Government Cleansing: Immigrants Get Hammered

Rev. David L. Ostendorf • Aug 17, 2011

In the relatively quiet summer weeks of August, elements of the Obama Administration have hammered immigrants.

On August 11 the obscure Board of Immigration Appeals at the Department of Justice ruled that immigrants arrested without warrants no longer have to be told of their basic rights to remain silent or to an attorney until they are put into the formal deportation process, which is a reversal of policy in place since 1980. As a colleague at the American Immigration Council declared, “The decision epitomizes the substandard system of justice that’s been created and imposed on immigrants in the United States.”

On August 9 the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) essentially gave the go-ahead to renegade employers to underpay undocumented workers virtually at will, with no repercussions to be expected from the US Department of Labor. If you’re undocumented, work 72 hour weeks for a pittance, and get fired because your employer stole your wages, don’t bother to call the Department’s Wage and Hour Division. As our colleagues at Brandworkers International warned, “The NLRB’s decision ensures the continued growth of sweatshops in our economy, which compete unfairly in the marketplace and undermine the economic well-being of working families.”

On August 5 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unilaterally announced that it would no longer let states or communities opt out of its so-called “Secure Communities” program, its controversial deportation initiative aimed at alleged immigrant criminals residing in the US. Singed by the decision of three Governors (Illinois, Massachusetts, New York) to no longer participate in the program, the DHS made the program mandatory.

Since, the DHS decision has been roundly and rightly denounced by civil, immigrant, legal, and human rights groups nationwide.

So what’s the deal here? Just where does this Administration stand with regard to immigrant rights? Just where is it willing to take a stand, even as it continues its record level of deportations? As the hollow chants of “Si se puede” fade in the background, as 2012 looms, and as what’s left of the economy still rests on the strong backs of low-wage immigrant workers, what will the political class actually do?

If August is any indication—nothing.  Actually, worse than nothing—the politicos will deliver an absolute hammering on immigrants.

Following the 1948 plane crash that killed twenty-seven immigrants being flown from the US back to Mexico, Woody Guthrie wrote the haunting lyrics to “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).”  The unnamed immigrant victims were identified by media, quite simply, as “just deportees.”  Decades later Guthrie’s fourth verse aptly conveys the government-cleansing of recent weeks, and provides Democrats and Republicans alike an apt new theme song for 2012:

“Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted, / Our work contract’s out and we have to move on; / Six hundred miles to the Mexican border, / They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.”

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