Patrolling Freedom: Terrorism, Dictatorships, and Migrants

During the Libyan crisis, the former dictator of North Korea Kim Jong-il banned about 200 of his subjects from coming back to the country.

The interpretation given by the international community was of course that he was scared by the possibility of a diffusion of instructive details about the popular uprising that led to the overthrow and finally the death of his friend and “colleague” Gaddafi.

It is one of the most understandable and evident features of an authoritarian regime that it has to control strictly the entrances and the exits in order to defend its status: the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński measured in his book Imperium the huge extension of barbed wire necessary to keep the old communist superpower together, to the point of being one of the most productive branch of Russian industry. And the crisis in Berlin immediately after Second World War was caused by Stalinists’ vital necessity of controlling the movements of Western and Eastern citizens.

No enslaved country can remain the same for long if involved in a flow of continuous movement.

It should be far less logical that a free country needed to obsessively control his doors, if not in a situation of declared war. And it is probably this presupposition that backs the claims for putting the the immigrants under more pressures as a consequence of Boston bombing.

The problem is that this decision could have terrible and unintended backlashes.

Politics of systematic exclusion of some nationalities could confirm the perception, unfortunately already present in some cases, that the United States see entire populations as enemies despite the lacking of formal declarations of war. And since in some of those country it is effectively possible that they are raised from children  within an atmosphere of hostility, if not of hatred, an objective convergence by their target could lead them to act against it even more staunchly.

One of the basic idea of liberalism is that the citizens should be loyal to the state out of a self-interest, because they feel grateful for the benefits they enjoy from the system, and not because of fear, constriction and external, paternalistic direction. It is only through the free and unpredictable connections established by the persons that a government derives its thriving, if it ensures them, or its risk of being betrayed, if it distorts them like Kim Jong-il’s North Korea. But the government cannot protect society from itself: the defence of liberty implies a noticeable deal of optimistic trust in human potential.

Salman Rushdie, one who has unwillingly become an expert of Muslim extremism, and not only because he was born in Pakistan, has questioned in Step Across This Line the possible responses to the tragedy of 9/11, that he reads not only as an attack to America but to the very core of his beloved liberal modernity. And his answer is that it is only increasing the quantity and quality of reasonable freedom that our society will triumph over the barbarians. This, though, will also require us to rethink and sometimes narrow the extension of outrages, inequalities, discriminations and prejudices, even within our supposedly fair and open communities.

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Economy and Security Eat Up Space of Democracy

 

It is long since the discussion on immigration has been considered a problem that mainly has to do with security, and not only in the US. 

In the current outline of the upcoming immigration overhaul this established method to address the problem is essentially confirmed , despite inadequate. Immigration is seen as subordinated to the necessity of having a secure border, and particular standards have been specified: but we have no clear ideas where they come from. Is the percentage of apprehensions and turn backs related to the present data of border crossing, or is this “effectiveness rate” only an abstract goal that has been established during some armchair disputations? The question is all the more urgent since this is for the moment the first principle of the “new” system, and one that can posit restraints on the application of the rest.

 

The second relevant aspect, that has been indicated as the most innovative tool to control immigration and adjust it to the needs of the country, is the eminence of economic calculations. The caps for H-1B visas and W visas will be directly connected to the high and low of unemployment rate and to the market demand. It was an old evidence that the flow of immigrants is related to the availability of jobs. But now this matter of fact is recognized, legitimized, strengthened, together with the repeated stressing of the DREAMER’s and STEM’s privileges.

 

The depoliticisation of politics is going on. As the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre argues in his book After Virtue, and as many scholars of globalization as Comaroff and Comaroff confirm, true or pretended expertise is replacing ideals, ideology and moral in writing the political agenda. The representatives are more and more considered mere functionaries, and their attitude towards vital problems like immigration doesn’t change that much from a party to the other. It is a matter of technical direction. Beside protests and polls, immigration is almost never checked through official public scrutiny.

 

But with the benevolent, demagogic approval of the elites or not, the people will still have its part to play. The system that’s being employed will reactivate the contradiction between invitations to provisional workers and the desire for an almost complete border control. With many sudden accelerations, like the one that occurred under Reagan’s administration or the one that is occurring today, millions of migrants, after years of maltreatements and fear of deportations, will continue to be recognized as a part of the community, at least to some extent.

And in the long run, I hope, it will help not only to renew the openness of the US, but even to build the super-national integration between them, Mexico, and Canada that will in turn be part of the path toward a global, interconnected society.

