Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Immigration, migration, and illogic

flag and fog

I’ve a friend jumping through immigration hoops right now, so I’ve been thinking about immigration issues more than usual.

I’ve lived in border states where people bemoan that the “illegals” are using all the resources that are supposed to be for just the “legals”, whether they have evidence of this occurring or not. I’ve got a friend who is in prison because his parents fled the El Salvadorean civil war when he was 2, and sneaked into the U.S. They had to sneak in because, despite the death squads of the El Salvadorean police, the U.S. refused to grant refugees from El Salvador refugee status. He was deported 25 years later from what he considered his home, and where his family is, including 2 young sons. So much for family values of this administration – he is a hard-working family man who was not sponging off the state. He just happened to be born in a different country in a bad time, and is now serving a prison sentence for that crime.

Every story I hear, it makes me think “why do we care so much about arbitrary lines in the dirt? Why do we have borders?” That’s right – I’m one of those people. I think that borders are a useful tool of oppression for those in power, and little else.

All this reminds me of the attitude of humans to non-native animal species. We seem to believe we have the right and the ability to deport them if we decide they don’t belong. Nevermind that birds and other animals migrate every year. I grew up along a migration route for Canadian geese. We never thought to ask to see their visas. I wonder if that makes us retrospectively complicit in harboring illegal aliens. Except, wait, for animals what matters is not where they are flying from or to, but whether they are “native” species.

There is a lot of fuss about this as well. Again, people talk about it in terms of resources. The non-native species are “intrusive” and they are using up the resources of the native species. They are, perhaps, pushing the native species out of some of the low-paying jobs.

I have been thinking about this a lot in the past few weeks, and I keep coming back to entropy and equilibrium. Chemistry, biology, physics…take a science course, and you’re going to run smack into these terms. Entropy is the chemical equivalent of chaos. And there is this tension – all systems go towards equilibrium (if you’ve taken any science, that should be engraved in your brain), yet it doesn’t take much to throw systems out of equilibrium and towards entropy. In fact, the universe itself seems to lean towards entropy. At least that’s what I remember from chemistry and physics. We didn’t look at such a large scale in biology, and that’s where most of my classes were.

So, to make it really simple – things throw “systems” out of whack, but nature always finds its way back to equilibrium, until the next thing throws a monkey wrench. What so many people fail to understand is that “equilibrium” is relative. It is relative to the existing conditions, the players in the game, the million things that make an ecosystem impossible to model. Equilibrium is not a dot on a map that the system will find its way back to, as if it has a homing device.

Humans get upset when things change, even though we’re busy destroying our world as best we can. Yet we somehow get upset when we introduce kudzu and it grows unstoppably. We get upset when we introduce starlings, and they become the dominant bird in much of North America. We get upset when we introduce mute swans and their population grows to a whopping 4,000 individuals. The ridiculous thing about this is that nature is just doing its thing. Even if these species had never been introduced, it is guaranteed that the ecosystems equilibrium point from one year to the next would not be exactly the same. Maybe it wouldn’t be as visibly different to us, but we can guarantee that it would not be the same.

No, the worry about the mute swans is about something else. It is about power, and a desire for (and therefore justification for) trophy hunting. The lines we, humans, draw are about power. Whether it is a line in the sand that we call a Border or a line in the sand that we call Native Species, it is about humans trying to control the environment and protect their positions of privilege. Trying to tell one person that they don’t have the right to live in a certain space, to tell a species that they don’t have the right to exist in a certain space, is about power not environmental concern or budget worries. If these humans in power were that worried about the introduction of non-native species, Monsanto would be an outlaw company, not one with the full support of our corporate government.

This year there has been a lot of talk about building more huge walls between the U.S. and Mexico. The designed impact is against Mexican people. The reality is that these walls will affect migration patterns, water flow, pollination of plants, and a whole cascading list of environmental and social and psychological factors. The border we really need to build is between our government and the corporations that run it. As individuals, we should be building community, not walls.

From a moral standpoint, we do not have the right to limit someone’s access to what they need to survive. It simply doesn’t matter if they are human or not, from the U.S. or from some other country. We have a moral obligation to not interfere in another’s right to live, and the resources needed to sustain it.

The reality is quite different, of course, and while many people confuse “legal” with “moral”, animal rights activists are in a unique position. We spend our time thinking about and arguing about moral rights, knowing full well that the government grants the legal right to immoral acts when it comes to the exploitation of non-human animals. We just need to make sure that we think just as hard about the similar legal-but-immoral issues with regards to human animals. The government is concerned only with power, and corporations with money. They are the ones running the show, but we can’t let them dictate our moral compass.

potomic, fog, washington monument


9 responses to “Immigration, migration, and illogic

  1. Kenneth Cassar May 25, 2007 at 12:39 am

    I share your thoughts completely. I say this as a citizen of the world who was born in the tiny island of Malta by pure accident. National pride is insane. People should be proud of the good things they do, and not things they had no part in. Nationality is an illusion designed to exclude and oppress.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Neva May 25, 2007 at 9:00 am

    Yes, it’s amazing to me that in a nation of immigrants, somehow it’s become popular to be prejudiced against certain immigrants. When my cousins made their decision to not come here from Peru (even though they would be legal immigrants, their US born father made sure they could always have the option of coming here), prejudice factored in. They were worried their kids would face discrimination. It was sad to me that it’s become acceptable to demonize people based on what corner of the world they come from. In fact my cousins, because their mother has a lot of Native (“Indian”) Peruvian in her, they probably have a closer claim to being natives of this hemisphere than the rest of us.

