Pennsylvania: Not Welcome Here?

The ACLU often claims that the American people are actually with us, by and large, on many of our issues. If the poll released today is to be believed, that claim does not hold true regarding the anti-immigrant ordinances mushrooming in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvanians strongly support local laws that crack down on illegal immigrants, such as controversial ordinances recently enacted in Hazleton, Luzerne County, a new statewide poll shows.

Sixty-five percent of those polled support Hazleton’s action — designed to make the Eastern Pennsylvania community “the toughest place on illegal immigrants in America,” according to its mayor — and nearly two out of three (63 percent) say they would back similar laws in their communities, the survey conducted by Susquehanna Polling and Research found.

About 78 percent of Pittsburgh-area residents supported the law — the strongest support of any region in the state.

The ACLU does not support illegal immigration. Our main beef with these resolutions is that they turn untrained individuals into immigration agents. There is no way that business and property owners are well trained enough to discern legal from illegal immigrants, or legal from fake documents, and so it will be easier for them to just discriminate against anyone they suspect of being foreign-born.

Another issue is the ‘English-only’ provisions in some of these ordinances that would prevent legal residents and United States citizens from obtaining important information from their government. It also prevents non-English speaking legal residents or citizens from effectively communicating with their elected officials, infringing on their First Amendment and equal protection rights.

Immigration is a complicated issue, and one that causes anxiety in the ACLU membership. We’ve called on some our members to speak against the resolution in places like Altoona, only to have them say “why would we want to do that?”

I’m curious about what folks think. Why is this issue so divisive? For those who oppose these ordinances, what are your ideas for changing the views of those who support them? Do you think people would be more likely to oppose them if they understood the full implications for legal as well as illegal residents? I understand that many people are frustrated by our broken immigration system, but how do we keep that frustration from boiling over into ugly and unconstitutional laws?

Lisa in Pittsburgh

6 thoughts on “Pennsylvania: Not Welcome Here?

  1. A while back, I had posted a question about the ACLU’s stance on illegal immigration and what legal rights illegal immigrants have. The answer is that, essentially, the Constitution only uses the term “citizen” in a few, very deliberate places, and that most rights are available to anyone who is on American soil.

    I have yet to hear *any* viable methods for controlling or punishing illegal immigrants. Everything I’ve run across is either way too “come on in!” or “get the hell out!”

    And yes, I use the word “punish.” It’s illegal. Breaking the law requires some kind of punishment.

    I think most people will take *any* solution to the situation right now. I think most people consider illegal immigration a problem that needs correcting, not a situation that must be accommodated.

    Regardless of how many statistics you can show me that illegal immigrants help the economy, to me, it still comes down to it being *illegal* Either legalize poverty wages for immigrants, or admit that our economy can’t function without a group of people willing to work for less than a typical citizen would.

    I understand that without the slave wages being paid to some groups that many things will be affected. But until there’s some kind of formal law in place that lets someone legally pay those kinds of wages, it’s just an accepted evil.

    Do I feel that corporations willingly using illegal labor should be held responsible as well? Of course I do. Again, break the law, pay the price.

    I hate to admit it, but if I were given a choice between something that’s too severe and doing nothing at all, I’d probably go for the too severe. I haven’t seen any other alternatives.

    As far as the “English only” parts, I think it’s a knee-jerk reaction from people feeling threatened that their European-based, English-speaking culture is in danger. I don’t agree with those people, but I can see where they’re going into “protect what we’re used to” territory.

    Bottom line is, many people in this country seem to think that civil rights are a four-letter word. My mother-in-law just shakes her head in disgust any time someone that doesn’t share her views decides to stand up and demand their rights.

    It’s easy to accept things you’re familiar with. It’s hard work to have a more open mind. And sadly, we’re a country of lazy-minded people right now.

  2. One reason the immigration issue is divisive for the ACLU community is that the “stereotypical” ACLU member is not fully committed to economic liberty. The real bottom line is that economic migrants and the people who hire them are exercising their ECONOMIC rights and the ACLU membership, in general, is divided when it comes to ECONOMIC liberty. That’s why the organization is the American CIVIL Liberties Union, and not just the plan old American LIBERTY Union. If you apply an “old left” analysis to the situation, economic migrants are basically just SCABS, and there is nothing wrong with kicking SCABS. Unless, of course, you consider them to be human beings, and you recognize that a lot, if not most, of the scab kicking is being done by racists. Its enough to cause confusion in the heart and mind!