Hate, the Deadliest Terrorist

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This week, starting with tomorrow, will probably be a turning point for immigrants legislation. And yet the event I want to consider is not directly related to foreigners and undocumented, or at least it shouldn’t: not only for the delays it could bring about 

 

I want to spend some words on the terrible bombing that transformed Boston marathon in a bloody trap, and so I hope to add some reflections to the immediate and unavoidable sympathy to the three victims, their families, and to the more than a hundred people who have been hurt by the explosion.

 

What has all this massacre to do with immigration? Unfortunately, it is quick to show. It is enough to give a look to the news reported by CNN: a Saudi national kept under guard in hospital, investigators in search of “a darker-skinned or black male” with a possible foreign accent. 

Once again, America is facing the fear of being under attack in its own territory, something that didn’t happen even during the worst times of WWII or of the Cuban missiles crisis. The future evolution of the investigation, in the most lamentable of the hypotheses, could affect the immigration overhaul, especially the part related to border security, as 9/11 heavily influenced the subsequent legislation, for example the fourth title of the Patriot Act

 

We don’t know what to expect from the next proceedings. Of course Al-Qaeda is a scary possibility, and as it has been noticed the fact that such an attack occurred on Patriots Day represents some evidence of a possible anti-American terrorist plot.

 

But my biased European mind cannot but return to the mass-murder that hit Norway less than two years ago. The killer, Anders Breivik, was so mad to plan a face-two-face shooting contemporary to the detonations of the bombs he had displaced in the center of Oslo. This allowed him to harvest far more innocent lives than the responsible for Boston bombing did, but at the same time permitted an immediate identification of the offender: a full-blooded son of Norway, whose mind was riddled with islamophobic paranoia and social alienation. 

 

In an interview that can be watched also on YouTube (see video at 28:15), Edward Said, the great scholar and author of the best seller Orientalism, stressed the readiness with which Arabian are considered possible terrorists, while this quick generalization is not visible when we have to do with (so called) Christian fundamentalists. He himself was asked to give the investigators some advice after Oklahoma City bombing, and ironically that inquiry concluded with the arrest of an American citizen. 

 

There’s no point in discussing which scenario is at present the most realistic, that is if we should blame Al-Qaeda or some other organizations or even an individual like Breivik for this heinous bloodshed.

But both the Norwegian killer and Bin Laden (that in fact the former paradoxically admired) have in common the appeal to a “crusade” against a race of evil enemies: a murderous and suicidal ideal that led them to the destruction of their own lives after those of their own peoples. That’s why prejudices and generalized hatred should always be avoided, even when hunting for terrorists: they are the deepest responsible for any kind of violence. 

A Long Wait and the Hope for Something Different

These days could be the eye of the storm of immigration debate.

The Senators who are members of the “Gang of Eight” contradicted each other on the time it will takes before they come to a substantial agreement, with Schumer  pointing to the end of this week as a feasible deadline and some others like Marco Rubio that not so many days ago still considered “premature” the rumors about the possibility of seeing a deal quickly.

 

The GOP, and Rubio in particular, has repeatedly confirmed his will to reform the immigration system and after the clear sign that came from the last elections they don’t want immigrants to feel criminalized anymore, or at least this is the policy of the most preeminent spokesman. Despite the seriousness of the Republicans’ efforts, though, the stall that Rubio is painted to be imposing on all the “Gang of Eight” by the media risks to turn out as an own goal. Once again, as with the number of deportations or other features of the legislation on the theme, the electors won’t reward who has done better, but who has been perceived as doing better.

 

A various combine of association representing the civil society, in the meanwhile, is gathering in front of the capitol tomorrow to press the final completion of the overhaul .

 

This event could prove significant if the immigrants’ groups are able to organize demonstrations as imposing as those of 2006, when they faced the menace of HR 4437 attracting almost a million people to the rallies.

And yet my critic is that this claims from the public opinion are centered on the time of the reform rather than on the content.

There is no point in obtaining a swift decision if the gist of the plan remains the hysteric fear of a border that is not secure. This part of the immigration system, namely the deadly devices that have been displayed all along the Mexican border, in particular in Arizona, appears to me as the most displeasing obsession of the politicians working at the problem and it brings with it the threat of other “Secure Communities” programs. The strengthening of the border is something more than the creation of geographical and physical barrages: the border, unfortunately, sometimes passes through one family member and the other and this emphasis on its importance risks to be a disguised defense of deportations.

