Poli-ticks

Arlene Violet: I’m glad I am not a new immigrant

By Arlene Violet
Posted 4/5/21

With all the hullabaloo surrounding the recent influx of immigrants at the southern border, I thank my lucky stars that I was born here. Guatemala and Honduras, from where many immigrants have …

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Poli-ticks

Arlene Violet: I’m glad I am not a new immigrant

Posted

With all the hullabaloo surrounding the recent influx of immigrants at the southern border, I thank my lucky stars that I was born here. Guatemala and Honduras, from where many immigrants have traveled, are hotbeds of human rights violations and murder of citizens. Children are recruited into “armies” which terrorize the inhabitants. Corruption abounds in every branch of government so victims have no legal recourse. I would be among the first to try to immigrate here or at least send my children so they could have a better life.

Even migrants who come to work here legally continue to be treated like dirt. “Somos Essenciales” is a double-edged sword; on the one hand it acknowledges the economic role that migrants play while a sword hangs over their heads to keep them on the job with little protections. In March 2020, then-president Donald Trump declared them to essential workers so the farmworkers had to be working, often with little health protection. Farm after farm staffed by at least half of whom are undocumented workers offered below average salaries to this workforce. Living conditions were unsanitary with many of them living in dormitories. Many succumbed to the coronavirus since a complaint would get the worker deported. Silence compounded the risk of transmitting the virus since supervisors didn’t care if the migrant had it or not as long as they worked. Even when a massive pandemic outbreak occurred as it did at Primex Farms, a nut-packing facility, so many people fell ill that the employees finally resorted to a strike. What did they get for that effort? They were allowed to bring in masks or purchase them from Primex for $8 apiece.

Adding insult to injury the migrants have no protections. They are ineligible for unemployment insurance even though they pay taxes. Health insurance is non-existent. These farmworkers and domestics were excluded form protections against unfair labor practices. So-called “wetbacks” (those who crossed the Rio Grande to enter this country) lived in unregulated work camps. Some Americans object to the entry of immigrants because of the fear that they bring disease. The truth is that the living and working conditions established by the American bosses precipitate the illnesses.
So, as Americans all get sanctimonious about the influx of “these people” they have no farther to look than the silent acquiescence to the very conditions that keep the migrants on the job so Mr. and Mrs. America can be fed. Ironically, the very act of ignoring the plight of immigrants precipitates the very real result of the spread of the pandemic.

One reckoning that the United States still needs to have is how our policies of support for despot governments has precipitated the exodus from these Central American countries. Were we more just, folks would be able to have the “American Dream” on their own turf. During my episodic time in Central America I never found anyone who would not have preferred to stay with their family and kin but for the oppression in that country.

Immigration reform hasn’t been on the front burner since the time of the Ronald Reagan presidency. Congress needs to cease demonizing immigrants and those in the opposite party and get to work to remediate the problem NOW.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

Arlene Violet

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