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What do xenophobia, bigotry, racial profiling, apartheid, torture, mass incarceration, private prisons, and 21st-century slavery have in common? They are all intimately linked, featured prominently, in a web of lies, greed, and capital. Welcome to the Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave, the 21st-century U.S. of A.
Wednesday, the ACLU published a report titled “Muslims Need Not Apply,” depicting the extent to which our xenophobic, racist government goes to prevent Muslims and those from Muslim-majority countries from immigrating to the U.S. The ACLU writes (all emphases mine) “the government excludes many applicants from Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities from these opportunities by delaying and denying their applications without legal authority.”
The Guardian summarized the report’s findings. Migrants guilty of the horrendous, unspeakable crimes of having given “lawful donations to several large Muslim Americancharities,” having “travelled through or lived in areas of known terrorist activity, wired money back to their families, attended a mosque of interest to the FBI or even given a voluntary interview to the agency, can be labelled ‘national security concerns.’” In other words, if you happen to be from the wrong country, or if you happen to have been in the wrong place of worship, you can’t be a U.S. citizen.
But wait, there’s more! The report furthermore “suggests the FBI has used the CARRP [Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program] rules to pressurise immigrants into becoming informants and cites cases of people who have been refused applications when they declined.” You see, it’s not that Uncle Sam hates Muslims (and even non-Muslims from Muslim-majority countries); it’s that Uncle Sam hates Muslims that refuse to be moles.
None of this is surprising, of course. Americans, particularly Muslim Americans and Arab and Desi Americans have experienced such overt discrimination first hand for over a decade. This report, an investigation that “‘only scratches the surface,’ because it focuses on naturalisation cases [while the] programme also covers those who apply for visas, green cards and asylum,” just officially tells us all what we unofficially already knew.
What is fascinating in this process, however, is how many are expressing surprise at the news. Many were astonished to hear that, as The Guardian article concludes, “Nelson Mandela’s name was only removed from the watch list in July 2008.” We needn’t look far, nonetheless, to understand how such exculpation happened so belatedly. Reagancould hardly have been a bigger fan of Apartheid South Africa. Mandela and the African National Congress were officially considered terrorists under his administration. As Mandela explained on Larry King Live, in 2000, “I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists. I tell them that I was also a terrorist yesterday, but, today, I am admired by the very people who said I was one.”
“Terrorism depends on who wins,” Mandela and King mutually conclude; and, from 1948 to 1994, with the (sometimes wavering, yet always present) support of Uncle Sam, the National Party and white supremacy were winning. “Can we abandon a country that has stood beside us in every war we’ve ever fought, a country that strategically is essential to the free world in its production of minerals we all must have?” the Almighty “Free” Market™ fundamentalist asked, in a 1981 CBS interview.
Many liberals have too expressed surprise that the government’s overtly racist CARRP, initiated in 2008 under Bush, has continued under Obama (and enthusiastically, at that). Many bristle, ashamed that the Drone Despot engages in the same racial profiling policies as his neo-con predecessor. The truth, nevertheless, is that the Democrats are just as anti-immigrant as is the opposing faction their fellow Business Party.
The Obama administration has been particularly vicious in its deportation and prosecution of Latino immigrants. Obama promised comprehensive immigration reformin the first year of his administration. He lied, of course. When he did finally bring immigration reform, it was in the opposite direction anticipated: He passed a $600 million bill, bringing 1,500 new border agents, surveillance drones, and new Border Patrol stations to the southwest border—after announcing an additional 1,200 National Guard troops as support. Where did this $600 million come from? Oh yes, “by steep increases on visa fees for high-tech workers brought to the United States by Indian companies who bring in thousands of temporary employees each year.” Aha, I get it! Prevent immigration by making immigrants pay for military forces to keep other immigrants out. Classic divide and conquer.
Vice president of immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress Angela Kelley called the president’s plan “eerily reminiscent of the Bush administration”; Mary Moreno of the Center for Community Change described it as “Bush on steroids.” Since this time, the administration has only upped the ante, proving to its conservative critics that it can be even more anti-immigrant than they. Obama has deported immigrants at record levels—up to twice as many as did Bush. In what is admittedly quite the hyperbole, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles Alfonso Aguilar called him “the most anti-immigrant president in the history of the United States.”