 

How could it be possible, I wonder, to control the border-crossings if at the same time they mean to implement the visas given to temporary workers? Isn’t there a contradiction between the desire of more stability and the actual chance given to potential over-stayers? I think it is the same contradiction that occurs between the needs of the economy on one hand and the ideological fear of a Hispanic invasion on the other.

 

In conclusion, both for the momentary lack of an explicit agreement between the Senators and above all for the threatening importance given to an ambiguous criterion such as the creation of a “secure border”, I take the “spring of immigration, just as the actual spring, to be lamentably yet to come. 

Cesar Chavez’s Easter

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Yesterday, the Sunday when about 2 billions of Christians around the world celebrated Easter, Google made the controversial choice of creating a “doodle” to honor the Latino workers’ rights activist Cesar Chavez.

Unsurprisingly, polemics broke out immediately, and were noticed even by Italian newspapers and websites, despite the fact that Chavez is almost unknown in Europe and, because of this, Google had maintained the ordinary page in mine and other non-American countries.

 

As it has been stressed by Stephen A. Nuño, the protests have not that much to do with religion.

Google, of course, has a pragmatic secular market strategy and tries to please all its multicultural clients with equal discretion.

 

I made some quick researches, and the most religious “doodles” I could find are those exhibited for Christmas and for Thanksgving Day, but they only display a turkey and some childish toys. Last time they celebrated Easter, they did it through adding some eggs to the Google logo: OK, they are Christian symbols of Resurrection from a torpid body, but who would say chocolate eggs are religious?

In general, I have the slight perception that Google is simply trying to tantalize the web-surfers’ (and generally human) sensitivity to celebrations without committing to a particular set of beliefs and so loosing appeal to all the others.

A difficult balance that is searched for by the vast majority of economic enterprises.

 

Why the silence on Easter this year has been so unpalatable to many bloggers? Well, probably the fact is that Chavez is (improperly) nicknamed a “socialist”, as a matter of fact was a union founder and leader, and of course represents a Hispanic cultural heritage that some folks would gladly avoid mingling with their concept of “American”. Furthermore, Chavez seems to be the inventor of the watchword “Yes, we can”, or more correctly “Sì, se puede”, that as everybody knows was wielded by Democrats during Obama’s presidential campaign. Two years ago the White House also proclaimed a Cesar Chavez Day that is even observed as a national holiday in Texas, California and Colorado, and this latter information strengthens the understanding, if it was needed, that the problem is outright political, maybe cultural, and truly not religious in a strict sense.

 

Trying to overcome my personal ignorance about their story, I discovered that one of the clearest features of Chavez’s struggles was a religious commitment. He hired the icon of the VIRGEN DE LA GUADALUPE as a symbol of Latinos’ enfranchisement and during his fasts, surrounded by pictures of saints and political activists who inspired him (mostly religious, like Gandhi or MLK), he accepted as only food the Holy Communion.

A Catholic website that you can deem everything but “progressive” molded a (literally) passionate portrait of the union leader more than a year ago, and recalled his “orthodoxy” together with his ability to speak to the man of the street.

The most striking detail thinking about the Google-doodle issue is that Chavez organized a memorable pilgrimage to Sacramento so that it culminated on the festivity day of Easter.

 

All the theoretical background of Chavez, a pragmatic and active player but not a man of thoughtless temper, as his systematic non-violent strategy shows, drew from the social teachings of Leo XIII and Pius XI. These popes insisted in condemning modern nationalism and racism before and while they became so dramatically powerful to lead Europe in the disasters of WW I-II, and they advocated for a “social economy” that recognizes private property as a “natural (divine) right”, but at the same time subordinated it to the right to a decent life and to the common property of creation by all humanity.

That is to say: it is not a sin to be rich, but only if there is none of your brothers starving because of your disproportionate wealth (see for example how Caritas in Veritate 27 recalls Luke 16, 19-31). In this latter case, greed can be a cause of earthly (and even eternal) condemnation.

Chavez was able to embody these principles and at the same time to reach out to all the communities of “people of good will”, independently from their particular beliefs.

 

In conclusion, he is in my eye a model of how a man can remain loyal to his deepest identity and become a valuable member of a larger society, from the United States on to the whole world, in a similar way to Martin Luther King, that Chavez openly admired. They deserve a place between the sons America can be proud of and that contributed to shape its contemporary identity, no matter what the advocates of “whiteness” would say.

 

So kudos to Cesar Chavez, and happy Easter!    

