“Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal” by Aviva Chomsky- immigration, legal status, and personhood

Immigration is an extremely messy issue. Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, “law and order” has been a cover for making the “other” unwanted and “illegal.” Every human being has basic human rights. Those do not need to be earned. Aviva Chomsky’s book, Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal provides both historical background to how immigration came to be viewed in such a negative light as it now is as well as arguments for the basic human rights and dignity of all.

Chomsky provides historical data to understand how immigration became illegal. This is extremely valuable and important because too often, people just say that their ancestors came to the United States the “right way” and make the assumption the process was similar to what it is today. However, there was very little regulation of immigration whatsoever until racial bias began to lead to quotas for people coming in. The Chinese were some of the earliest people targeted, as exceptions and quotas were made to prevent Chinese from becoming citizens. Mexicans were, historically, another national group that was seen either as non-immigrants (not because they were here illegally–no laws governed such migration until relatively recently–but because it was simply taken as a given Mexicans would not stay in the United States) or as a group to be suppressed in its immigration status. Nationality was used to allow for colorblind laws that would simply restrict immigration on one’s nation. As Chomsky writes, “Once status is inscribed in the law, this becomes an automatic justification for inequality: ‘it’s the law!'” (25). The movement to national exclusion of immigrants allowed racist policies to be enshrined in law. After all, countries are not races. Once race could no longer be allowed to deny citizenship, “nationality stood in for it, and citizens of countries like China lost their right to immigrate” (35).

Laws had to be made in order to restrict immigration. Chomsky notes the inequality of movement of people: a United States citizen can, generally, get their passport and unlock travel to virtually any country in the world. Some travel may require a visa with an extra fee, but there aren’t many total restrictions on travel. Contrast this with attempting to enter the United States: here, we have laws that restrict people of other nationalities from entering our country. Similarly, though Chomsky’s book was written before the current administration under President Trump, there have been arguments for and actions banning travel to the United States purely based upon one’s religion. Such restrictions are social, legal constructs that allow the definition of human beings to be tied to national or religious affiliation. Feasibly, this could be expanded almost indefinitely. Thus, immigration law is not an unchanging, immutable thing but rather something that has changed and continues to change. It is mistaken simply to write off the “other” as illegal or even as “other” purely based on laws that have not even been in effect for more than a few decades.

Chomsky delves into the questions related to undocumented status and alleged eligibility for various benefits (it is almost certainly more complex than any reader may think). Then, she moves into undocumented status and working. What is of interest is that labor laws that target undocumented immigrants has, in several cases, led to economic hardship. The exploitation of undocumented laborers helps drive the standard of living citizens of the United States have become used to. One example is in agriculture. “Farm work is so marginal, strenuous, and low paid, that if workers achieve legal status, they quickly move to other sectors… True, for many Mexicans… low-wage, temporary, migrant labor in the United States offers a viable or even hopeful alternative to poverty at home. But this merely means that the US agricultural system depends upon the existence of a lot of extremely poor people in Mexico” (127-128). Furthermore, by making migrant workers “illegal,” this allows citizens of the United States to benefit from their low-cost labor while also not having to provide them with any benefits in turn. “Although the current system benefits many people in the United States, we must also recognize its fundamental injustice and think seriously about how it works and what steps could make it more just. If immigrants are being exploited by the current system, and if undocumentedness is one of the concepts that sustains inequality and unjust treatment, then we need to question undocumentedness itself” (150).

The impact of immigration laws and changing ideals about documentation has tremendous impact on families as well, dividing families and forcing cruelty upon some of the people in the greatest need. The laws that exist in our present situation have come from both Republicans and Democrats, so neither party can claim a high moral ground when it comes to immigration reform. However, such reform is needed, and Chomsky provides several suggestions. Comprehensive reform is a difficult goal to aim for, but Chomsky suggests we ought to instead perhaps question the very basis for immigration law to begin with. A longer quote helps illustrate her points:

