Immigrant rights activist seeks sanctuary from deportation in Chicago church

by Chris Sturr | August 29, 2006

Chicago immigrant rights activist Elvira Arellano started making national headlines in mid-Au101215 6:23:03 [ERROR] /usr/local/libexec/mysqld: Incorrect key file for table ‘./mray_prophoto101wp/wp_postmeta.MYI'; try to repair it
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im to fame is being an outspoken black Republican, claims that

illegal immigration has lowered wages and pushed African Americans out of the building trades and service jobs that were our opportunity to have the American dream. Illegal immigration has also strained education and healthcare services in distressed communities, disproportionally affecting African Americans.

But should we believe Hayes? In a 2005 Wall Street Journal profile, Hayes comes across as ignorant of economic issues. The profile quotes Hayes calling for parental responsibility to halt violent crime and extolling the civility-instilling virtues of cricket lessons for inner-city kids. But neither the Journal nor Hayes mentions the wealth and income gaps between black and white, except to pooh-pooh the problems and the people who respond to them by “demanding government programs and blaming white racism.”

Contrast United for a Fair Economy‘s Chaka Uzondu, who points out that black poverty is largely the result of “social policies that have created wealth for whites, while simultaneously blocking wealth creation for African-Americans and other racialized peoples” and that it is the actions of the government and the “corporate class” that lines their pockets who are making sure that, however immigration is shaped, it will hurt the poor and not the rich.

Hayes’ Minuteman supporters reveal themselves to be just as ignorant of the economics of immigration as Hayes himself. Minuteman Brian, who refused to give his last name, told MSNBC “I understand why [Arellano] wants to be here. Unfortunately, she came illegally, got caught with Social Security fraud and was asked to be deported.”

If Hayes and the Minutemen are primarily concerned that immigration harms the economic position of black citizens, they should be glad that Arellano and other undocumented workers use false social security numbers. As United for a Fair Economy‘s Jeannette Huezo and I report,

the Social Security Administration reports that it receives about $7 billion per year under false Social Security numbers, while Medicare takes in $1.5 billion. The typical undocumented worker will never see a penny of his or her Social Security or Medicare contributions in benefits, so that’s free money for those programs.

(This magazine’s May/June 2006 issue discusses similar phenomena in the context of the Canadian guest worker program.)

Which is only one reason that the nine black members of Clergy Speaks Interdenominational who showed their support for Arellano on August 24 are the real advocates of civil rights in this situation, not Ted Hayes and his Minuteman allies.

Speaking of civil rights, one thing for which Arellano has drawn a lot of fire is commenting that she thinks of Rosa Parks as a role model.

Reverend J. Leon Thorn, pastor of St. James AME Church on Chicago’s South Side, was more civil than most (Hayes especially) in his response to this. The Chicago Tribune‘s Oscar Avila reports that Thorn

agrees that many African-Americans do not like the comparisons to Parks because, unlike Arellano, the civil-rights icon was law-abiding until confronting a law now universally viewed as unjust. Thorn said Arellano should not have entered the United States illegally but says African-American leaders should support her efforts to fix a ‘broken’ immigration system. ‘We need to stay united as a people. If we don’t stick together, God help us all.’

But Thorn, though sympathetic, is still wrong. Someday, current U.S. immigration and foreign policy will also be “universally viewed as unjust.” Latin Americans don’t immigrate to the United States because they love the idea of stealing jobs from American citizens; they do it because the U.S. and, to some extent, other developed countries have skewed the rules of international trade in ways that impoverish their countries more every year and give them few options but to migrate. (See http://faireconomy.org/doubletax_immigrants.html; http://dollarsandsense.org/archives/2006/0506toc.html.)

Reforming immigration law itself won’t be enough to right the injustice, and even the proposed reforms don’t go in the right direction. Uzondu writes

Many people are angry with President Bush because he supports a temporary worker program. To them this is ‘amnesty,’ perhaps for Bush it is ‘compassionate conservatism!’ Really, it is neither. This Bracero-like program (guest worker) is exploitative. Corporations looking for people to work at the lowest possible wages can hire immigrant workers and then deport them to their countries of origin after they are no longer desired.

The president of the AFL-CIO believes this, as well, and that any guest worker program will thus be bad news for labor unions. The Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations also opposes guest worker programs on the grounds that they are designed to divide and conquer. (Read more about their struggles in Dollars & Sense’s upcoming September labor issue.)

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  1. Yawn.

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