Intertwined Prejudices: Drugs Smuggling, Gun Control, and Immigrants

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The Mexican border has been associated with drugs smuggling for a long, long time. As Nevins explains in his book Operation Gatekeeper, Tijuana has been dubbed “the sin city” because of its mass tourism centered on gambling, alcohol, prostitution and, especially in recent decades, drugs.

 

Furthermore, Mexico represents the connection between US and Latin American drug markets, that e,braces the northern regions of Central America as long as the underground hubs in Colombia.

Even recently the country has met horrific peaks of violence and there the name “war on drugs” seems to be taken literally for “Narcos” don’t hesitate to use grenade and other weapons as such to attack Mexican law enforcers

 

Are the doors of entrance in the United States the same for drugs flow and immigrants? Probably not at all. The smugglers have to be certain that their very costly and sensitive merchandise arrives safe and stashed in the country, while immigrants’ routes are extremely dangerous, as proven by the corpses that continue to emerge from the desert

 

The Mexican war against and between the “Narcos”, moreover, has had a pace independent from that of immigration: this last was stepped up in the Nineties, while the first is a much older phenomenon and it decreased for some time just before the beginning of this century, due to a sort of truce.

It has to be added that the drug consumption in the US is the obvious fuel of the smuggling and that, surprisingly, in the border regions too the vast majority of individuals involved in trafficking are American citizens

 

According to the well-established image of the dangerous boarders-crossing Latino criminal, the debate on gun control involved concerns regarding minorities’ communities. Once again, statistics show that Black and Hispanic possess far less guns than White. Nonetheless, they bring the social stigma of violence and are the most likely victims of the American side of “war on drugs”. In the United States, though, its battles are not usually those of policemen reacting to grenade throwing, but rather consist in frisking young suspected and running the risks of stigmatizing their neighborhoods through oppressive and insistent patrolling.

 

Hence the danger that gun control entails an increase of inequalities in the treatment of minority members, as it historically happened with the first restrictions to the Second Amendment.

Resounding Releases and Silent Imprisonments

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 Last week news that someone found shocking originated from a source that usually is thought as having not much to do with immigration. The discussion on “sequestration”, an economic issue that consists in imposing cuts to the federal expenses, implied the mass release of hundreds of immigrants.

 

The public eye, together with some Republican politicians, considered this choice a serious menace to citizens’ security and an unjust procedure that closely resembles an amnesty. Now, we know from the debate started months ago that “amnesty” is considered a sort of derogatory label, useful to pull down the adversary’s proposals as “too gentle”.

 

When we read these alarms-like reports, though, we can easily notice how superficially the information is provided. Immigrants released: so why were they in? One story reported by the New York Times is characterized by domestic violence connected to a quarrel with the convict’s wife. But some other voices can raise more awareness of the reasons of these imprisonments: for example, the witness of Miguel Rodriguez, a nineteen years old who simply failed to use his turn-signal. He was also an “illegal”, of course.

 

By the way, how many people who read with preoccupation these stories of “criminals” let free to wander around know that these social identities and disquieting nicknames are related more to changes in the country laws than to these people’s actual misdeeds?

 

The sharp divide between felony and infringement of civil rules has switched in the last decade. Unfortunately, as I noticed hastily in my previous post, it is not only an American problem. Beginning in 1998, also in Italy we are detaining people whose only or most relevant fault is that of being undocumented. Other countries of Southern Europe are reacting in the same way to what they perceives as a threat to national sovereignty.  

 

Except from the injustice that is to be seen in such a treatment, what affects me most is the short circuit, the blind confusion that these practices engender in the public debate. Statistics easily report that immigrants are, in an overwhelmingly majority, also criminal and that they are detained in numbers incomparable to native citizens. What statistics usually do not report is the sad story of how these persons were transformed in criminal, creating laws capable of circumscribing exactly their social group with the stigma of illegality. That’s how it became possible to detain a teenager because of a (reported) mistake while driving, and to authorize other detentions like this as a consequence of the ascertained danger these guys would constitute to our society. It is a vicious circle alimenting itself.

 

What these policies don’t aliment, though, are the state’s finances. To detain as many people as possible can sound reassuring, but it clearly has a huge cost. Human rights activists define laws like Operation Streamline “a lucrative deal for the private prison industry”

 

Perhaps which people are getting benefits from these politics could be called into question. Anyway, what remains unquestionable is also what should concern us the most. We surely know who is paying: us, as citizens, and not only in terms of money but even in terms of injustice.