Friday, November 29, 2013

President Obama Comes to Town

Immigration Policy is Good Policy? If so, for Whom?
By Wanda Sabir

          On Monday, November 25, 2013 President Barack Obama visited the Betty Ann Ong Chinese
President Barack Obama in San Francisco
All Photo Credits: TaSin Sabir
Recreation Center in San Francisco to talk about his Common Sense Immigration Bill slowly making its way through the United States Congress.  Immigration is always topical in a country where most of us are immigrants even in the visible absence of its First Peoples.  Purposeful genocide has rendered the original inhabitants almost invisible, but we known through shared ancestry, they are still here. The president is a product of historic immigrant rights, a child of Kenyan and Irish ancestry.  He also has Asian ancestry as he came of age in Indonesia and his step-father, Lolo Soetoro Martodihardjo raised him to be a man who is fair, just and upright. So though, we cannot necessarily see this in his genetic structure, the president is Kenyan, Irish and culturally Indonesian.
             This bill looks to make it easier for Asian Pacific Islanders and South Asians or Indians to become American Citizens and to sponsor family members. Also people from these nations will be eligible for work visas. Nothing is mentioned about Latinos or Africans or any other ethnic groups who want to make this nation legally home. There is of course monetary benefits attached to the political bundle. The proposed Senate Bill would
"reduce the deficit by $850 billion and grow the economy by $1.4 trillion over the next two decades adding 5.4% to the GDP by 2033 and create new visa pathways for immigrant entrepreneurs and investors and make key improvement to the H-1B program." What this means is that it will be easier for non-American citizens to realize their American dreams.
          It is hard enough for American entrepreneurs to get capital to develop businesses, yet this bill encourages and favors Asian Pacific Islander and Indian investors to come, invest and develop business opportunities for others. This bill will also "increase the number of employment based visas and eliminate restrictions on the number of immigrants from populous nations like India and China and in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program the number of available green cards for immigrant investors would increase from approximately 10,000 annually to approximately 14,000 annually." This bill will allow US businesses to recruit employees from outside this nation who have skills supposedly underdeveloped or not accessible here. Instead of creating a skilled pool here, the bill will skirt such development by bringing in talent. The bill also does not take into account the many entrepreneurs from other nations like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Haiti, Mexico and elsewhere who have educated and skilled talent pools and also have developed many business ventures. Cuba has a highly skilled population, but can Cubans immigrate here? What about Venezuelans?
          Is this Immigration Bill a way to appease China, the nation which holds the majority of the US debt? Is it a good faith gesture or trade? Are we selling out to balance the books?

          The president mentions his immigrant heritage in his speech as he acknowledges the shadow of Angel Island in the Pacific which was a way station for Chinese immigrants into this country. California, known as Gold Mountain, was not always welcoming, as only men were allowed into the country to work. Initially recruited as laborers on the railroad, this policy tore families apart, as the ties of morale to production were not considered when telling a man he could not bring his wife or children with him. Yet, Chinese Americans preserved, just as black Americans before who suffered generations of separation through enslavement preserved and succeeded.

           I am not certain why this nation doesn’t value family security. It seems the first place of interruption, instead of the first place of repair. Perhaps if families were supported and strengthened, there would be less of a judicial hold on so many. This is one of the built-in hopes of the Common Sense Immigration Bill, that family members would not be separated.
          But politics being what it is, the President smiled his most charming and put a positive spin on the matter, but we heard what wasn’t said and that was, this nation’s current legislators are not concerned with immigration policy, just as it isn’t concerned about the medically uninsured.
          “Of course, just because something is smart, fair, good for the economy, and supported by business, labor, law enforcement and faith leaders -- (laughter) -- Democratic and Republican governors, including the Governor of this state –- just because all that is in place doesn’t mean we'll actually get it done, because this is Washington, after all, that we’re talking about and everything is looked through a political prism.  And, look, let's be honest, some folks automatically think, well, if Obama’s for it, then I've got to be against it even if I was, before that, for it.” President Obama admits.
           “But I want to remind everybody, to his great credit, my Republican predecessor, President Bush, was for reform.  He proposed reform like this almost a decade ago.  I was in the Senate.  I joined 23 Senate Republicans back then supporting reform.  It's worth remembering that the Senate bill that just passed won more than a dozen Republican votes this past summer.  And some of them even forget that I'm -- sometimes people forget I'm not running for office again.  Michelle doesn’t forget.   (Laughter and applause.)  So you don’t have to worry about this somehow being good for me.  This is good for the country.   It's the right thing to do for the American people.”

