Irony comes cheap in the United States. Amid the reactionary uproar defending the Second Amendment, many voices of the right avidly pointed out that no small number of what we have come to know as totalitarian states “took the guns.” Their point in doing so is to equate President Obama’s would-be gun legislation to that of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. “Hitler took the guns! Stalin took the guns! Mao took the guns! Fidel Castro took the guns! Hugo Chavez took the guns…”
Historical accuracy aside (in Hitler’s Germany, for example, after the enabling act was passed and widespread persecution of political dissidents commenced, thousands of young German men joined the military specifically because they would be given a gun), those making such comparisons are wrong, but only in part. America does increasingly display totalitarian tendencies, but it does so not in attempts to regulate firearms, but through its differential treatment of individuals along racial lines through what, in political terms, is called immigration policy.
Certain ideas floated by the right to reform immigration policy sound all too encroaching. Electronic Verification Systems, for example, entail “universal, identity authenticating” registration of all workers; presumably all workers fit the non-white, non-normative phenotype, and therefore must validate their existence upon demand. Here we might imagine the “show me your papers!” scenarios made familiar by Arizona’s immigration law. Any person unable to construct the requisite filial narrative faces incarceration in a privately owned facility — one driven by the profit motive — which therefore considers such persons as nothing more than a source of revenue.
Is such treatment of human bodies deserving of a society that considers itself liberal? Or are these ideas more akin to those found among the states that our high school history textbooks tell us are totalitarian and evil?
At first, I hesitate to liken a worker ID card to the yellow stars that read “Jude” forced upon a similarly scapegoated and subjugated group of people during the Third Reich, but then I think that such correlations should be constantly in our minds. Was it not the case that thousands of Japanese civilians were forced into internment camps in much of the western United States during the last “good war?” Is the blaming of Latino workers, having “stolen” American jobs, for the economic woes of finance capitalism’s recklessness so fundamentally different from persecuting the Jew, then the scapegoat of Europe?
The proposal here is not that American policy threatens genocide on the level of the 20th-century fascist and totalitarian states. There is a long road between that place and where we are. But talk of deporting millions of women, children and men — whether we consider some of them deserving of a fast track to citizenship or not — ought still to be considered a reactionary and repressive mode of ethnic cleansing.
Forgetting the right, the notion that even the most liberal perspectives on immigration, which propose that hard-working immigrants (meaning in many cases those willing to submit to the worst working conditions that most American citizens would not tolerate) are somehow more acceptable, still seems like coercion. Does this view not commodify the human body? Is not human flesh then nothing more than a raw material, certain amounts to be ordered and used as production demands? I would think so.
It is not my place to pontificate as to what action policymakers should take in order to mitigate what truly is a crisis of the modern globalized world. Rather, I aim only to provoke thought, to stir our understanding of this issue and its various policy perspectives.
Michael Dean wipes his ass with high school history texbooks. How’s that for thought provocation?
REBUTTAL to the RIGHT:
I have little to add. The process of becoming a citizen of the United States is absurd. The human cost of continuing the de jure disenfranchisement of millions of people is too great not to warrant swift action on the part of those who “lead” our “great nation.” But remember: Nations are fictions, constructions. The ground below your feet was not always American soil, and it will not remain so forever. Everyone and no one is an immigrant.