Arizona, Globalization, and the Politics of Immigration

Arizona, a U.S. state for only about a century, serves as microcosm
of our national experience. Most of our ancestors are from away, do not
share a common heritage and have seen themselves as God's chosen. We
experience an especially strong need and temptation to affirm the unity
and simplicity of a set of core values.

Paradoxically, portraying ourselves as uniquely open often serves to
strengthen our sense of ourselves as a chosen few and to justify new
forms of repression of those who are different. There is a long
tradition in the U.S. of treating even domestic dissidents who suggest
the limits to or the difficulties in attaining the "American dream" as
"foreign inspired."

President Barack Obama's tepid and overhyped stimulus package,
leaving unemployment at extraordinarily high levels, occasions poverty,
insecurity and scapegoating. Democrats must return to a vigorous jobs
agenda. But building support not only for job creation but long-term
safety nets requires addressing scapegoating directly.

and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman maintains ethnic diversity
must be limited to maintain support for the safety net. But perhaps the
very repetition of such sociological generalizations helps to entrench
the problem. It may give undue solidity to the very murky notion of
ethnicity and freeze existing group boundaries.

In addition, Krugman assumes that enactment of a just safety net
depends on what is happening within the society. A dynamic between
internal and external may play a more vital role than in earlier eras.
Rather than build commitment to the safety net - especially in our
globalizing world - on cultural or ethnic homogeneity, the best
foundation may be far more pluralistic.

Such a coalition might spring from multiple ethnicities, concerns
about gender justice, labor, and social gospel and secular sources, all
of whom recognize or can be induced to see the danger to each from
repressive agendas. Minimally, they develop a greater appreciation for
civil liberties. On this basis, some cultivate among themselves and
others a willingness to risk challenge to the certainty of their
identities in an effort to have a fuller life together. The most
alienated will likely reject such overtures, but others confused and
disturbed by the drift of our politics may respond.

In Arizona even as activists oppose a new immigration law both
through the courts and boycotts, they can reach out to some police
officers who see the cost and inequities in the law. Not all supporters
of the new law are racist or unmovable. Collaboration between
sympathetic members of the police and Hispanic community leaders can
show how community cooperation has already reduced crime. And within
the Hispanic community itself, new alliances may be built as some who
have shared opposition to the undocumented (perhaps because they or
their parents came legally) come to see that demonization boomerangs
back on them.

At their best, participants in such coalitions are willing to
concede that some of their deepest beliefs about God and truth are not
or have not been fully proven. They admit their participation in
historic injustices. (Mexicans who break laws by crossing our borders
are returning to land stolen from Mexico.)

A pluralistic politics on the international scene may be equally
vital, especially as walls between inside and outside become more
porous. In an earlier column, I cited the World Social Forum's motto,
"Another world is possible." The emphasis is on initiatives from the
bottom up. The WSF rejects not only the corporate-dominated model but
also even the underlying assumption that the world can be united
through one underlying ideology, philosophy or worldview. Its only
membership requirements are opposition to corporate domination, an
international outlook, nonviolence and open participation, terms whose
meaning it continually re-examines.

The WSF, the sister cities movements and the recent global climate
summit all recognize that justice among as well as within nations is
central to both economic sustainability and to constructive
alternatives to the forced population flows.

Undocumented immigrants can be a catalyst to transformations -
precisely because they are less rooted. Coming from a variety of
Christian and indigenous perspectives, many value cultural, religious
and family commitments more than endless material growth. Many also
share a greater appreciation for the centrality of political
participation both as a value itself and a means to a more dynamic
pluralism. Many have engaged at great personal risk in public
demonstrations. They may help us enact a more generous society.

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