Special Issue on Immigration
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(Swans - October 4, 2010) A predictable consequence of the dire economic crisis has been a spectacular rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in North America and Western Europe, which, combined with religious xenophobia against Muslim residents, has led to a significant growth of right-wing populism. In the U.S., former pro-immigration Republican leaders openly advocate reconsidering the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to strip it of its provision that provides automatic citizenship to any child born in the country whether or not the parents are citizens. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is quietly presiding over a much higher rate of deportations than the preceding Bush administration oversaw. Anti-immigrant rhetoric is particularly virulent among Tea Partiers and the candidates they support for the coming mid-term elections. In Europe, populist right-wing parties have been scoring substantial electoral gains by scapegoating immigrants of Muslim background. In Italy, Umberto Bossi's Lega Nord ("Northern League"), a xenophobic party, is a member of the Berlusconi governmental coalition. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, the leader of the Party of Freedom (and a favorite of the American Tea Party), openly advocates banning new mosques -- as the Swiss did in a recent referendum -- and the Koran, stopping all immigration from Muslim countries, and deporting immigrants. In Germany, a controversial book written by Thilo Sarrazin, a forced-to-resign member of the board at the Bundesbank and former finance minister of the Berlin city-state government, and often called a mini German Wilders, has fanned a harsh debate on immigration. In France, the Sarkozy government is emulating the policies long advocated by the far-right National Front, shamelessly deporting Romas and targeting immigrants from Northern Africa. The beast is raising its ugly head (Brecht) once again -- and the phenomenon repeats itself in Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Hungary, etc. Even tiny Sweden, a model of social democracy, has just elected to its parliament 20 members of the anti-immigration, far-right Sweden Democrats led by Jimmie Åkesson.
This nauseous and dangerous political climate led me to ask Swans regular contributors a couple of months ago whether they would be open to devoting their work to a special edition on the topic of immigration. As always I did not provide much direction, simply asking to focus on the issue at hand as they saw fit. The result of their work -- 15 pieces -- will illustrate once more the extent of the diversity readers are accustomed to when they turn the pages of our digital journal of ideas, opinions, and thoughts. From a political angle to a creative narrative passing through human experiences, readers will find a gold mine of varying views that will hopefully help them think further about the horrid situation immigrants are facing.
We'll begin with Louis Proyect, who provides a clear class and economic analysis of the history of passports, the right to travel freely and restrictions on free travel, the exploitation of cheap labor, and the contemporary trade agreements that put workers at a crossroad between unity and feudalism. The indefatigable and thorough researcher Michael Barker reviews the intimate connections between mainstream conservationists and racist anti-immigration activists, while Maxwell Clark offers a short meditation on the confluences and divergences of the spatial and linguistic -- or, on a much grander scale, questions of territory and identity. Graham Lea presents a much-needed European outlook on emigration and immigration. Harvey Whitney submits an American perspective to the significant immigrant streams in US history and the current Draconian limits that deny human beings the right to improve their lives, and Jan Baughman explains that before Americans can change their anti-immigration sentiment they must understand its source, as well as the country's historical treatment of immigrants.
Jonah Raskin makes the clearest possible case that immigrants are not the cause of the US recession or the global economic crisis, but rather the victims of them, and, as Jan Baughman does, he strongly intimates that we are ALL immigrants. Many victims of our global economic crisis, however, are best described through the wrenching photo essay by Bo Keeley; while Marie Rennard, within a French historical construct, makes evident that today's hate, and need for Latinos (in the U.S.) or Muslims (in Europe) are an old story -- a story of chauvinism that Walter Trkla applies to Canada.
My African brother Femi Akomolafe brings his unique perspective on racism and immigrants, and provides a welcome transition to the creative work of Peter Byrne, Christine Spadaccini, Fabio De Propris, and Guido Monte -- and we all know that fiction beats reality time and again.
I've often wondered why, oh why, the work of Peter Byrne has not appeared in the mainstream media, but perhaps his recurrent subtlety is too subtle for the bien pensant crowd. Nevertheless, subtlety is the mark of his contribution, which plainly shows that immigration won't abate anytime soon, notwithstanding the howls of nativists. In the domain of creative thinking and writing, Byrne's essay ought to be a must read for all curious minds -- as should Christine Spadaccini's. People familiar with the work of Marcel Pagnol will identify with Spadaccini's take on immigration -- a work of amazing humanity. As well, people with a hint of awareness will intimately grasp Fabio De Propris's tale.
There would be no conclusion to this special edition of Swans (or any edition for that matter) without the take of brother Guido Monte. Monte, circling the loop that Bo Keeley's saga illustrated, epitomizes the search for economic justice whereby people die of no fault of themselves but for their hope for a better future -- a fitting end to this special issue.
Finally, once you've finished reading this special issue, please ask yourself the following question: If capital, products, and services can be borderless, should not people be accorded the same privilege? In other words, if it were up to me -- and it is not -- nationalities and borders would all be abolished.
[A personal note: As a migrant, emigrant, and immigrant I had planned to write a contributing piece. After all, having moved about 30 times in 60 years -- 15 in my first quarter century -- and lived in four countries, with working stints in three others, I have an immaculate pedigree to write on this topic. So, I wrote, and I wrote... For the past two months I've written close to 15,000 words that turned out to be my own emotional experience of transience. I took my digital scissors to cut the piece down to 2,500 words. Still, it was all about me and me and me. The advantage of having a co-editor is that one gets a second opinion and often enough a final decision as to what should be published. Co-editor Jan Baughman decided that my personal experience should not be shared at this point in time. Her valued judgment was correct. I apologize to the other contributors for not having been up to the quality of their thoughts. Immigration, sadly, got far too personal.]
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