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10.6.08

Deporting Valedictorians And Hurricane Evacuees

I suppose part of the reason this blog has hardly any readers is that I don't comment on stories or issues until a few weeks after everyone else has. Nevertheless, here's a couple immigration-related stories that got a lot of attention a little while ago.

First is the case of Arthur Mkoyan, a high school valedictorian who may soon be deported because his parents brought him to the US from Armenia when he was 2 years old. I was a bit annoyed at the tone of the article and of most of the people blogging about it. Specifically, I was bothered by the implication that Mkoyan should get to stay in the US because he's a valedictorian. While this reasoning would help him personally (and it's likely to be what gets him status if he manages it), it doesn't address the larger issue, and indeed tends to reinforce the idea that immigrants have to prove themselves to be exceptionally deserving. (And in connection with this, I can sympathize with his Representative, who is made out to be a bad guy because he has a blanket policy against introducing "private bills" that pick and choose individuals to get legal status.) As far as I'm concerned, the reason Mkoyan should get to stay in the US is that the US is the only country he's ever known, because he was brought to it at a very young age through no choice of his own. And that rationale applies regardless of his GPA.

Second is Border Patrol's declaration and half-hearted not-quite-retraction of a policy of checking immigration status during natural disaster evacuations. The result is to make many Latin@s -- including those with legal status up to natural-born citizen -- reluctant to evacuate, either because they fear consequences for themselves (if I flee my house without my passport, I still have my skin and my accent, but others don't have those advantages), or because of the consequences for their family and community members. So not only are people being unnecessarily exposed to natural disasters, they're also being set up so they can be blamed for "choosing" to stay behind a la the poor black non-evacuees during Katrina. This links in to the sanctuary cities and Sheriff Joe issue in terms of making every occasion an occasion for checking people's status, regardless of whether such singleminded focus on immigration enforcement undermines the government's other duties. It also reveals an important aspect of disaster management -- disasters intensify people's interactions with the State. Complying with disaster management plans puts you in direct contact with police, the national guard, and other direct agents of state coercion, whereas failure to comply puts you wholly outside their protection (or even in direct opposition to them, as a possible looter). This would be fine, even beneficial, if you are on good terms with the state -- if you trust it to be acting in your best interests. For people who have a longstanding antagonistic relationships with the state, however -- such as people of color and immigrants -- natural disasters are a prime occasion for the state to increase its pernicious interference. And all of this applies not just to the immediate disaster management (evacuation, etc.) but also to the longer-term recovery process.

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