Latin America, it is important to keep in mind America's long history of political and military domination in the region. Colonialism has always been connected to racism. The social movements of the 1960s delegitimized overt racism. But in some ways the category of the immigrant, or the illegal immigrant, has risen up to fill the gap left by the elimination of overt racism.

Today we look back at laws that discriminated against blacks and say that those were bad laws and that it is good that people like Rosa Parks broke them and challenged them and eventually got them changed. We celebrate that. But because it is still legitimate to discriminate against immigrants, we don't apply the same standards to people who break or challenge the immigration laws.

People should have rights by virtue of the fact that they are people. Within America, from state to state, we recognize that principle. Jurisdictionally I may be a resident of Massachusetts or I may be a resident of Connecticut, but I still have rights as a person, and one of those rights is the right to political representation wherever I happen to be. But suddenly when someone crosses the national border, our respect for humanity disappears....
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