[W]e have become accustomed to the notion that controlling the border is a basic prerequisite for security, safety, and sovereignty… The entire immigration apparatus is based on the presumption that we know where people belong and we need to legislate their mobility.
It’s also based on some unquestioned assumptions about countries. It is not OK for a public park… to discriminate regarding who is allowed to enter its space. But it’s OK for a country to do that… US immigration laws do just that: discriminate, on the basis of nationality, regarding who is allowed to be where.
If we really want to address the problem of undocumentedness, or so-called “illegal” immgiration, we need to look more in depth at why the United States made some immigration illegal to begin with… It’s just the latest stage in a centuries-long process of legislated inequality, a process both global and domestic. (205-206)

That is, we need to question the very basis for the need for such strong immigration laws rather than accept public assumptions about them. Reform includes a reformation of our minds and thoughts: a questioning of assumptions and looking at facts instead. Since immigration does contribute to our economy in numerous ways (some of which Chomsky documents), we ought to question why there is such a push to restrict it. “In the most immediate terms, we as a society created illegal immigration by making immigration illegal” (208). Is such a move actually something that is necessary? If so, why? These questions need to be answered not by knee-jerk reactions or platitudes such as “a nation without borders is no nation.” After all, nations may still have borders while allowing for immigration. The United States managed to do so all the way until 1882 when immigration laws targeted Chinese people!

Undocumented is a book that is worth reading no matter your political persuasion. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have offered a holistic view of personhood that allows us to adequately view the rights of all humans as equal. This is something we ought to address. Particularly for Christians, there is no question that all people are equal and deserving of our protection. Chomsky has provided historical perspective and even a way forward in thinking on this complex issue.


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On Raising Minimum Wage

minimumMany people I know have been discussing the notion of raising minimum wage and whether they agree/support or disagree/don’t support such a notion. A friend shared an image of President Obama on the left on Facebook and I thought I respond. I do not claim ownership of the image (which was posted by the “ATTN” group and I use with fair use), nor did I check to verify the quote’s accuracy. However, I thought it was worth responding to, as a general type of argument for raising minimum wage, so I typed up a bit of a response here.
Although minimum wage is surely not a living wage, the issue is also surely more complex than this. First, when minimum wage is increased, the number of jobs available goes down. That is because wages are the most easily controlled expense for companies. Therefore, if the price of individual employees goes up, the number of employees companies are willing to keep goes down. I’m not making this up. I’ve seen it happen, economists know it happens, it is just the way it is. If wages increase, the number of employed decrease. (Here, as often the case in economics, assuming “everything else being equal.”)[See, for example, this bit from Thomas Sowell, a famous economist, who cites survey data which shows 90% of economists agree on this.]
Second, the question is whether positions offering minimum wage are even intended for those who wish to “work full-time and support a family.” Frankly, the vast majority of those positions which do offer minimum wage are entry level positions, often with possibility of promotion. These positions are very often used as just that–college students just trying to make some money to burn on music or nights out with friends.
The objection is then raised: “But there are people who are trying to live on full time minimum wage with a family!” Well yes, that’s why I said this is such a complex issue, but to just blanket the whole thing by saying “Let’s just raise minimum wage, if you don’t like it, go try it yourself!” is obfuscation at best.
Third, too often this issue is used to try to set up a dichotomy of those who care for the “working person” and those who don’t. Hence, over-simplification to try to make it into a cut-and-dried issue. But again, companies are (unfortunately? necessarily?) out to make money. It doesn’t just generate itself in order to pay people more. Thus, one could just as easily over-simplify the “other side’s” status and say “Like your job? Don’t raise minimum wage.”
Obviously this would not be a helpful stance and it clearly ignores a number of truly relevant and important points that those who are for raising minimum wage are raising. That’s the problem with pithy statements.
I’m not saying any of this to be unsympathetic, but I do think the realities of economics are too often ignored in these conversations. Should we work to try to end economic inequality? Of course. But in doing so we should not overly simplify the issues, because when we do, no real solutions are offered, and those solutions which are offered cannot take into account the complexity of the issue (because we’ve ignored it).
Sorry for the wall of text, but I wanted to explain some of the issues I see from the “other side.” As for my own position, I’m about in the middle because I think it is far more complex than people on either side are presenting it.
I’d love to know what you think! Let me know in the comments.


