Undocumented Immigration, Human Rights and White Privilege

I spent this week at a seminar entitled Exploring the Cultures of the Twin Cities, which focused on the Somali, Hmong, and Latino communities. In addition to learning a lot about the Somali and Hmong communities and the particular challenges they face in the US and in Minnesota, this seminar served to rekindle my strong feelings about immigration issues and hard borders. It’s something I used to think about quite a bit, but haven’t thought or talked about as much recently. I don’t know why, exactly. Anyway, in light of the seminar and also the immigration bill that just passed in the Senate, I thought I would share a bit about my feelings on immigration.

I’m not thrilled about the bill. A path to citizenship for those undocumented already here is great, and the provisions for low-skilled workers I think are a good start. But in my mind, though it’s a good start, it’s not enough, and of course the piece adding border control agents and extending the fence along the border definitely takes us in the wrong direction, in my opinion. Obviously I know that something more radical has no chance of passing, but my fear is that if this current bill was passed (which sounds unlikely), people would consider it “enough.” I don’t. In the interest of expediency and not reinventing the wheel when I wrote a perfectly good academic paper on this very issue just a few years ago, I’m including another paper I wrote in graduate school to explain my feelings on immigration. I will warn you that it’s pretty radical left-wing stuff, so this is probably going to rise some hackles, but it’s how I feel. Readers, of course, are free to take it or leave it.

Here’s the paper:

What Our Borders Really Protect:

Undocumented Immigration, Human Rights and White Privilege

Persons exist separately from any particular state;

persons, as such, are prior to states, and therefore human rights,

because they rest on humanness, exist prior to any rights afforded by states.

~Martha Scarpellino,

“‘Corriendo’: Hard Boundaries, Human Rights and the Undocumented Immigrant.”

International borders, as they stand in most of the world today, can be classified as hard boundaries. As defined by Loren Lomansky, hard boundaries are “demarcation[s] not easily traversable at will which function to confer substantial benefits or impose substantial costs on individuals by virtue of which side of the line they happen to find themselves on” (Scarpellino 332; emphasis mine). The division of the world’s landmasses according to hard boundaries, then, creates a situation where some people are born into poverty and others into wealth. Those born into poverty have very little chance of overcoming this system to make a good life for themselves and their families. Hard international boundaries are maintained for political and economic reasons that fail to address the inequality created by such boundaries. Soft boundaries, on the other hand, are “characterized by the lack of impediment to the flow of goods, capital and people” (Scarpellino 332). It is the end of this definition that renders soft boundaries much more desirable, from a human rights standpoint, than hard boundaries. According to the North American Free Trade Agreement, for example, goods and capital are already allowed to move freely across the border between Mexico and the US, but people are not. This has created a situation where the “free movement” of cheap US food and products into Mexico and other Latin American countries has destroyed local farms and businesses, forcing large numbers of Latinos to cross the US-Mexico border illegally in order to find work in the United States. Using the US-Mexico border as a case study, I argue that such hard boundaries violate human rights and perpetuate white privilege.