Stop Using the Economic Value of Immigrants as Justification for their Defense

Source: Reno Gazette Journal
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed — 
Let it be that great strong land of love
-Langston Hughes

Over the last 24 hours, as news of the Trump Administration’s decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) made its way across the US, a number pundits, politicians, and philanthropists used the economic value of these young people to justify the fight for them to stay. As a Latina, child of immigrants, that runs a worker organization, I’m often invited to offer my thoughts on the impact of immigrant workers on the state and future of work. Most of the time people want me to offer insights in ways that bear a striking resemblance to the economic determinism of the day.

These people advance one of three arguments:

  1. We should defend immigrants because the impact of deportation would hurt our economy.
Source: US News & World Report

2. We should defend immigrants because they take jobs that drive our economy.

Source: Center for American Progress

3. We should defend immigrants because they buy a lot of stuff and bolster our economy.

Source: International Business Times

As these arguments become the ground on which many are claiming to fight for undocumented people, it is important that we stop it. Here go two reasons why.

First, the economic value of people, through their labor, is an argument that undergirded slavery in this country for centuries. Many Southerners argued against ending slavery because of the economic impact it would have on the region. Many are using similar arguments today to defend DACA and undocumented immigrants more broadly. When we frame the value of people through their ability to toil in fields, clean houses, cook in kitchens, and care for children, we as a country are choosing to value their work over their humanity. We must choose different in order to do better.

Second, the narrative that these young people are victims of their parent’s illegal choices is intellectually lazy and lacks historical salience. Many parents who are immigrating to this country with children, and without, are immigrating due to economic hardships caused by trade deals that favor US industries. Many parents who are immigrating to this country with children, and without, are immigrating due to violence caused by the US military and prison industrial complex. Many parents who are immigrating to this country with children, and without, are immigrating because their countries are or have been in protracted wars with the US. People are immigrating out of necessity, not out of a desire to leave their loved ones, homes, and languages to be humiliated and live in shadows.

In the coming months and years, we will all need to take stock of the ways we have been complicit in the project of white supremacy and in placing the lives of 800,000 young people and countless others who are undocumented in the balance. As my teacher and friend Ananya Roy noted: “We don’t need obvious stories of the contributions of DREAMers: we need and accounting of White Supremacy and American Imperialism”.