The Editor The Daily Sundial
We, the undersigned CSUN English department graduate students and faculty, hereby express our opposition to the Sensenbrenner immigration bill (HR 4437) and our support for the 1 May protests and boycott against HR 4437. As rhetoric and composition scholars, we are particularly disturbed by the ways in which language is deployed to create division, fear and scapegoating in HR 4437 and in the campaign around the bill, and by the reductive and limited nature of the debate on HR 4437 in Congress, the media and other public forums. The impoverished nature of the discourse around HR 4437 insults the intelligence of all of us.
1) The inequities that the boycott and protests address are systemic, and we encourage our friends, colleagues and neighbors not to see questions around immigration only in individualized terms (e.g., seeing immigrants as threatening a particular person’s job, or as limiting an individual’s access to social benefits). This kind of short-sightedness creates divisions between races and between classes (for instance, pitting African-Americans again Latinas/os). We deplore the media’s collusion in this “divide and conquer” strategy by focusing on African-American opposition to the protests and boycotts. In any case, the claims that are made to foster these divisions are specious: undocumented workers of any ethnicity cannot collect social benefits and have no choice but to work for menial wages that are often below minimum wage, with no overtime benefits. They work the same or more hours for far less income than any citizen of the US.
2) The media, politicians, and HR 4437 have successfully constructed negative identities of immigrants in the US; the language of the bill demonizes immigrants by associating them with “terrorists,” aligning them with lawbreakers, constructing them as gangsters, and creating a racist fear of Latinas/os. (Even the bill’s title, “The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005,” makes this kind of racist chain of associations.) The May 1 boycott demonstrates immigrants’ reconstruction of their identities by drawing attention to their vital roles within our economy, culture, and sociality, and thus emphasizing their positive and productive place in this country. The protests and boycotts are not nationalistic outcries, but rather a demand for recognition of immigrants’ strenuous, long work hours and demeaning pay that, ironically, benefit our consumer society.
3) HR 4437 does not embrace humanitarian values. Instead it selectively groups and scapegoats people by stereotypes. It assumes, for instance, that it is noble for a US citizen to want to move his/her family to a new location for a better life, but that it is immoral for someone to immigrate to the US for the same reasons.
4) The language around the bill constructs immigrants as “a drain on our society.” HR 4437 claims in veiled language that undocumented workers pose a threat to our society because of the perceived drain that their presence makes on our national resources. However, if HR 4437 is passed, where would fear of such a drain end? Would we then begin passing bills to demonize our own citizenry who are perceived as “a drain?” Would we export our tired, our weak, our huddled masses?
5) Most discussion of Mexican immigrants in the US ignores the contexts and histories of US (and other) imperialism and colonialism that have created “Third World” economic dependency in the first place. It assumes that poverty in Mexico and prosperity in the US are the result of chance, or the product of US hard work and Mexican laziness. HR 4437 in fact embraces colonialism and all the ideas associated with it: people of color are the “other”; people of color are deviants.
6) To keep consumers and businesses happy, the US expands its imperialist project and creates an industry out of exploiting cheap “foreign” labor. Although we do not condone this exploitation, we believe that HR 4437 and its supporters fail to recognize the inconsistencies in their own economic policies and practices: Who is going to replace the job of the immigrant worker? Who is going to work for less than minimum wage so that we can purchase goods at an economical price? Who is willing to work the fields for 25 cents per box of strawberries? Are US companies willing to pay minimum wage and disrupt their profit margins? Where will we go for cheap labor? Will this bill create a greater exigency for imperialism and capitalism? Will we create more US factories in Mexico to appease this exigency? Will we force Mexico’s economy to be even more dependant on ours?
7) In sum, we believe that HR 4437 is illogical and inhumane, and that it contradicts the lip service that this country gives to the value of diversity and social justice. We urge all other thoughtful citizens and non-citizens to oppose it.
Syuzanna Babayeva Ian Barnard Tamika Barrett Karmen Garabekyan John Gides Christine Popok Ryan Skinnell Nicole Snell Darlene Toscano Danielle Watson Kim Wells
Department of English CSUN