Waiting On Reform: Not Another Thirty Years

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Taylor Digby

In Your Hands Obama

At a time when our nation is experiencing a government shutdown, contentious discussions around healthcare, and other disheartening and diving debates, immigration reform debates are still looming under the table.  To understand what immigration policy proposals really mean, we cannot allow them to exist in a vacuum, but rather, we must make sure to contextualize them in the nation’s long history of immigration control and enforcement.

Throughout history, the U.S. has attempted to control immigration through a variety of racialized quota systems, enforcement policies, temporary worker programs, and various other policy inventions.  The diversity of immigration policies has proven unsuccessful and the U.S. is now facing a growing number of undocumented immigrants and politicians who cannot agree on the appropriate legislative step.

The problems the U.S. faces in regard to its immigration policy goes beyond current politicians and immigration flows; the fundamental problem is that the U.S does not recognize and take responsibility for its role in creating the current state of immigration.

The U.S. has frequently invaded developing countries such as the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Guatemala, disrupting locals’ lives and creating linkages between the nations.  While the U.S. attempts to classify these invasions as good-natured ways of assisting the developing nations, history shows that U.S. involvement often causes the countries’ labor systems to shift and jobs to be lost.  As residents of these nations face poor economic conditions, they look to the foreign nation that they are most familiar with due to transnational companies, U.S. military occupations, and a perpetuation of the ‘American Dream’ rhetoric throughout their nation.  Furthermore, immigrants who are displaced from their nations find a labor system in the U.S. that absorbs low-wage workers due to the growing casualization of the market.  Additionally, the U.S. has attempted to create policies, such as NAFTA, that divorce economic policies from immigration policies, which are inseparable in practice and effects.  Ultimately, until the U.S. recognizes its role in creating immigrant flows and the vacancies that immigrants fill in the U.S., it will not create an effective immigration policy.

Reagan IRCA CartoonThe most recent federal immigration policy reform took place in 1986 (the Immigration Reform and Control Act [IRCA]) and as we are only three years away from its thirtieth anniversary, it is becoming increasingly apparent that our immigration system is entirely broken.  Currently, President Obama is proposing immigration policies that have already been proven ineffective and do not account for the causes of undocumented immigration.  This is not a moment to be quiet or complacently accept the policies that our legislators are proposing.  Today’s immigration proposals are strikingly similar to those of 1986, and if anything, they are more frightening due to their extreme emphasis on enforcement.  We cannot risk another thirty years of subjecting our immigrants to an IRCA-like regime.  Ultimately, we can say that this is the time for change, but change will not take place unless we make it happen.

The opinions expressed in this blog post belong to the author alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the DREAM Team at NYU as an organization.

IMG_0031Taylor Digby is a senior in the Social and Cultural Analysis Department and a Core Member of the DREAM Team at NYU.  She is currently writing her Senior Honors Thesis on the Immigrant Rights Movement’s protests against detention centers and how they question the meaning of rights and citizenship.


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