On Feb. 1, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, proceeded to carry out immigration sweeps of 77 Northern California businesses, confirming the rumors of the comprehensive raid that President Donald Trump announced last month. Though there have been no arrests yet reported, this recent attack comes on the heels of a nationwide ICE effort that targeted nearly 100 7-Eleven stores in the middle of January, leading to the detention of 21 undocumented persons.
Additionally, last week, the Department of Justice sent letters to 23 “sanctuary cities” — including Sacramento and San Francisco — threatening to pull federal funding from any local police agencies that fail to share information or otherwise fully comply with federal immigration officers. The escalating prominence of ICE, though, is only one facet of the increasing controversy surrounding immigration in this country.
Under Trump, immigration has been a frequent and ongoing discussion, including his calls for a wall along the Mexican border, the disagreements around the decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the deplorable travel ban that was issued in his early days as president. The debate around immigration is not unique to Trump’s time in office though, for immigration has long been an important matter in this country. Considering these developments, I find it important to revisit the topic and to offer some perspectives as to why our general conversation surrounding this phenomenon is misguided and even immoral.
Our relation with Mexico is particularly enlightening. In 1848, the conclusion of the Mexican war produced the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Though the United States technically purchased the land, it was effectively an imperialist seizure of what was roughly 50 percent of Mexico’s total territory, comprising present-day California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and portions of New Mexico and Colorado.
Even Ulysses S. Grant, who by no accounts can be considered an ethical man (he later would be responsible for mass genocide of Native Americans), describes the war as perhaps “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger nation against a weaker one.” The Mexican cession of this land would cause the them to lose the vast fertile territory of central California, the copious amounts of gold and silver that would be acquired from the Sierra Nevada and Colorado Rocky mountain ranges and access to various other natural resources. Moreover, the United States has proceeded to continuously exploit and mistreat Mexicans both within the United States and Mexico and has continually extracted enormous amounts of wealth from their labor.
Over the short history of our country, the United States has continued to treat Mexico as a reserve army of cheap labor and has had no problem importing and deporting their people at will. World War I saw an extraordinary reliance on imported Mexican labor (much of it illegal) in agriculture and other industries to counteract the labor shortage created by the deployment of American troops. However, when the Great Depression struck, massive deportations occurred, and the flow of Mexican immigrants into the United States waned.
In more recent history, the past 60 years has seen the rise of the maquiladoras (foreign owned factories in Mexico, which are often duty- and tariff-free) with their numbers skyrocketing following the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. American companies such as General Motors, Ford and Chrysler continue to exploit Mexico in order to greater maximize profits. The wickedness in the United States’ willingness to use Mexico’s conditions to amass absorbent profits is exponentially amplified when we refuse to acknowledge the source of our country’s wealth and act as if it should be relegated strictly to the wellbeing of our own country’s citizens.
The case of Mexico is representative of a broader pattern and tendency that the United States has of expanding its global capitalist system to developing countries, effectively destroying local economies and cultures in order to extract wealth and resources. For us to close our borders off to anyone, or place any sort of restrictions on immigration when the wealth of our country is inherently built off the backs of exploited people around the globe, is appalling and unfounded.
While the conversation naively revolves around immigrants “taking our jobs,” abusing our welfare state or being a terrorist threat, I think that we need to take a serious look inward. When we are so ready to abuse and take advantage of nations around the world and then have the audacity to exclude those very people from the spoils of that foreign conquest, it reveals a nation in a state of intense moral crisis.
Given this, I think it is our duty as a nation to thoroughly reexamine the way in which we view immigration in this country and to incorporate this understanding of our foreign interventions into our perspective on the issue. It is contradictory and hypocritical for U.S. immigration policy to be rooted in anything other than a desire for restitution for the people around the globe that we have abused and uprooted. We should be welcoming immigrants with open arms and seeking to provide them with full access to the gains that we have necessarily made by exploiting the entirety of world.
Wolfgang Shepherd is a UC Berkeley student majoring in sociology.