    To someone who is committed to economic liberty the vary idea of “immigration laws” is offensive, and while they are not literally unconstitutional, they are an affront to human rights or, to use the historical phrase, the rights of man.

  3. RE: For those who oppose these ordinances, what are your ideas for changing the views of those who support them?

    First, I would emphasize the strong element of xenophobia and racist sentiment that underlies these laws. Emigrant bashing has become just about the only socially acceptable outlet for feelings of racial hatred and bigotry. Most people do not want to be associated with racism and bigotry. Even if you are not a bigot, you are aiding and abetting those who are. You are providing them cover, and when they win on this issue, they will take the next step.

    Second, I would insist that the migrants “do no (economic) harm”. You might even want to raise the possibility that they do good! For me, this is a simple no-brainier for two reasons – I am committed to economic liberty AND (talk about a coincidence) I belong to the social/intellectual demographic that benefits most from it. For others, this is not as obvious and straight-forward. It requires a bit of thought and is probably too intellectual to be a really effective argument. But the “does no harm” is important because people will go with their perceived self-interest and fears even if it means harming others.

    Third, emphasize the human harm that is done to our community, to the Hispanic community, and to the migrants themselves. This is where the argument that you can’t propagate these laws without harming innocent people comes in. Also, people (real people!) will be denied housing, medical care, police protection, etc.

    Fourth, emphasize that “breaking the emigration laws” is not like felonious assault. It is a “legal issue” but we are not dealing with a criminal law. It is more like getting into debt over your head. We don’t deal with that “legal issue” by imprisoning people, turning them out on the street, denying them medical treatment. There are other, more human ways that the law has of dealing with these circumstances, and THAT is the mind set we need to use.

  4. Illegal immigrants are trespassers.

    I do not imagine that most people would tolerate people trespassing into their homes so why should we tolerate it on the larger scale?

    I welcome anyone to this country who wishes to fill out the paperwork and wait their turn in line.

    Those who enter our country illegally are showing a great deal of disrespect not only for our country but also to those immigrants who did fill out the paperwork and wait their turn in line.

    I support measures that would make our country less accessible and less desirable to those who would enter it illegally.

  5. Why is this issue so divisive?
    Even though this is a nation of immigrants, we’re xenophobic in the abstract. We welcome foreigners in person but despise them as a group. Only in the big cities, where most have contact with “foreigners” daily, do we tolerate them with little rancor. And, when they can’t deliver what they’d like, many politicians are just petty enough to seek a scapegoat. Illegal immigrants are convenient candidates in towns that have endured economic hardship, especially if people who look and act differently (e.g., speak a foreign language) move in, even if they’re citizens.

    For those who oppose these ordinances, what are your ideas for changing the views of those who support them?
    Education and reason. But that’s easier said than done. Convictions, ever blind, are not easily overcome by facts and reason.

    Do you think people would be more likely to oppose them if they understood the full implications for legal as well as illegal residents?
    They would but most Americans, when shown an unlabeled copy of the Bill of Rights, think it’s subversive. So getting opponents to understand that such laws put them at risk, when they don’t even understand their own constitutional rights, is a tough task.

    I understand that many people are frustrated by our broken immigration system, but how do we keep that frustration from boiling over into ugly and unconstitutional laws?
    By getting Congress to address the problem realistically rather than pandering to the xenophobes in our midst. But that will be difficult, given that pandering is a congressional art form. Among the many things Congress and the administration should do is work with Mexico to initiate internal development in that country so that migrating to the US loses much of its appeal. In other words eliminate the economic incentive. Undertaking such an effort would be cheaper and more effective than building that fence from the Gulf to the Pacific. But I’ve yet to hear any politician even mention that. This is a problem that has been long in the making and will be long in the remedying. The fence, and the local ordinances, are just putting lipstick on the pig.

  6. RE: Illegal immigrants are trespassers.

    Speak for yourself, whiteman! I’m a citizen, I pay taxes, I vote, AND I THINK ITS JUST FINE FOR ECONOMIC MIGRANTS to come over, pitch in and help out. In fact, I’m willing to pay them to do so!

    Furthermore, I’m not alone. That’s why there ARE economic migrants comming here every day.

    The only “problem” that economic migrants pose is the problem that they look and speak different from the people that have been around for a while. And that is ONLY a problem for the small minded and mean spirited.

    If you’ve been invited and encouraged, you are NOT a trespassers.

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