Here, we see that the Obama administration’s horrendous treatment of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries is certainly not an isolated phenomenon; it is one example of an overall ruthless, anti-immigrant government.
Such ruthlessness extends even to torture. In a case almost entirely ignored by the corporate media—in the words on page 75 of the UN’s 2012 “Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”—“16 gay and transgender individuals have allegedly been subjected to solitary confinement, torture and ill-treatment while in detention in U.S. immigration facilities. Furthermore, there was reportedly a lack of protection from persecution and respect for the principle of non-refoulement for those who risk torture if returned to their home countries on account of their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status.” These were immigrants in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security—a department expanded greatly under the Obama administration.
Investigative journalist Adam Klasfeld investigated further, finding, from personal testimonies, “clients had suffered sexual abuse, solitary confinement and withholding of HIV medication and hormone therapy.” Detainees were sexually assaulted by guards, put into solitary confinement, called “faggot”; guards refused to unshackle detainees during doctor visits and made jokes about detainees dying of AIDS. One transgender asylum seeker attempted suicide.
National Immigrant Justice Center Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy writes of “thehuman rights disaster that the immigration detention system has become.” The truth is, in the ever-burgeoning new game of prison privatization, human rights aren’t even considered. Klasfeld concludes noting “dozens of private immigration prisons that now dot the country are loosely regulated, and have been subject of frequent litigation, including allegations of heterosexual abuse from prison guards.”
The privatization of prisons has been a hot topic of recent. It is surely one of the most telling signs of an impending fascist, totalitarian State. The subject of immigrant prisoners in this prisons, however, is rarely addressed. Many who have read a bit about mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex know that over 50% of federal prisoners are locked up for drug-related “crimes,” while only 10% are doing time for violent offenses. What is under the radar in this same twisted system, nonetheless, is the link between anti-immigrant policies and the mass incarceration of innocent migrants in private prisons.
Every day, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and US Immigration and Naturalization Service boast over 30,000 detained immigrants—an approximately 600% increase in the past two decades. As of 2008, this figure was 33,400 (and has only increased since then). In 2006, 20,594 were detained; just next year, 30,295 were detained. Many of these prisoners are legal permanent residents. The vast majority hasno violent criminal record. Those detained include men, women, and children, although approximately 90% are male. As of 2009, about two-thirds were Latino—circa 37% Mexican, 28% Central American. Just this month, the National Immigration Forum published a damning report, “The Math of Immigration Detention: Runaway Costs for Immigration Detention Do Not Add Up to Sensible Policies,” exploring just how appalling and exploitative mass immigration detention is today.
In a recent Huffington Post article, “With Immigration Reform Looming, Private Prisons Lobby to Keep Migrants Behind Bars,” Laura Carlsen, Director, of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy, posits “private prison companies Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The GEO Group, thrive off laws that criminalize migrants, including mandatory detention and the definition of immigration violations as felonies.”
The system is quite simple. Prison capitalists solicit harsher immigration restrictions, as it guarantees them more prisoners—and ergo higher profits. The private prison lobby, ever-insidious and ever-growing, is not-so-quietly whispering in the ears of every important politician in Washington—well, after stuffing wads of cash (try millionsoverall) in their pockets. And, you got it!, Obama thinks the new system is a fantastic idea. “I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world’s ever known” he declared enthusiastically in the recent debates. For-profit prisons are EFFICIENT prisons! The Almighty Free Market™ benevolently watches over us.
“I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products. And I will not stand by when our competitors don’t play by the rules” (that is to say, refuse to privatize everything), Obama, Fox News’ favorite “socialist,” assured us in the 2012 State of the Union address—his soft imperialist rhetoric remarkably reminiscent of that of our hard imperialist presidential forebears (“We want a foreign market for our surplus products,” McKinnley, invader of the Philippines and Cuba insisted). Showing his true Democratic stripes, we see Obama is just as much of a capitalist shill as the rest—and, boy, do they love them some private prisons.
