The United States’ Illegal Slaves

By: Grainne Rhuad

In the United States today, there is increasingly a culture of unwelcome. In 2010, the U.S. deported a record 392,862 immigrants.

Just before Christmas, the DREAM Act, a bill to help young people who were brought to the U.S. as children, failed a vote in the U.S. Senate.

“Though the international community has set standards for protecting refugees—those fleeing war or political persecution—there are no provisions for “economic migrants.” However, to a parent whose child is malnourished or dying from a preventable disease, the threat is no less real than a bullet or a bomb. ~ And yet we are at a tipping point in the U.S. United States citizens are having the same hard times. We are also being preached to by media outlets, politicians, churches and neighbors that this is not our concern. Our concern it seems is “us”.

In the coming year, the Obama administration is planning to deport hundreds of Haitians from detention centers in the U.S. to jails in Haiti, where they risk contracting cholera. Several states are expected to debate Arizona-type legislation.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  This is about race and money.  Race because someone from the U.K. has practically no problem getting a visa. The same is true for Norway, France and Italy.  But if you are a person of color, and poor to
boot…forget about it.  People from our own colonies in places like Guam and Puerto Rico have a hard time moving to theU.S. Migrant workers make our country work.  In a country which was economically founded
on slave labor, it is the only way to come close to this slavery which we have lost.  Without immigrant workers in our fields, factories and construction we would not be prosperous.  Some people still cannot get this.  Take Glen Beck for an example, who recently dismissed the importance of Cesar Chavez on his talk radio show. Stating plans to name a naval ship after him was tantamount to shooting unborn fetuses out of cannons.

It would also be delusional at this point to believe that only tea partiers and other fringe groups are for closing borders for all reasons.  We have become a nation which espouses the ‘unwelcome guest’ policy and many who think this way hide behind their elementary understanding of the constitution.  “We are a nation of laws,” they say.  However being a nation of laws doesn’t mean we are a moral or compassionate one. We were also a nation of laws when slavery was legal, when women could not vote and when Jim Crow laws ruled the South.  We are still a  nation of laws when a third strike will keep a person in prison for life regardless of how small that crime is-think receiving stolen goods unknowingly.

It’s been easy to point fingers at individual border states like Arizona who authored SB170 which would give them the right to harass and humiliate anyone who was seemingly ‘un-American’ by requiring identification and paperwork to show citizenship or visa.

One would hope that we all understand how immigrant labor makes and saves us money on a daily basis.
Farm workers, household staff and factory workers are in no position to complain about minimum wage.  They don’t
form unions and they readily take extra shifts doing jobs nobody else wants to do.  The idea being sold to middle
America that Latin American immigrants are taking jobs that could be theirs is dead wrong.   It has been readily
documented that Wal-Mart, “America’s low price leader” hires, abuses and attempts to hide migrant workers while paying them substandard wages.

However there is also big business in imprisoning illegals in the U.S.   Privately owned prisons across the country currently house illegal immigrants and receive federal dollars for their stay.  Money which according to the
government we don’t have enough of to keep our own criminals detained.

Private companies in the United States operate 264 correctional facilities, housing almost 99,000 adult offenders. Companies operating such facilities include the Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, Inc, and Community Education Centers. The GEO Group was formerly known as Wackenhut Securities, and includes the Cornell Companies, which merged with GEO in 2010.

Citing an Urban Institute study, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies Steven Camorata noted in 2004: “Roughly 17 percent of the prison population at the federal level are illegal aliens.  It’s important to note that this is at the federal level.  Overall it is estimated undocumented individuals make up 27-30 percent of the prison population.

The prison industry complex is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States and its investors are on Wall Street.  And we all know Wall Street doesn’t give a damn whether its workers are illegal aliens or not, cash is king, and they are rolling in dough.

“The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce.  The system feeds itself,” says a study by the Progressive Labor Party, which accuses the prison industry of being “an imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and concentration camps.”

But that’s not all. According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.

A lot of these products are finding their way to the very border these immigrants passed over, being used by immigration patrols to keep them safe and to supposedly keep everyone else out.

It’s clearly in nobody’s interest to stem the flow of immigration.  To do so would cost a lot of our companies
dearly.  It would also piss off the families of soldiers serving overseas whose sons and daughters can’t get enough
equipment for fight a bloody endless war for more resources we think we can’t live without.

If you have ever wondered when the time will come when slavery will return to the U.S.of A, wonder no more.  The time is now.  More importantly ask yourselves this: If the borders are effectively closed who will fill the gap left in manpower?

Americans when they hear the statistics on undocumented individuals in prison automatically assume it is due to the fact they have committed a crime.  This is partly true; they are here in the U.S. illegally which is currently a crime.
Not addressed however is why they are not deported to their country of origin.  The reason is because they are
making private companies money.

