by Jamie Longazel
There are many arguments we can make against President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The 800,000 affected young people did nothing wrong and never acted with malicious intent. We preach individual responsibility and yet offer punishment rather than praise to a group who has met every single unreasonable expectation placed upon them. DACA is not a “special privilege” or “amnesty”; it is not even a path to citizenship. It only temporarily forbids the government from deporting recipients back to the country they were born in, of which they have few – if any – memories.
Ending DACA is, in a word, inhumane.
Beyond the President’s inability to do the right thing, however, lies a deeper historical pattern: Elites have always used attacks on immigrants as a tool to divide us. And they’re at it again.
This is most apparent in Rep. Lou Barletta’s statement on DACA. He begins with a hypocritical condemnation of President Obama, who he accuses of overstepping his legal bounds in issuing DACA as an executive action. Recall that Barletta rose to political prominence as Mayor of Hazleton when his city usurped the Federal power to regulate immigration in passing the unconstitutional Illegal Immigration Relief Act in 2006. Recall also that he was a supporter of President Trump’s controversial “Muslim Ban.”
But what is most notable about his statement is how he attempts to blame DACA recipients for the economic problems of the “forgotten American worker.”
In one respect, Barletta is right: The American worker has fallen on hard times. I concede that this is one reason why so many have found his politics appealing. Since the late 1970s, productivity has continued to increase, yet wages have stagnated. In other words, as workers, we are working harder and producing more, but not seeing a corresponding increase in pay.
The problem is that Barletta misattributes the source of these hard times – something he has done from the beginning of his political career, usually with racially-coded rhetoric that scapegoats immigrants.
In truth, immigrants are not to blame. Most of the money those gains have produced has gone to the wealthiest Americans, whose situations have improved while the rest of us have struggled. Economic inequality is about as high as it has ever been in the United States. Globally, we can trace a lot of the immigration to the United States from Latin America back to so-called “free trade” agreements that likewise serve the interests of multinational corporations at the expense of workers both here and abroad.
The same is true in Hazleton. The panic Barletta stirred over undocumented immigrants committing crime and draining resources distracted us from the massive tax breaks corporations like Cargill were receiving from the Keystone Opportunity Zone initiative and CAN DO’s efforts to attract low-wage industries.
All this is to say that in Hazleton, and across the country, native-born workers and immigrants are in the same boat. Economic policies that favor the rich have hurt all of us. Together, we comprise the American working class.
Sadly, this is something we should be all-too-familiar with here in the Anthracite Coal Region. What is happening now mirrors the pattern from the past: The coal baron exploits the miner for his labor, takes the bulk of the profit, leaves the miner destitute, and then has the nerve to tell mining families that their destitution is the immigrant’s fault.
Today (Sept 10, 2017) marks 120 years since the Lattimer Massacre – a most tragic occasion where the coal barons’ hired guns fired upon unarmed striking miners, killing nineteen. Why did the mine owners find those miners so threatening? Because they came together across their differences – settled miners in unity with recent immigrants – and demanded that the owners compensate them fairly and treat them with dignity and respect.
It is time for us to do the same. We need to wise up to the divide and conquer politics on which these modern-day coal barons continue to rely. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is in all of our best interests. The wealthy few who call the shots in this country and the politicians who do their bidding want us to blame one another for our problems so that we forget just how much of the world’s resources they hoard. Our task is to see through these attacks and insist on standing in solidarity with our sisters and brothers from across the working class.
Jamie Longazel, a Hazleton native, is an Associate Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the author of Undocumented Fears: Immigration and the Politics of Divide and Conquer in Hazleton, Pennsylvania.