Is there a category of human beings who, in election 2016, have been the focus of more negative attention, fear-mongering, or worse press than immigrants, especially undocumented ones coming from or through Mexico (those infamous “rapists”)? I doubt it. Thought of in another way, such immigrants seem to be the only “lobbying group” capable of convincing Republican politicians that our crumbling infrastructure needs to be shored up — hence those monster walls to come along the Mexican border. Immigrants, it’s now well known, are a shiftless bunch of criminals, or as Donald Trump put it, “If you look at the statistics of people coming, you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything coming in illegally into this country it’s mind-boggling!” And don’t forget the terrorist types supposedly worming their way in among refugees — another category of immigrants — fleeing the chaos the U.S. had such a hand in creating in Syria and Iraq. Those lost souls looking for asylum here have been a particular target of Republican candidates and office holders eager to ban them from coming anywhere near this country or at least their states. Put it all together and you have a witch’s brew when it comes to the land of the free and home of the… well, whatever.
So imagine the national shock (had anyone been paying attention) that “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States,” a study by researchers Walter A. Ewing, Daniel E. Martínez, and Rubén G. Rumbaut released last July through the American Immigration Council, should have caused here. The three scholars offered truly shocking news. They crunched the latest numbers and confirmed decades of other studies showing that immigration does anything but increase U.S. crime rates. Immigrants, legal and otherwise, are charged with far fewer “serious crimes” and are jailed far less often than the native born. To be specific, their study found that “1.6% of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3% of the native-born. This disparity in incarceration rates has existed for decades, as evidenced by data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial censuses. In each of those years, the incarceration rates of the native-born were anywhere from two to five times higher than that of immigrants.” The same, by the way, holds true for incarceration rates “among the young, less-educated Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan men who make up the bulk of the unauthorized population.”
How in the world do such definitive hard numbers fit with the overwrought sense of fear and alarm, the myth-making about immigrants alive in the country today? In her second TomDispatch post, Aviva Chomsky offers an interesting answer: it’s not that hard to create a nightmare vision of immigrants when they are almost never seen by the Americans you are scaring the hell out of. Their invisibility in our world ensures that just about any picture can be painted of them without fear of contradiction because there’s nothing in most of our lives to which to compare it. So consider today just one recent case in which, however briefly, that cloak of invisibility began to be lifted from the remarkably lawful, remarkably hardworking immigrants who are the target of so much calumny this election season. Tom Engelhardt
All the news that’s fit to print
How the media hide undocumented workers
By Aviva Chomsky
In our post-modern (or post-post-modern?) age, we are supposedly transcending the material certainties of the past. The virtual world of the Internet is replacing the “real,” material world, as theory asks us to question the very notion of reality. Yet that virtual world turns out to rely heavily on some distinctly old systems and realities, including the physical labor of those who produce, care for, and provide the goods and services for the post-industrial information economy.
As it happens, this increasingly invisible, underground economy of muscles and sweat, blood and effort intersects in the most intimate ways with those who enjoy the benefits of the virtual world. Of course, our connection to that virtual world comes through physical devices, and each of them follows a commodity chain that begins with the mining of rare earth elements and ends at a toxic disposal or recycling site, usually somewhere in the Third World.
Closer to home, too, the incontrovertible realities of our physical lives depend on labor — often that of undocumented immigrants — invisible but far from virtual, that makes apparently endless mundane daily routines possible.