J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

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My thoughts on “2016”- Obama’s America

Recently, I watched “2016”- the conservative documentary which explores Barack Obama’s past. In it,Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative political commentator and Christian apologist, argues throughout the film that President Obama’s worldview is steeped in a variety of anti-colonialism which he got through the teachings of his father and mother. D’Souza offers this as a hypothesis to explain the political policies that President Obama has enacted and continues to pursue.

“2016” traces the roots of Obama’s worldview back to those of his father, an entrenched anti-colonialist. Basically, anti-colonialism is the view that certain powers–the UK, the United States, and the like (largely European)–have utilized their powerful history in order to exploit those who are less powerful, and these wrongs must be righted. Thus, anti-colonialists would largely favor policies in which the wealth is ‘spread around’ and the wealthy are directly attacked simply for the fact that their wealth is intrinsically immoral. Why? Well, simply because whatever wealth they have, according to principles of anti-colonialism, has been taken wrongfully from those who no longer have it. They take the raw materials, manufacture goods, and then sell it back to the places from which they take the raw materials at exorbitant prices.

Whether or not one follows the tenets of anti-colonialism, it seems that D’Souza may have hit upon a great resource for explaining many of Obama’s policies. Consider the fact that Obama has cut off funding for oil pipelines and drilling for the United States–which would have created thousands of jobs and reduced the price of oil and our reliance upon foreign oil–while simultaneously giving money to several South American countries to proceed with their own drilling projects. Initially, his opposition to drilling in the U.S. would seem to stem from environmental concerns, but that would not explain why he supports giving money to other countries to do just that. Once D’Souza’s hypothesis is put into play–that Obama is influenced by and continues to utilize various anti-colonialist ideals–the move makes a lot more sense. The United States can be seen as giving its wealth back to the countries from which it wrongfully took it to begin with, and thereby increases the infrastructure and global power of those countries at the expense of the U.S.

D’Souza traces similar paths in many other foreign policies, such as the reduction of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Strangely, President Obama has favored reducing our own military power and our deterrent nuclear arsenal while also refusing to interfere with other countries developing their own nuclear arsenals. If one views Obama as someone working towards global peace by eliminating the threat of nuclear war (as those who gave him the Nobel Prize apparently thought), then this doesn’t make sense. However, once one points to anti-colonialism, the motivation seems much more clear. Those countries which have not achieved the global deterrent of nuclear power are encouraged (or at least not discouraged) to increase or begin their arsenal, while the U.S.’s ability to do the same is actively decreased. Such a move, of course, is radically against the doctrine of peace through strength.

Furthermore, D’Souza traces the President’s chosen path of education and the friends with which he surrounds himself, pointing out the radically liberal and often anti-colonial tendencies of many of those who are his closest advisers, friends, and his pastor. The links that are forged throughout “2016” begin to add up into an extremely strong wealth of evidence that supports D’Souza’s hypothesis: Obama is an anti-colonialist who has been using his power as the President to undermine the United States’ global influence.

Thus, throughout the film one can see a pattern of how D’Souza’s hypothesis that President Obama is an anti-colonialist is supported by his education and upbringing, and that it is the hypothesis which best explains the seemingly contradictory policies the President has been pushing while in office.

The film does have some negative points, however. First, there is a bit of unnecessary hints that President Obama is influenced by Islam. I think that this may be quite possible, after all those who influenced Obama largely were influenced by Islam themselves. It would be hard to separate these influences. However, I know of no concrete proof or data in this regard, nor does the film present any. Instead, there are just lingering images over the name “Hussein” as part of the President’s name as well as that of his father. Second, the film generalizes a lot on the nature of anti-colonialism and its implementation. However, this latter difficulty is understandable, given the fact that it is the nature of film making that there is a limited time in which to present the topics at hand, so ideas must be simplified in order to convey them in the time available.

