by Marcelo Ballve
[Editor's note: In the days following the arrest of alleged Beltway sniper John Lee Malvo and John Allen Muhammad, many broadcast and print commentators sought to find significance in the details that Muhammad is an African-American and that Malvo is a Jamican in the U.S. without a visa. Both topics were implicitly racist and served to advance conservative prejudices.
Popular conservative writer Andrew Sullivan was among those who quickly pointed out that the expert profilers were completely wrong in predicting that the sniper was an angry White male. Sullivan and others then took one step further to the right and called this "racial profiling in reverse," claiming that there would have been "howls of protest" if police had been told to look for a Black man instead. Sullivan and other commentators -- particularly Shaun Hannity, the far-right's newest darling -- charged that this was a double standard and/or a form of reverse discrimination against Whites. The result of this stereotyping, Sullivan wrote, "may actually have been a factor in allowing several more people to be killed." That statement is baseless and dishonest, particularly considering that police were primarily looking for the wrong vehicle type and color (Muhammad drove a blue car, not a white van).
Criticism of Malvo's status as an "illegal alien" began with a widely-reprinted column by Michelle Malkin, "Who Let Lee Malvo Loose?" Malkin was already a frequent guest on Fox News and other conservative radio and TV markets because of her new book, "Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores" (Regnery). But her anti-immigration prejudices found a much wider audience when her syndicate gave away that column to most newspapers in America.
Malkin holds some of the most isolationist views heard since the turn of the last century. Demonstrating her flair for exaggeration and broad generalization, she said in an interview with United Press International, "We need better guarded doors to make sure we're not granting hundreds of thousands of visas to people who are tied to al Qaida... you cannot have open borders and win a war on terror at the same time." Malkin continued by stating that "We have a huge problem with massive amounts of illegal immigration. People are coming here who are not interested in embracing our principles and institutions and who are undermining the common culture. We can't tolerate that. We can't simply give away the store and give up on the very noble goal of assimilation, for one thing, and protecting national security and national sovereignty on the other." The UPI interview also noted that she wrote of INS bungling the release of illegal aliens who were "baby-killers, burglars, habitual drunk drivers, and accessories to child rape."]
As it turned out, 17-year-old John Lee Malvo, one of two suspected in the 13 shootings, was a Jamaican who was in the country illegally and was once detained by authorities and released.
The sniper case has added fuel to the debate over changing the country's immigration laws. Those who favor an amnesty for undocumented immigrants say it would help law enforcement by bringing the undocumented "out of the shadows" so they can assist crime and terror investigations. Critics of the approach seek tighter controls on immigration and say an amnesty would only result in a larger population of foreign-born, whom they say serve as cover for criminals and terrorists.
The Sept. 11 attacks sunk well-advanced talks for an amnesty benefiting undocumented Mexicans and dealt a strong hand to groups that support restrictions on immigration into the United States.
"It was a godsend to them," says Wayne Cornelius, head of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California at San Diego. "Before 9/11, most of the anti-immigrant groups were in full retreat. Now, after 9/11, they've been resuscitated." Meanwhile, those who pushed for legal status for some undocumented "quickly lost the courage of their convictions."
But earlier this month, Dick Gephardt, House minority leader, introduced a bill that would grant undocumented immigrants from any country, and their close relatives abroad, a chance at legal status. Gephardt says the amnesty would aid the anti-terror war by bringing hard-working undocumented "out of the shadows" so authorities can focus on catching real terrorists.
Stephen E. Flynn, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the time is right for an amnesty. "We're about to stir the hornet's nest in Iraq. We're in an especially dangerous time, and if you can get a chunk of the undocumented population processed, it's an advantage to identify who those folks are."
Under Gephardt's proposal, undocumented immigrants would undergo background checks and would need to prove they lived continuously in the United States for at least five years and worked for at least two.
Politics is partly driving the Democrats' efforts. Gephardt needed to resurrect the legislation -- which only has a chance of passing in a Democratic-controlled Congress -- to rally increasingly crucial Latino voters in key races in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to help tilt control of the House and Senate away from the Republicans.
For critics, arguments that amnesty will help the terror war are "window-dressing." Amnesty will provide an incentive for illegal immigration, allow for widespread fraud and plunge the already overburdened Immigration and Naturalization Service into chaos, says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., which seeks stricter immigration controls.
Krikorian says that foreign-born communities incubate terror. "Immigrant communities provide the cover for bad guys from overseas. We've seen that in Lackawanna, N.Y., we've seen that in Detroit and we've seen that in Frankfurt," says Krikorian, referring to cities where alleged terror cells were uncovered and to activities in Germany of Sept. 11 hijackers. Krikorian's Web site also features articles detailing Malvo's illegal entry into the country as a stowaway on a cargo ship that docked in South Florida.
A 2001 study by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development revealed that migration to service, agricultural and construction industries in Europe, Australia and North America helps poor economies by reducing unemployment and increasing incomes through the remittances migrants send back home. In current article for the Canadian magazine New Internationalist, author-activist Teresa Hayter writes that looser immigration controls would help alleviate the poverty that creates terrorists, rebels and hard-line regimes in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
As the flow of money and goods between countries increases, restrictions on the movement of labor are rising along with security fears after Sept. 11.
Still, others argue that linking immigration policy to the terror war, whether through tighter or looser controls, is a red herring. Terrorists will always seek to enter countries under the guise of economic migration, they say. Since only extremists argue for a complete end to immigration, and deportation of all undocumented is unrealistic, proven intelligence-gathering tactics remain the best terror-fighting tools.
It is more useful to view an amnesty for the country's estimated 8 million undocumented in terms of public safety, says Anamaria Loya, executive director of San Francisco's La Raza Centro Legal. Undocumented immigrants will be more likely to report crime and cooperate with police if they receive legal status. Most of Loya's clients are among California's more than 2.3 million undocumented residents, by far the largest such population in the country.
"To have an underclass, a second-class category of people," she says, "adds to crime, adds to poverty, and it's an unhealthy way for a society to operate."
November 1 2002 (http://albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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