“The Obama administration spent more money on immigration enforcement in the last fiscal year than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined.” $18 billion. In 2010, Obama nominated Stacia Hylton—a consultant with very close relationships to the two largest for-profit prison companies, GEO and CCA—as director of the United States Marshals Service. Such an appointment was widely, and vociferously, panned by some of the most prominent human rights and criminal justice organizations, yet to no avail.
Daniel Cooney, chairman of the board of a Rhode Island immigrant detention center, let the ulterior modus operandi of these private detention centers slip when he insisted “Frankly, I’m looking at it like I’m running a Motel 6. I don’t care if it’s Guantanamo Bay. We want to fill the beds.” Prison as Motel 6. Welcome to dystopia.
“Prison Labor Booms As Unemployment Remains High; Companies Reap Benefits,” arecent article is titled. It notes the U.S.’ criticism of China’s forced-labor policies, but its own commensurate forced labor policies in private prisons, with prisoners, making close-to-zero or even zero wages, working for long hours in outrageous conditions, sometimes without adequate water. Yet Uncle Sam’s lip service to human rights, its critique of other countries guilty of the very same crimes it regularly engages in, is certainly nothing new—in fact, if anything, it is the defining narrative of all U.S. history.
What the ACLU didn’t note in its report is the very intimate connection between anti-immigration policies and this privatized prison psychosis. “Nearly half of all immigrants detained by federal officials are held in facilities run by private prison companies.” In an exemplary “voluntary” work program in a private detention center in Georgia, detained immigrants are paid only ONE DOLLAR PER DAY.
In this way, capitalism, discontent with mere wage slavery and immiseration, has found a way to reinstitute chattel slavery: The State—the slave master—sells its slaves to the highest bidders—private prisons—who force their slaves to work for external corporations (with State subsidies and tax breaks, of course) until their prison sentence is (if ever) up. The “War on Terror”—terror in response to Uncle Sam’s much greater terror in the “Muslim world”—justifies frenzied xenophobia, racism against allimmigrants, which allows a crackdown on all immigration, insuring a steady flow of (mostly Latino) “illegal” slave labor into private prisons.
The ultimate irony in all of this is that the nation’s first black president is propagating the most obscenely racist mass incarceration system on the planet, the “New Jim Crow,” faster than ever. His plan for 2013? “Grow Prisons and Keep Gitmo.” “Prison operations” was one “of the biggest winners under the proposed 2013 budget.” To be fair, it goes without saying that it is not just the Obama administration at work here, but the formidable private prison lobby, but the prison-industrial complex itself. Liberals should recognize, nonetheless, that neither faction of the Business Party sees any problem in privatizing the world’s largest prison system.
While the privatization of prisons is relatively novel, their concomitant virulent anti-immigrant policies are as old as Uncle Sam himself. If we go back to the first natural law in the U.S., the Naturalization Act of 1970, we see only “free white persons,” “person[s] of good character” (practically synonymous in ‘Murica) were allowed to become citizens. The conception of white was even limited, excluding the Irish and Italians—an historical testament to the hegemonic (and wholly illogical) construction of “whiteness” and the white racial frame.
A flood of Chinese immigrants arrived between 1850 and ’70, because of economic problems in their homeland (economic problems caused by the imperialist West)—mostly to be exploited doing miserably low-paid hard labor, building railroads during the so-called “Gold Rush”—yet were subsequently completely prohibited from entering the U.S. with 1882’s Chinese Exclusion Act.
Fears of the “Yellow Peril” spread among racist whites. Poet and playwright Herman George Scheffauer, in speaking of “the spectre of the Yellow Peril” too feared the “Indian invasion” and “the tide of turbans.” The Asiatic Exclusion League, a militant white supremacist organization formed in 1905, was an outgrowth of a xenophobic zeitgeist, one in which the mainstream American media published articles like the “Hindu Invasion” and, once again, the “Tide of Turbans.”
On the books, the Immigration Act of 1917 and particularly the Immigration Act of 1924 are among the most evident examples of Uncle Sam’s overt 20th-century racist discrimination. Passed under the extra imperialist Coolidge, with virtually no congressional opposition, the acts increased taxes on new immigrants (to prevent the most poor from immigrating), required a literacy test (to prevent the uneducated from immigrating), and imposed racial quotas, essentially completely excluding Asians. The “most basic purpose” of this act? In the words of the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, “to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity.”