According to Tom Barry from The Center for International Policy: “There isn’t a real precise definition of criminal aliens. The general definition is that these are non-citizens who have committed crimes, either immigrants who are illegal or legal immigrants that have committed crimes. However, the definition – the working definition – has expanded dramatically since 1996, when they added a whole new level of criminal violations that mean that a criminal violation is not only faced criminal consequences for that but then is deported, but more particularly, since 2005, that simple border-crossers, illegal border-crossers, are now criminal aliens and are not just deported – put over the border – but spend time in prison first, before they’re deported.”

Time spent making money for Wall Street and stockholders. Where previously, most immigrants who were picked up for crossing illegally were just put across, back across the border, they are now being incarcerated in privatized prisons which accept federal funding in addition to turning a profit for whatever goods or services they create.

There are organizations working to bring this issue to light.  The Mennonite Committee, a long standing pro-immigration group had this to say on their homepage:

“Mennonite Central Committee (originally formed to work with people uprooted in the aftermath of World War
I) continues to provide resources to immigrants and refugees of all faiths in the United States, Canada and many other countries.

In Washington, MCC encourages U.S. government officials to fix the laws that make it impossible for many immigrant and asylum seeker families to successfully navigate the U.S. legal system. It also encourages
immigration and border policies that focus on community accountability, humane enforcement and system-wide approaches.”

They also make this strong statement on their activism page: Mennonite Church USA has roots in seventeenth-century churches planted by immigrants from Europe. Our church continues to grow and be enlivened by immigrants who join us from many countries. As Christians, we believe we are called to welcome these sojourners in our congregations and communities, especially as our government creates increasingly harsh immigration laws in the name of fighting terrorism. Assumptions about identity make some people more vulnerable to political biases
and discrimination than others. Our concerns about the status of immigrants in this country relate to how people are treated based on race, nationality, ethnicity, and religious identity.

We reject our country’s mistreatment of immigrants, repent of our silence, and commit ourselves to act with and on
behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters, regardless of their legal status.”

The Mennonites also take their stance on immigration from their scripture:“When a stranger sojourns with you in
your land, you shall not do [the stranger] wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love [the stranger] as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt…” (Leviticus
19:33, 34). We affirm that God has called us to welcome immigrants, because all of us are sojourners (Exodus 23:9, Deuteronomy 24:17, 18). We believe that when we welcome strangers, we welcome Jesus (Matthew 25:35).”

The summer months (May-July) or “death season” usually result in the greatest number of fatalities.  In 2004 the Department of Homeland Security reported 138 deaths. One should assume there were more as it is unlikely they reported all of them or were even aware of those who died of heat stroke, childbirth, naturally occurring injury as in snake bites or exposure and organized crime.  Many families in border states like Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California are affected.  Towns straddle the border and in a lot of cases families living in what used to be the same town can no longer move freely to visit one another.

To bring awareness to this The MCC has been supporting The Migrant Trail Walk of Life. This is their statement on the project:

“The Migrant Trail: We Walk for Life was the idea of three people who decided to first do the walk in 2004 as an act
of solidarity with migrants and to raise awareness about the deaths and terrible plight that migrants face. A total of 30 people did the entire walk the first year, approximately 50 the following year, and nearly 75 in 2006. All four years have had more than 100 walkers join the walk for the final leg into Tucson. Walkers have come from many states and countries, and represent a wide diversity of race, age, religion, and political affiliation.

Community support for the walk has been overwhelming. Each year more organizations have helped organize the walk. The Walk itself has been an important community building experience with walkers organized into teams which cover all aspects of the journey. Many walkers have commented that the camaraderie experienced during the walk was the best part of all.

The Migrant Trail Walk is not intended to simulate the experience migrants face as they cross the gauntlet of death. Walkers are accompanied by support vehicles, unlimited food and water, and medical attention: things that the migrants themselves desperately lack. However, by walking more than 75 miles in the hot summer sun the walkers try to make a small contribution that will someday lead to change on the border.

MCC participated, jointly with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in the Migrant Trail for the first time in 2006. MCC’s participation in the Migrant Trail promotes local partnership and the opportunity to raise awareness in the broader community”

It is indeed something we should all be holding close to us because without the immigration of our forbearers we would not be U.S. citizens ourselves.  To ignore this is to ignore the true message of our fledgling country.  Also if we are going to ignore this we should change the script at Ellis Island. You know, the “Give me your poor, hungry, tired and yearning to break free.” It seems downright hypocritical to ignore at this point the very thing that makes our
country unique.

Our love hate relationship with the border has a lot to do with money and how we both make it and spend it.   We may not care to think about it but immigrants, even illegal ones, perhaps especially illegal ones are keeping us afloat.