          In response to a Korean graduate student who interrupted his speech and other citizens who have been separated from family members who cannot legally join them, the president waxed on about the promise of America and the fact that there are policies and laws which he has to abide by. However, he trusts the process and welcomes all those willing to work with him to see it actualized.
          “We’re also a nation of laws.” Obama states.  “That’s part of our tradition.  And so the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws.  And what I’m proposing is the harder path, which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve.  But it won’t be as easy as just shouting.  It requires us lobbying and getting it done.”
          As the president spoke of the 300,000 Chinese who came through Angel Island and their descendents, one of them national hero Betty Ann Ong, who alerted the Air Traffic Control that her plane had been hijacked on the fateful Sept. 11, 2001, I marveled at the success these immigrants have had. What about those less fortunate immigrants? Not the Dreamers, but those seeking political asylum, those from countries on the alert and watch lists and others who are not here by choice rather historic circumstances? I speak of my ancestors over 500 years ago.

 The American Promise is not available to all citizens, because there is something wrong with this system.  Money and class buy access to a certain extent, but unless one can lose the pigment and gender assignment, there is always a difference made—here and elsewhere. Black people can work hard, yet in the end, not end up any better because the system is innately broken.  The Jefferson’s might have “moved on up,” but how frequently did this happen?
          Where are the black businesses? Look at historic Fillmore in San Francisco and equally historic Seventh Street in West Oakland. I am sure in each town where black migrants from the South moved during the Great Migration North, West and East pre and post-world wars, there were enclaves of economic development where black communities flourished with black hospitals, grocery stores, hotels, meat markets, dress shops, Freedom Schools, cleaners, jitney services for those without cars, farms and liberty gardens, newspapers, social clubs and churches.
          The “sacrifice today and reap benefits tomorrow” might be a reality for a man whose grandparents are white, but not for most of us whose parents did not leave us a legacy that opens doors previously shut. These doors remain shut today and if they are still open once individuals cross the threshold, it is because someone stuck a rock in the door jam to keep it from shutting completely after he or she crossed that threshold to the other side. Not only that, once on the other side, somebody has to sit at the entrance to make sure others like us get through. It’s the secret password or the handshake nobody tells perspective dreamers about that keeps doors from opening.
          The President admits that he cannot change this country alone, that there are forces at work on Capitol Hill that go against everything he proposes just because his name is on it, not for any rational reason. If we want to see things change under his leadership we are going to have to make our presence known while he is still in office and thereafter.
          In the political sense, we have to make noise, show up and interrupt the proceedings; otherwise we will not be counted. The problem is the different ways civil disobedience is regarded when one is none white. Can a black person risk arrest? It was dangerous in the 1960s when the Freedom Riders went to Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana to register voters 50 years ago. It is still dangerous now.
          There were no other independent black press at the invitation only event. This was our first invite and it was addressed to me. Betty Ann Ong’s sister Gloria sent me a nice email; she knew my work and was happy Wanda’s Picks was there. Citizens have to hold our government and our president to the shared responsibility and promise of our nation to  “leave this country more generous, more hopeful than we found it.  And if we stay true to that history – if we get immigration reform across the finish line – and it is there just within our grasp, if we can just get folks in Washington to go ahead and do what needs to be done – we’re going to grow our economy; we’re going to make our country more secure; we’ll strengthen our families; and most importantly, we will live – “ (This is where he was interrupted.)
           Opening his speech with a recap of recent political coups which I will not repeat here, except to say, I do not agree with most of them, the President then went on to acknowledge California representatives in the audience which included Janet Napolitano, formerly in Washington now head of the UC System. I am not sure if that is a good thing.
          I just want to end with the thought that while we do need a better immigration policy, this country still has not addressed the social welfare policies that keep the underclass disenfranchised and without hope. We have enough people here to employ and educate. There is no need to continue to recruit beyond national borders and export resources. The president spoke of corporations that depend on an immigrant workforce and how this can improve our economy. What happened to “Buy American?”  Black folks need to become more politically savvy and get our concerns addressed in new and more powerful language, before we are not just the new minority, but gone – completely erased from popular memory.




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