"Promised Land" by Christoph Niemann. Cover of The New Yorker.

This week, families across the country gathered together to celebrate Thanksgiving, a time to reflect on our blessings and to give thanks for everything we have from the food on our plates to our loved ones across the table.   Any undocumented American or naturalized American would remind us that everyone born in America should be thankful for our citizenship and all the blessings that come from it.  We should always remember to embrace the spirit of Thanksgiving, but we should also remember the history of the First Thanksgiving, of our ancestors, and of America’s immigration policies.  We should also be thankful for Judge Myron Thompson (more on that later).

The First Thanksgiving was a 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Plantation, where the Pilgrims held a harvest feast after a successful growing season.  The Pilgrims owed their survival to the Native Americans.  Squanto, a Patuxet who resided with the Wampanoag tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn and served as an interpreter for them (Squanto had learned English while enslaved in Europe and during travels in England).  Furthermore, Massasoit, the Wampanoag leader, had donated food stores to the fledgling colony during the first winter when supplies brought from England were insufficient.

Nativists who support anti-immigration laws like Alabama’s HB56 and Arizona’s SB1070 often forget that unless they are Native Americans then they are the descendants of immigrants.  They conveniently forget this, just like they conveniently forget the racist history of immigration to the United States.

Dr. Matthew Whitaker of Arizona State University answers what is “really going on” in Arizona and in Alabama by placing Arizona’s SB1070 in a historical context, examining the history of immigration to the United States.  He explains:

“The United States owes much of its economic resilience to replenishing waves of immigrants. Indeed, the descendants of Italians, Jews, Irish, and Germans, have in fact assimilated. […] Now nearly 40% of New York’s nearly 9 million residents are foreign born, almost the same percentage as a century ago.  This diversity in part has made New York a super-power.  Now, advocates of stricter immigration enforcement in Arizona argue that those who came a century ago were different because they arrived here legally.  That’s what they tell us!  Movies and novels depict custom agents at New York’s Ellis Island, the key hole through which 16 million immigrants passed between 1882 and 1922, examining immigrants and their ‘papers’ with a capricious eye towards shipping back those laggards and those so-called bums.

Peggy Noonan, a former speech-writer for President Ronald Reagan, wrote about her Irish forebears in the Wall Street Journal, stating that ‘they waited in line,’ ‘they passed the tests,’ ‘they had to get permission to come,’ ‘they had to get through Ellis Island,’ ‘get questioned and eyeballed by a bureaucrat with a badge.’  Now I’m a historian, and historians will argue that that analysis is flawed and is ahistorical.

There were no immigration restrictions in America until the end of chattel slavery and the unprecedented rise in the number of people of color coming into this country.  There is a direct correlation between the two.

Until 1918 the United States did not require passports- the term “illegal immigrant” had no meaning.  New arrivals were required only to prove their identity and to find a relative or a friend who could vouch for them when they got here.  […] 98% of the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island were admitted to the United States and 78% [after] less than 8 hours on the island.  […]

Still European immigrants found plenty of backlash themselves and they, [the descendants of these European- Americans], have very short memories.  Nativist sentiments ran strong and white protestant reformers championed English instruction only.  Sounds familiar?  Mark Twain, even though he was a Confederate, said ‘history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.’  I can certainly hear the rhyme in Arizona and in America.  […]

Also, as Italians and Pols and Jews and Slavs poured into New York City, so called “native-born Americans” complained about the “mongrelization of the white race,” and that leaves me to my conclusion and what this is really about, what is driving this- demographic changes and fear.  Because there are people in our society who have finally realized that the bell has tolled and that the inevitable has happened and will continue to happen and that is that their demographic domination of the United States is not going to continue and they don’t know what to do about the loss of the consolidation of their power and their money along epidermal alliances.