“America must remain American” Coolidge insisted. The “bill did everything eugenicists had hoped for.” Jews were among those not permitted, in a time when political refuge meant life or death. Not unlike today, the goal of this legislation was to prevent “undesirables” from entering the country. Also like today, prominent among the unwelcome were those from Muslim-majority countries. All individuals from the Middle East, India, and, in practice, all of East Asia were prohibited. Anti-Asian discrimination has continued in a long, long tradition.
The Chinese Exclusion Act ended only in 1943. Racial quotas were not ridden of until The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. National-origin quotas were only abolished in 1965.
Here we can see that, the Obama administration’s revolting immigration policies aside, Mr. Aguilar’s hyperbole obfuscates a history of incredible anti-immigrant oppression and injustice. The problem is none of this horrid history is present in the discussions of present-day anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, anti-Desi, anti-Latino immigration policies, yet such contextual framing is imperative to any real understanding of contemporary systems of power. When understood, we see that the CARRP’s institutional discrimination is nothing new; it continues in an over 200-year-old white supremacist tradition.
A final problem persists. Framing virtually all discussion of immigration is a fallacious discourse accepted unswervingly by conservatives and liberals alike: Migrants have arrived here for a better life! People the world over travel to the U.S. to achieve “The American Dreeeaaam”!!!
According to this self-aggrandizing balderdash, immigration is always voluntary. Theprimary reasons for immigration, however—poverty, armed conflict, social strife, political turmoil, and economic hardships—are usually caused by the very countries migrants are forced to immigrate to. When we look at the underlying causes behind these principal reasons, we see that the U.S. and its capitalist ilk are almost entirely responsible. The IMF and World Bank are perhaps the world’s largest purveyors ofpoverty; weapons corporations (mainly U.S.-based) make billions off of fomenting armed conflicts around the planet; social strife, caused by poverty and armed conflict, weakens community ties, organized labor, and social safety nets, ensuring the continued existence of a low-paid, exploitable working class; the U.S. consistently overthrows democratically elected governments that threaten corporate profits (in pretty much every “third world” country you can think of, in fact); and economic hardships are products of the former four factors.
Jeffrey Kaye writes “coyote capitalism fuels global immigration,” but, really, it’s not just “coyote” capitalism, but capitalism itself. Exactly 100 years ago, a thinker whom the NSA will not allow me to cite wrote, “Class-conscious workers, realising that the break-down of all the national barriers by capitalism is inevitable and progressive, are trying to help to enlighten and organise their fellow-workers.”
It is with this final factor, situated within those preceding, that we see how global capitalism has essentially reinstated slavery—by destroying local economies, overthrowing democratically-elected governments, and funneling money into violent armed conflicts, thereby creating mass movements of involuntary immigrants (who should more accurately be recognized as economic and/or political refugees), who are in turn funneled into private prisons, where they are forced to work for megacorporations for close-to-zero or zero wages.
Racist Americans, Republican vigilante Joe Arpaio (in his proto-fascist—or, better yet, “nuevo-fascist”—policies) and liberal idol Samuel Huntington (in his mind-numbingly racist The Clash of Civilizations and “The Hispanic Challenge”) alike, nonetheless, continue promulgating the convoluted perspective that immigrants come of their own volition—mostly to bolster the increasingly suspect myth of American “exceptionalism.”
We must ask ourselves. Do we really think that most migrants want to leave their homes, cultures, families? That they want to come to an intensely racist (both historically and today) culture, a society in which they will be ridiculed for their looks, accents, traditions and beliefs? Want to come to a country that is surpassed by numerous countries in theUN Human Development Index, Mercer Quality of Living Survey, quality-of-life-index, and more; with the worst income inequality in the developed world; with one in four children in poverty; with more than 40% of the population without functioning health insurance; that has virtually no trace of democracy left, and looks increasingly like a dictatorship?
When you’ve convinced yourself you’re a citizen of the best country on the planet—in all human history—I suppose it’s easy to imagine everyone wants to be here; but, believe it or not, for the reasons detailed above, for obvious reasons, for understandable reasons, most don’t. They simply don’t have the option.
Ben Norton is an artist and activist. His website can be found at http://bennorton.com/.