Just what are “immigration rights”?

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Just what are "immigration rights"?

by Fausta Rodriguez Wertz

For his Labor Day speech, Pres­i­dent Obama floated the con­cept of “immi­gra­tion rights”:

Cyn­i­cism is a bad choice. Hope is the bet­ter choice. Hope is what gives us courage. Hope is what gave sol­diers courage to storm a beach. Hope is what gives young peo­ple the strength to march for women’s rights, and worker’s rights, and civil rights, and vot­ing rights, and gay rights, and immi­gra­tion rights.

Let’s go back fifty years or so, to the days when union activist Cesar Chavez was advo­cat­ing farm­work­ers’ rights:

Mr. Chavez, per­haps the best-​known Mexican-​American activist, fought for bet­ter wages and con­di­tions for work­ers but held com­plex and evolv­ing views on the sta­tus of unau­tho­rized immi­grants, some of which would be at odds with the changes many His­pan­ics and oth­ers are seek­ing today.

What the NYT reporter euphemisti­cally calls “com­plex and evolv­ing views” was decades-​long oppo­si­tion,

These days, Chávez is revered among Mexican-​American activists and oth­ers as a civil rights fig­ure. Yet that’s not who he was. Chavez was pri­mar­ily a labor leader, and so one of his main con­cerns was keep­ing ille­gal immi­grants from com­pet­ing with and under­cut­ting union mem­bers either by accept­ing lower wages or cross­ing picket lines. When he pulled work­ers out of the field dur­ing a strike, the last thing he wanted was a crew of ille­gal immi­grant work­ers show­ing up to do those jobs and take away his leverage.

So Chavez decided to do some­thing about it. Accord­ing to numer­ous his­tor­i­cal accounts, Chavez ordered union mem­bers to call the Immi­gra­tion and Nat­u­ral­iza­tion Ser­vice and report ille­gal immi­grants who were work­ing in the fields so that they could be deported. Some UFW offi­cials were also known to picket INS offices to demand a crack­down on ille­gal immigrants.

Exactly what does Obama mean by immi­gra­tion rights? asks John Hin­der­aker,

Legally, of course, no one has a right to vio­late our immi­gra­tion laws, whether the Obama admin­is­tra­tion enforces them or not. So what does the pres­i­dent have in mind here? It seems clear that Obama isn’t sug­gest­ing that immi­grants are some­how being denied their actual rights under Amer­i­can law. Cer­tainly he made no such explicit claim. Rather, his point appears to be that some peo­ple – not every­one in the world pre­sum­ably, but some unspec­i­fied group of peo­ple – have a “right” to enter the United States, or stay here, even though it is ille­gal to do so under U.S. law, as long as Barack Obama opposes the law in question.

Immi­gra­tion rights”, for whom? It doesn’t mat­ter, as long as Obama’s talk­ing points are repeated.

For a Labor Day speech, how­ever, it’s worth remem­ber­ing that Chavez rec­og­nized that flood­ing the labor mar­ket with low-​wage, low-​skill labor­ers worked against his union­ized farmworkers.

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin Amer­i­can news, pol­i­tics and cul­ture at Fausta’s Blog.

by Fausta Rodriguez Wertz

For his Labor Day speech, President Obama floated the concept of “immigration rights“:

Cynicism is a bad choice. Hope is the better choice. Hope is what gives us courage. Hope is what gave soldiers courage to storm a beach. Hope is what gives young people the strength to march for women’s rights, and worker’s rights, and civil rights, and voting rights, and gay rights, and immigration rights.

Let’s go back fifty years or so, to the days when union activist Cesar Chavez was advocating farmworkers’ rights:

Mr. Chavez, perhaps the best-known Mexican-American activist, fought for better wages and conditions for workers but held complex and evolving views on the status of unauthorized immigrants, some of which would be at odds with the changes many Hispanics and others are seeking today.

What the NYT reporter euphemistically calls “complex and evolving views” was decades-long opposition,

These days, Chávez is revered among Mexican-American activists and others as a civil rights figure. Yet that’s not who he was. Chavez was primarily a labor leader, and so one of his main concerns was keeping illegal immigrants from competing with and undercutting union members either by accepting lower wages or crossing picket lines. When he pulled workers out of the field during a strike, the last thing he wanted was a crew of illegal immigrant workers showing up to do those jobs and take away his leverage.

So Chavez decided to do something about it. According to numerous historical accounts, Chavez ordered union members to call the Immigration and Naturalization Service and report illegal immigrants who were working in the fields so that they could be deported. Some UFW officials were also known to picket INS offices to demand a crackdown on illegal immigrants.

Exactly what does Obama mean by immigration rights? asks John Hinderaker

Legally, of course, no one has a right to violate our immigration laws, whether the Obama administration enforces them or not. So what does the president have in mind here? It seems clear that Obama isn’t suggesting that immigrants are somehow being denied their actual rights under American law. Certainly he made no such explicit claim. Rather, his point appears to be that some people–not everyone in the world presumably, but some unspecified group of people–have a “right” to enter the United States, or stay here, even though it is illegal to do so under U.S. law, as long as Barack Obama opposes the law in question.

“Immigration rights”, for whom? It doesn’t matter, as long as Obama’s talking points are repeated.

For a Labor Day speech, however, it’s worth remembering that Chavez recognized that flooding the labor market with low-wage, low-skill laborers worked against his unionized farmworkers.

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American news, politics and culture at Fausta’s Blog.