The Jamaica Plain Forum presented labor organizer and photo journalist David Bacon and his new book, “Illegal People,” at the First Church of JP Unitarian Universalist on Sept. 9. We would like to thank the organizers for this event.
We are JP residents who feel deeply disturbed by the rising verbal and physical violence against immigrant members of our communities. Americans are suffering from financial insecurity, under-funded schools, the housing crisis and lack of good medical insurance. Over the past few years, commentators on TV and talk radio have been blaming the hardships experienced by Americans on immigrants, especially immigrants here without a valid visa, whom they call “illegals.”
Hate speech and hate crimes are the predictable consequences: High school students in Shenandoah, Penn. have been charged with beating to death a 25-year-old Mexican man while allegedly shouting at him to go “back to Mexico.” This type of scapegoating is also the background for the raids of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, such as the March 2007 raid in New Bedford. Immigrants have been arrested at their homes or workplaces, shackled, taken to distant “detention centers” far from their families and deported.
Bacon’s talk brought a broader context to this situation. His research showed that many of America’s largest corporations benefit when people can no longer feed their families in their home countries, because this situation drives cheap labor to the United States. As one example, after NAFTA passed, millions of corn farmers in Mexico lost their farms because heavily subsidized corn from the US flooded their market. What options did these farmers have? The American immigration system provides essentially no visas for low-skilled workers.
Our neighbors in JP who sit beside us on the bus—people we see in stores where we shop and restaurants where we eat—are all affected. The suffering of living in fear every day is taking a massive toll on our neighbors. It is also taking a less obvious toll on us as American citizens. What does it mean for us when people who have worked here for years are awoken by banging on the door, and heavily armed men storm into their house and handcuff a parent in front of the children? What does it mean for us when children around us are afraid their parents won’t come home from work? What does it mean for us when some among us are defenseless against any kind of abuse?
This country was founded on ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence: that all people “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Democracy only works when we stand up for these ideals. We are asking everyone to take the time to learn more. Talk with immigrants. Listen to their stories. Sign the Welcoming Massachusetts pledge at www.welcomingma.org. Talk with your neighbors, coworkers and friends. Speak up when you hear hate in conversation, on blogs and on radio shows. Vote. Communicate with your elected officials. Together we can stand for a nation whose pledge of allegiance ends “with liberty and justice for all.”