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Immigration Blues
by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Now, as polls show growing disenchantment with both political parties, the issue of immigration is raised once again, as politicians seek to stir the pot of social resentment.

Voices are raised, tempers are frayed, proposals are launched, and the destinies of millions are apparently held in limbo.

But, in numbers not seen for generations, mostly Mexican-born (or related) families pound the pavements in protest, demanding amnesty for the millions who live and work, in the most thankless jobs, here in the U.S.

The immigration "discussion" masks deeper currents in American life, of those who dread the approaching dawn when those who number the nation's majority are brown, instead of white.

As the government and the servile corporate media hawked fear to trap the nation into the Iraq War, so now fear is once again merchandised for political gain. The perpetual fear of the foreign Other, the fear of Spanish-speaking people, who are called 'criminal' for daring to cross the Rio Grande, to inhabit the lands stolen from their ancestors!

The truth of the matter is that it is highly unlikely that over 11 million men, women, and children will be returned to Mexican territory. That's because businesses, especially those engaged in agriculture, would virtually go out of business, if their immigrant-based work-force up and disappeared.

But, like most people, many Latino immigrants are involved in other businesses and industries in U.S. life. Guess who's doing the lion's share of the work to actually re-build New Orleans? (In case you've not guessed, let me just say it - It ain't FEMA!).

With the exception of Native Americans (as in so-called 'Indians'), and African-Americans, every person in the U.S. today is a descendant of a willing immigrant (OK, strict historians will object that many poor whites, especially in the Southern states, were sent to George and Maryland as indentured servants, as part of a penal sentence).

But, the point is clear. Immigration was consciously used to craft the U.S. as a white nation. For centuries, certain racial groups, like Chinese, for example, were specifically excluded by law >from citizenship (like their Mexican counterparts, many Asians were needed in the building of this country as cheap labor).

As law professor Ian F. Haney-Lopez has shown in his book, *White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race* (N.Y.:NYU Press, 1996), American courts and legislatures have consistently defined 'citizens' as 'whites', and over the course of centuries, millions of people were denied entry to the US, or even if allowed in denied citizenship, because they were not 'white.' In 1882, Haney-Lopez explains, the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese workers for a decade. In 1884, the Act was expanded to bar all Chinese people, and shortly thereafter an indefinite ban was implemented. State and federal court decisions banned Syrians, Asian-Indians, Palestinians, mixed-race people, and multitudes of others on the basis of insufficient whiteness!

That ugly history may be reborn in this latest 'battle' over Mexican immigration. Political storms have a way of giving way to political hurricanes, that even those who planned them cannot control.

Several years ago, a right-wing politician in California tried to ride the anti-immigrant train to the White House. This man was Pete Wilson, and his playing with fire left him politically burnt. Angry Hispanics in Cali sent him, and some of his colleagues in the Republican Party, into retirement.

But, this era of politicians, trying to create an issue that protects them from the falling numbers of the incumbent Bush Administration, look at Wilson's fate as ancient history.

Perhaps the recent demonstrations, massive in their size, vociferous in their spirit, have given them pause.

Time will tell.

The political entity that truly befriends this growing segment of the US population will have tapped into a powerful social force.

Don't expect it to be either the Republicans or the Democrats.

© 2006 Mumia Abu-Jamal