Wednesday, May 09, 2007

May Day 2007

Last Tuesday, May 1st, I participated in a May Day march and rally in Minneapolis that was part of a nationwide day of demonstrations to support immigration reform and worker rights.

As part of a contingent representing the Minnesota War Resisters League (Sister Rita Steinhagen Chapter), several friends and I marched in solidarity with close to two thousand immigrants and their supporters from Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue to Powderhorn Park in South Minneapolis.

One concrete immigration reform proposal many were advocating on May Day 2007 was the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (also called “The DREAM Act”), a bipartisan bill pending in the U.S. Congress that would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrant students. The DREAM Act would also repeal Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which currently puts limits on states’ ability to provide in-state tuition to illegal immigrant students.

Following are photographs of last Tuesday’s May Day march in Minneapolis, accompanied by “myths and facts” about immigrants provided by the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights.

MYTH: Immigration is a drain on the U.S. economy.

FACT: Immigration grows the U.S. economy. An estimated 17.9 million immigrants are currently working in the U.S. – accounting for 14% of the total civilian labor force. Compared to the native-born, a significantly higher percentage of immigrants are of working age ( between 28 and 54 years of age). Immigrants are just as likely to be self-employed and start new businesses as the native-born. They generate employment, and bring new innovations and creative diversity to our communities. Additionally, new immigrants often take positions that U.S. workers are less likely to fill – in manufacturing, computer technology, service work, and engineering.

MYTH: Immigrants abuse the Social Security and welfare systems.

FACT: While all immigrants are required to pay taxes – including sales, income, and property taxes – most immigrants are barred from receiving public assistance. Only refugees, asylees, and some legal immigrants are eligible to receive any public benefits, and even those who are eligible for benefits are subject to time limits. Undocumented persons are not eligible for any public benefit program, with the exception of emergency medical assistance. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1999, approximately one in five foreign-born householders received benefits such as food stamps and housing assistance. This use, however, is heavily concentrated among refugees and elderly immigrants – populations we are committed to and legally obligated to assist. Furthermore, immigrants are large contributors to – rather than recipients of – Social Security, and will pay an integral role in financing Social Security as the U.S. population ages. A study in 2005 found that undocumented immigrants pay $6-7 billion in Social Security taxes alone that they will never be able to claim.

MYTH: The United States is being overrun with illegal immigrants.

FACT: The estimated number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. ranges from 10 to 11 million. Even the highest estimate accounts for less than 4% of the U.S. population. Many people who currently do not have legal permission to reside in the country did, in fact, enter legally. Experts estimate that between 25-40% of all undocumented immigrants came legally to this country and became undocumented by remaining here after their periods of authorized stay expired.

MYTH: Most immigrants to the United States are undocumented aliens who come only for economic reasons.

FACT: According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 946,142 immigrants were legally admitted to the U.S. in 2004, compared with a much smaller number of people who entered the U.S. without permission. This number includes both people who were adjusting their status and new arrivals. Smaller numbers of people came to the U.S. without legal permission. It is estimated that a net average of 500,000 people came annually in the last decade.

U.S. immigration policy allows immigration for three main reasons: 1) family, 2) work, and 3) freedom – in that order. Of the immigrants coming legally to the U.S. in 2004, 66% came to be reunited with immediate family members (parents, children, siblings, or spouses), 16% were sponsored by U.S. employers to fill positions for which no U.S. worker was available, and an additional 8% came as refugees or asylees, fleeing persecution and looking for safety and freedom in the U.S.

Undocumented people come for a variety of reasons. We often talk about these reasons in terms of “push” and “pull.” “Push” factors are the reasons at home that cause someone to leave – examples include poverty, lack of job opportunities, natural disasters, and political instability. “Pull” factors are the reasons elsewhere that cause someone to arrive – examples include increased freedom, job opportunities, and joining family members.

Like generations of immigrants before them, all of these immigrants come to this country looking for a better life, and their energy and ideas enrich all of our communities.

Above: The message on my t-shirt says: “Fight ignorance, not immigrants.”

The following photograph is part of my Faces of Resistance exhibit, and was taken on May Day 2001 in downtown Minneapolis. For other May Day images from Faces of Resistance, click here.

Image 1: Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune
Images 2-10: Michael J. Bayly

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Reflections on Babel and the “Borders Within”

Recommended Off-site Links:
Comprehensive Immigration Reform Now
Justice for Immigrants: The Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform


Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

I am strenuously opposed to creating or supporting an underclass with fewer rights than citizens. The left is not helping anyone with this mushy middle ground stuff. Either we need to deport all illegals, or we need to make them all legal and protect them.

The left, at its best, is for protecting workers and the lower class. Protecting an illegal class short circuits all the protections that the left fought for to protect the legal class.

(Rant Ended).

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Winnipeg Catholic,

I'm not sure what you mean by “this mushy middle ground stuff.” Most activist friends of mine advocate for the legalization of illegal immigrants - as do elements within the Catholic Church (see the Legalizatin Project).

The reality is there’s a range of positions and platforms within the immigration reform movement.

Finally, I think the Left is also “at its best,” when it is offering ideas, discussion points, and alternatives to a class-based society.



Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

Points taken and I will check out the Legalization Project. My deal is that I see black market labor as pseudo-slavery. I do not understand, nor do I approve of projects that seek to harbor or shelter slaves *in the enslaving nation*. OK? So here's what the church is doing:

And they see it as some sort of Anne Frank thing. Trouble for me is that in most of the nations of origin, these folks have food and freedom, not concentration camps. I don't approve of or agree that they are starving in Mexico.

So to me, the mushy middle ground is providing a safe haven and rights to illegals so that the middle class can get cheap produce and the working poor are screwed. All so the farm lobby can get cheap farm labor.

Getting rid of illegality entirely I could understand, though historically monolingualism has been important for nations to stick together (with the exception of Switzerland).

And weren't the conquistadors just as bad as any other colonial power? Why must we be so attached to Spanish? Free English lessons and English daycare to all, open borders with Mexico and Canada. I'm with you.

The current status quo, harboring black market labor, A slow filibuster of the southwest, not with you.

All the Best, -B