Immigration in the US: Special Registration, Harmful Policies, and more

I decided to take the “California Immigration Semester” for my first semester at Occidental College, which means I’ll be taking immigration full on — classes like “immigrants and education” to “migrant studies in LA” with required readings like ” iHotel” and “Mexican Immigrants and their Sex Lives”, etc. I’ve always been interested in the issue of immigration in the US, and the CIS seemed like the perfect combination of social justice and world affairs, two subjects I’d like to pursue. I used to see the immigration issue as solely a political one; but the more I am being exposed and learned more about it, the more I realize this issue stems from world issues.

The past few weeks I’ve been pre-emptively studying immigration in the US, watching documentaries like “The Other Side of Immigration”, “Sin Nombre”, “Entre Nos” and “Sentenced Home”, as well as reading up on it, “Amexica” and “We Are All Suspects Now”. I also had the opportunity to see a “Coming Out of the Shadows” event in front of City Hall, a national movement of youth coming out and admitting they are undocumented.

I’m learning about two sides, two faces of immigration: the youth who are raised in the US, identify themselves as Americans, but don’t have papers and live as second class citizens, and the people that come into the US–legally, and illegally, seeking a better life as refugees away from their often war-torn, unstable country, their dangerous journey here and the disappointment. The issue of immigration in the US extends beyond our border to the South, to Cambodia, Pakistan, Somalia, and more. Most distinctively for Muslims, who have to deal with modern racism and special deportation sweeps since 9/11. The Immigration Naturalization Service (as they were called back then) created a “special registration” for Middle Eastern races. Only Arabs, Pakistanis, Iranians, and Afghanis were made to register. Those who chose not to register faced risked destroying their asylum application because they would be asked why they didn’t obey the law. But if they registered, they faced deportation because they were staying in this country illegally. Many, in Little Pakistan in Brooklyn, New York, for example, were pushed by their fellow Pakistanis who were citizens to “obey the law of the land” and register with the Immigration Services, regardless if they were here legally or not. Out of the 70,000 Muslims that registered, 13,100 were deported. The rest are left with the CIA’s files, who could be arrested at any moment.

Those 13,100 that were deported weren’t deported immediately–they were detained indefinitely, for months at a time, with little healthcare or food, and little due process rights that even the worst of criminals are granted. Bail was often unaffordable for the friends and families of the detainees. One, in the book “We are All Suspects Now” paralleled it to the internment camps during World War II. He’s not too far from the truth, only difference is that innocent women, men, and children weren’t being corralled into prisons–just innocent, Muslim men. The Muslims who immigrate to the US do so for the same reason as most, non-European immigrants–to escape persecution, to support their families, or to escape violence prevalent in their hometowns. Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan are some of the most unstable Muslim countries. Bottom line, they come to the US to seek a better life.

Little Pakistan, Brooklyn

Even the immigrants who came to the US legally as a refugee, and who were accepted by the US to be under asylum face deportation at alarming rates under unfair, and discriminatory policies. The documentary “Sentenced Home”, which stars Cambodians living in Seattle explains some of these policies well, in particular the law passed by the US Congress in 2006 which states that people with a permanent resident status, or holding a Green Card, can be deported if they committed a felony. That’s not too bad of a policy, if you’re pragmatic you can argue that “they ruined their chance”. A few problems arise from this though: this policy was not grandfathered in. This means, immigrants who committed a crime, years ago–and some shown in the documentary had committed it a decade prior to 2006–who served their time, paid the price, were now being put in line for deportation. Some of these immigrants had families, had become activists in their immigrant communities, only to be deported for a crime they committed years before and had learned from. Nonetheless, many of them committed the felonies as children, when they were uneducated, had just arrived, and faced the new reality that many immigrants face that often leads them to an unstable period where many experiment with gangs and other illicit activities. They had years to move on from their crimes, built up a life on their way to the American Dream, only to have the rug pulled from under their feet.

Then of course, we come to the heart of the immigration issue in the US which has forced states across the country, most notably Arizona, to act: The “browning” of the US; the immigration of Latinos into the US. There’s so much to say about the immigration of Latinos, mostly Mexicans, and I can’t do justice talking about it in a single paragraph. As I study immigration patterns in Los Angeles and its history, the immigration of Latinos will be the main topic, and I will write many blogposts on what I learn and discover in Los Angeles. But to make a point, if you ask Mexicans who came into the US illegally as an adult if they would want to return to Mexico, most of them would say “Yes. Ci” If they could support their families, and live without the danger, and fear of the drug wars. But they can’t. The North American Free Trade Agreement has driven prices of goods down in Mexico, in particular the price of corn which was a main crop where many farmers made a living off of. Because of subsidies in the US to corn farms, that the Mexican government doesn’t have the same luxury to grant their farmers, the Mexican farmers cannot compete with the US products. It’s a domino effect from there; the men in the households can’t afford to support their families, so they go to the US to make some money. They raise $2000, to $3000 to pay for a coyote to take them across the dangerous dessert. They leave their families from 6 months, to a year, maybe longer, all the time sending most of what they earn back to their families. They work intolerable conditions, 12 hours a day with below minimum wage and no labor rights. Even the Mexicans living in Mexico who are able to make a stable living live in fear of drug lords, and gangs in their communities. Many try to recruit their children, and periodically kidnap and hold for hostage to demand money. They live in fear. Many travel to the US for a better life, to have their children go to school there and make a better life for themselves.

I believe that they Latino immigrants to the US need to be looked at as refugees.

The amount of Mexicans they allow into the US are lower than the amount of Europeans they allow inside the US under “refugee status”. At one point after World War II the quotas for white Europeans were significantly higher than for any other brown races, despite the fact that they were more in need to emigrate. Still to this day, the quota for Mexicans are significantly low despite the extreme circumstances. And much of it is because of the US. NAFTA, the high demand for drugs, operations like “Fast and Furious” that put guns in the hands of narco criminals in Mexico. We’re in Afghanistan, when there’s trouble to the South of our border, that has killed more Americans than terrorist attacks have. The US is in a position where it can help improve the conditions in Mexico. I think they have a lot to lose not increasing its role in the narco wars, and little to gain in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Victims of Mexico's Drug War

There’s still a lot left to cover on this topic of immigration. I still have a lot to learn. But I also believe there’s a lot more that Americans need to learn. I’ve listed quite a few books and movies to watch on the subject, and I implore that anyone reading this check one out. Until next time, hasto luego~

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