Third, when D’Souza turns to an analysis of what the world will look like in 2016 if Obama is re-elected, it seemed to me there was a bit of fear mongering happening. For example, one of the points was that there would be a United States of Islam. I can’t help but think two things about this: first, that sure is a whole lot for Obama to accomplish in a second term! Some have been trying to unite the Muslim world ever since its separation  and suddenly Obama is supposed to pull it off! That seemed a bit absurd. Second, it seemed to me very much like a case of using a religious affiliation to inspire fear. The United States of Islam would be the religious “other” and as such is to be greatly feared. I have written on the fact that many use the “myth of ‘religion'” to stigmatize that religious other.

Overall, “2016” was a fascinating movie which will force viewers to evaluate the claims therein. Although D’Souza has been scoffed at by many for his rather radical hypothesis, one can see how anti-colonialism may indeed be the factor that best fits the set of data we have about President Obama. By linking Obama’s past influences with his current policy and showing how these are all explained most effectively by the hypothesis of anti-colonialism, D’Souza has presented a powerful working theory that explains how Obama’s policies have been working to undermine the prestige of the United States worldwide. Viewers will be forced to ask themselves: is this what you want for the United States by 2016?



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Why I love the Library

I love you, oh Library, I love you I do

You bring me the books, I enjoy them too!

I find recommendations online from a friend

Reserve them, check out, renew, a Godsend!

Okay, so there’s why I’m not a poet. Anyway, I really love the Library. I find it amazing that I can see a book recommendation from a friend, search the book at my local library system, reserve it, walk in and out all in about 5 minutes, and boom! New book to read.

Here’s an example: with the political season underway, I decided to do some research on gun control. I know, it’s not a huge issue in the elections coming up, but I thought why not, I could stand to learn more! Boom, tons of books available instantly at my local library. How awesome is that?

Another example: a friend mentioned a steampunk book he really liked. I love that genre and thought, why not, I would love to read something steampunk. Local library had it. I reserved it and picked it up the next day!

So it seems to me that whether you’re using it for research or casual reading, your local library is the place to be. Do it!

Talk about something worth your tax dollars.

Support your local library, my friends!

Democratic Party Endorses Taxpayer Funded Abortions, and uses bad reasoning to support it

The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.

Such is how it is stated on the democratic platform. Note the last phrase: “regardless of ability to pay.” Yes, this signifies an endorsement of taxpayer-funded abortions.

How do they justify this extreme position?

 Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way. We also recognize that health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the kind of argument people make for abortion. It’s an intensely personal decision. We shouldn’t get in the way.

But think about it this way. Suppose instead of the unborn, the woman were thinking about killing her toddler. Would we say that is an intensely personal decision the government shouldn’t be involved with? Definitely not. But that shows exactly what is at issue here. The language in the DNC Platform statement assumes the unborn is not a human person. Think how ridiculous it would be if we were talking about infanticide! But because the baby is inside the mother instead of outside, it somehow makes sense to call killing it a decision for the mother.

But again, think about the reasoning: what does “an intensely personal choice” have to do with anything? Pre-meditated murders would, presumably, be an intensely personal choice. Should the government be involved in that?

Again, the assumption is that the woman’s decision affects only herself. The assumption is that the unborn doesn’t count. But the unborn is human and a person. What the DNC platform shows is that the issue at the heart of the abortion debate remains that: what is the unborn?

Check out more writings on abortion issues at my main site.

Should We Change Gun Control Laws in the United States?

I just started reading John Lott, Jr.’s The Bias Against Guns and I was thinking it would be interesting to discuss the topic here once I’m done.  For now, I leave you with a quick quote from the book to chew on. Vote on the poll!

Guns not only make it easier for people to harm others, guns also make it easier for people to protect themselves and prevent criminal acts from happening… [T]here are many tradeoffs [with gun control]… On one side, rules governing gun use can hinder people’s ability to deter or stop criminal attacks. But on the other, these same rules have the potential to prevent the harm that guns cause. Every gun law faces this trade-off (3).