This week strict immigration laws, which had been passed in Arizona and Alabama, were challenged before the Supreme Court.
From FOX News to NPR, discussion turned to our nation’s immigration policy, and talking heads were brought in to tout either the necessity of such bills, or the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
While arguing about which political party has the better plan for dealing with immigration, it seemed both sides of the debate continually overlooked an important but uncomfortable fact.
Illegal immigrants are not the root cause of the problem, we are.
Our personal and national economies are dependent on the artificially cheap prices enabled by our exploitation of cheap immigrant labor.
We are perfectly happy to benefit from the availability of cheap houses built by illegal labor, artificially affordable food harvested by undocumented workers, and inexpensive meat processed and packaged by those who have snuck across our borders.
Illegal immigrants come here because, on one level, we want them to. We want them to and we provide them the employment opportunities because our system depends on exploiting immigrant labor, much like it depends on exploiting the cheap foreign labor that sews our clothes and builds our electronic devices.
But we don’t like to talk about it, because we are all complicit, and because acknowledging this dark underside to our “free” market would demand we do something besides vote for one of two slightly differentiated political parties – it would demand we live differently.
Of course when the housing market crashes, when the economy struggles, we find it easier to do without the labor of illegal immigrants and use them instead as a convenient scapegoat. We say that they are taking all our jobs, while simultaneously (and paradoxically) calling them lazy drains on our society. We direct our anger and fear towards the least of these, exploiting them politically and sociologically as we have exploited them economically.
With one hand we offer them employment and hope for a better life, while with the other we round them up as criminals and demonize them.
Until the root injustices of that system are challenged, talk of stricter laws or immigration reform seems to me akin to painting the siding of a building with a rotting foundation.
“The liturgy of consumption births in us a desire for a way of life that is destructive to creation itself; moreover, it births in us a desire for a way of life that we can’t feasibly extend to others, creating a system of privilege and exploitation.” – Jamie Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, pg. 101.