So the modern issue in recent times began with the round ups, preemptive war, Guantanamo Bay, indefinite detentions, and the ripping apart of families in this country that claims to value families so much.  Now here in the United States, armed white, right-wing militias run around cutting open gallons of water that volunteers leave in the desert to save immigrants from dying of dehydration.  What kind of nation are we that sanctions that type of behavior?  While another right-wing group in Utah sent addresses and phone numbers of those who are of Latino descent including pregnant women to law enforcement agencies demanding that they be deported.  Again, what kind of nation are we that sanctions that type of behavior?  Reactionary Tea Partiers have tweeted that they will ‘kick the ass of illegal advocates.’  First of all, I don’t know any illegal advocates, what I do know are advocates of justice, advocates of freedom and humanity, those are the people that I know.  […]

[President Obama] called upon people to ‘get past the two poles of debate’ and referred to SB1070 as ‘understandable and misguided.’ I love you, Mr. President, but with all due respect, how can get past a pole of debate that compares Latinos to a rat infestation?  Furthermore, there is nothing understandable about a law that will mean misery, detentions, deportations, and possibly death to innocent people, particularly children and students.  The philosophy of common ground and coalition with an unwavering nativist and fascist force paved the way to the gas chambers in Europe.  This racist atmosphere will not be lifted by Latinos pledging their allegiance to America any more than when certain Jews attempted to pledge their allegiance to Nazi Germany.  We need to stand up and fight!  Platitudes are not enough.

So, SB1070 was drafted by an Arizona legislator who had previously appeared in photos hugging a neo-Nazi.  Now, I have tenure, but that’s some job security when you can hug a neo-Nazi and still have a job.  And it was drafted with an influence from an attorney and law professor who is a member of FAIR [Federation for American Immigration Reform], an anti-immigrant group founded by a eugenicist and a racist, John Tanton, who is concerned with maintaining ‘a European-American majority.’  That is what this is all about.  So what is this all really about again?  Nothing less than the face of the future of America and the fear of the loss of power and control by members of the dominant society under the guise of legitimate causes such as securing our borders and upholding the law.

We should be thankful everyday, but its easy to take for granted things that we have, so we need Thanksgiving to remind to us to reflect on our blessings.  Any undocumented American or naturalized American would remind us that everyone born in America should be thankful for our citizenship and all the blessings that come from it.  Everyone who is documented in Alabama should be especially grateful (but not complacent), as HB56 is causing misery and fear in the lives of thousands of immigrant families during this holiday season.  Linton Joaquin, the general counsel of the National Immigration Law Center reminds of this as he reports on a holiday blessing that surfaced this week:

Latino Alabamians, 30 percent of whom occupy mo­bile homes, will have some­thing to truly be grateful for this Thanksgiving. […] Today’s ruling is a victory that will prevent peo­ple from being pushed out of their homes.

Thanks goes to Judge Myron Thompson, who issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday evening that pre­vents the state from requiring proof of citizenship or status to renew manufactured home registrations as section 30 of HB56 had mandated.  The order expires Dec. 7th.  Brian Lyman of the Montgomery advertiser reports:

The suit alleges that the purpose of the law is to drive undocumented immigrants, ‘and in particular minority immigrants of Latino heri­tage, out of Alabama by making living conditions miserable for them or by funneling them into deporta­tion proceedings.’

State sponsors of HB56, including Sen. Beason, Rep. Hammon, and Sen. Scofield, testified in this case about their reasons for supporting HB56.  In contrast to Dr. Whitaker’s analysis they did not state racism, demographic changes, or power and economic control as their reasons; however, they did reveal their false logic as they testified that they believe undocumented immigrants take jobs from “legal Alabama taxpayers,” bring diseases such as tuberculosis into the U.S, and bring organized criminal activity such as prostitution and illegal weapons possession into Alabama. They were honest that HB56 was designed to “reduce the number of illegal aliens in this state […] by mak[ing] it difficult for [them] to live and work.”

Thompson issued the order because he said plaintiffs had “a substantial” likelihood of proving their case.
Happy Thanksgiving,

VamosTogether Crew


2 responses »

  1. Laura Conway says:

    This speech is plagiarized. Google Emma Kaplan, SB 1070 and Michael Powell, Road Well Traveled.

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