    Also if we would stop exploiting developing nations and enact policies that help instead of hurting their economies, a lot of people would want to stay where they have family and roots and contribute to the futures of the nations where they were born. It takes limited opportunities at home for people to want to risk everything to come here illegally and do physically dangerous work for next to nothing.

  3. Deb May 25, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    Kenneth – the funny thing is that, for me at least, being “proud to be american” is something I grew up with, and it literally took 20+ years for me to even question whether it was logical to be “proud” to simply have been born in a certain place and time, through absolutely no fault of my own. It is an illusion, you are absolutely right about that. I wish more people could see that.

    Neva – I think it has always been popular to be prejudiced against certain immigrants. I bring this up to my parents when they complain about the mexicans who are supposedly taking the (low-paying) jobs (that the local-born wouldn’t want anyway), as if newly-arrived peopel don’t have just as much a right to try to make a life wherever they can…the same as my mom’s german immigrant family did back whenever it was that they came over…and my dad’s irish immigrant family whenever they arrived. The irish definitely were discriminated against in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s. Then I think the next wave was Italian, and they were discriminated against, probably more by the Irish than any other group. Power, right? Anyway, my point to my dad is that his attitude is ridiculous considering that going back just 150 years would see the same attitudes against him that he was showing against the Mexican immigrants.

    They sort of got my point.

    And you bring up an excellent point about the exploitation of developing nations. Bolivia has really been treated poorly. check out “Price of Fire” if you get a chance, if you haven’t already – it is an excellent book on the resource wars in bolivia in the past decade or more. That’s just one example, and there are too many more examples just like that.

    I think in this country we also tend to forget that it is the exception that anyone would move here (or anywhere) for less than urgent reasons. I know that my family ended up here however many years ago because they didn’t think they could survive in their homeland. So here they are. It took that for them to want to move. Even the very first groups of foreigners who settled here came as much out of desperation (religious persecution) as a sense of adventure.

    Thanks Neva and Kenneth. Excellent points you brought up!

  4. Ida May 27, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    Did you get a chance to read the DHS memo I sent to you? Most of it made my stomach turn, but especially the fence issue as well as the “assimilation” issue. It’s hard for me to stomach being from a country where differences are actually embraced and promoted on a federal level by the government.

    That is not to say Canada doesn’t have its faults but with the issue of immigration, Canada is much much more open to a mosaic rather than a melting pot.

  5. Deb May 27, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    I did finally read it. The attitude really was enough to make my stomach turn. It wasn’t the assimiliation issues as much as the view of people as commodities, less important than the almighty dollar. The temporary worker status for jobs that americans won’t work…the price of citizenship that will eliminate that particular hope from most of the “illegals”…

    This is what we get when society values money more than people.

  6. Ida June 9, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    I just found this photo essay today that you might be interested in.

    American’s Hidden Workforce:,29307,1630049,00.html

  7. RichB July 8, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    It is ironic that I thought of this post. On the 4th of July I was discussing the immigration policies in the U.S. and bush’s “plan”. my friend is a pretty conservative republican who is married to a recent immigrant. He is so against any kind of amnesty, his reason? “It cost us so much money to make _______ eligible to stay and eventually be a citizen, and these fuckers get to do it for nothing” Also he thinks that all illegal immigrants are old and will start collecting and bankrupting our social security system. I wanted to reach across and strangle him, and when I mentioned I love the ideas of open borders or no borders I think he wanted to strangle me.
    How the hell do I have such good friends that come from the opposite planet than me when it comes to anything social or political?

  8. Deb July 8, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    Ida and I have talked a lot about these same issues. She’s on an immigration forum to deal with going through all this stuff with regards to her own immigration, and she sees this classist racist type of stuff all the time.

    The funny thing is that your friend is missing one of the most basic concepts imaginable. You can’t collect from social security unless you have put in the pot first. There are exceptions to this, of course – children who are never able to work, etc.

    And you can collect social security if you are not a US citizen, but only if you have a certain number (fairly substantial number) of years during which you paid your social security tax.

    Illegal immigrants? They’re not going to be collecting benefits! The second they tried, they’d be deported. They know this, which is why they won’t. Doesn’t matter if it is welfare, social security, any other “social benefit”. They’ll go out of their way to avoid being known to the authorities. He’s just pissed he had to pay so much money, and I don’t really blame him for that. I don’t believe in borders after all – I’d agree with him there! 😉

    I don’t know how we manage to maintain friendships across these gaps. I do know that he’s a friend you could count on when you’re in a bad situation, and vice versa. In those times, does it matter what each believes about immigration? Mostly, not. Together we are stronger, and can survive more with our friends supporting us than we could standing alone. That has been proven again and again, in each of our lives, hasn’t it?

    But it certainly doesn’t mean we don’t long to shake sense into our best friends sometimes too.

  9. Pingback: border walls and habitat fragmentation « Invisible Voices

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