All They Will Call You Will Be Deportees by Maria Wood

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The shutdown is over—for the moment anyway—and the country is breathing a sigh of relief. However, the drama over the imaginary need for an ineffective, un-American “wall” (or steel slats, or intermittent fencing, or other symbolic barrier) continues.

We, the American public, are told that this “wall” is vital to our safety and security, that we are in grave, immediate danger from “caravans” composed of hordes of dangerous invaders. In reality, the wall is imaginary. Even the concept is fictitious. The language used to talk about “the wall” evokes the picture of an impenetrable concrete rampart along the length of the southern border, but this picture does not resemble any realistic possibility for a partition. “The wall” is a symbol which serves to stoke and capitalize on fear, insularity, and hatred born of racism and xenophobia. The rhetoric around it misleads the public, inflates and invents threats, and strips the humanity from the nameless Others against which it purports to defend.

In 1948, Woody Guthrie wrote a song, “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos),” about Mexican farm workers who died being deported from California. It begins,

The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They’re flying ’em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adiós mis amigos, Jesús y Maria;
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be deportees

and goes on to describe the pain caused by dehumanizing, othering and outright vilifying immigrant workers:

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract’s out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

In 2019 as in 1948, public discourse and escalating cruel policies toward immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers shape the public’s mental picture of these human beings—people who we need to make our economy work—into the worst kind of criminals. President Trump’s language in calling for “the wall” is as lurid and extreme as he can contrive, far harsher than “outlaws, rustlers, and thieves.” He plants images in the public imagination of horrific human trafficking practices, enormous loads of illegal drugs coming through unmonitored sections of the border, and hordes of crazed and violent gang members storming into the United States and wreaking untold criminal mayhem. These images are fictions that stoke fear and hatred among the public. They also draw attention away from real problems like the way human trafficking and drug smuggling actually happen at the border, and the real sources and causes of crime within the US. The more Americans’ anger and fear of immigrants is inflamed, the easier it is to accept and justify cruelty like family separation, caging and withholding care and medical attention from children, tear-gassing refugees on foreign soil and other atrocities.

Data tells us that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than US citizens. Our economy relies, as it always has, on the labor of immigrants, many of whom are unauthorized, to do the work that most Americans will not, at wages that most Americans will not accept. This labor force is as crucial on the Eastern Shore as it is in other parts of the country: crab picking, agriculture, construction, and many other industries cannot function without these workers. More importantly, basic human decency and American founding principles of equality, liberty, and an open society demand that we welcome those who come here seeking refuge or opportunity.

“The wall” does not need to be contiguous or unbreachable, or even built, to fulfill its true purpose. To people who wish to come to this country, “the wall” signals that while the rich and powerful American nation might be willing to allow desperate people who cross the treacherous desert with their children seeking refuge and safety to clean our toilets and pick our peaches at low wages, we will do so while communicating as brutally as possible that they are feared, hated, and unsafe on our shores. The message to the American public is that that we need extreme levels of protection, and that fear and hatred directed toward refugees and asylees is reasonable.

It is our American tradition and heritage, a primary defining component of our national identity, to enfold immigrants into our population. This tradition makes our national community stronger and healthier. It is also part of our history to exploit them, to abuse them, to bring our basest and most fearful instincts of insular hatred, racism, and distrust to bear on our treatment of newcomers. The first of these traditions moves us toward a more perfect union; the second holds us back and deepens a shameful stain on our history and our national character. Let us work to strengthen the former and extinguish the latter on the Eastern Shore and throughout the country.

Let us resist all encouragement to ignore or dismiss the humanity of those we perceive as foreign or different from ourselves. Let us remember that the people crossing the United States’ southern border have names and families and that America is strongest and healthiest when we treat everyone according to our best national ideals of equality, liberty, and opportunity

Maria Wood returned to academic life in 2014, after a two-decade career in the music business, earning a BA in American Studies and a Certificate in Ethnomusicology from Smith College in 2018. Most recently, she served as Deputy Campaign Manager for Jesse Colvin for Congress.

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Letters to Editor

  1. James Reeves says

    The wall is not a symbol of hate. And all of this talk about our being a nation of immigrants glosses over the fact that many if not all of immigrants from Europe passed through Ellis Island.

    The issue is not keeping people out as much as knowing who is coming in. Border security demands the government has a record of those people entering the country and border security remains the wobbly third leg of the immigration legislation passed in the mid-80’s.

    I had hope, at least, we might finally get immigration back into the forefront when this mess started but it appears both parties enjoy throwing stones at each other rather than legislating.

    Nancy P won the testosterone war with Trump. It could go the other way before everything is settled but this phallus test has done nothing to solve the real problem and has only served Trump-haters to gloat and Trump-lovers to seethe.

    Meanwhile, the rest of us watch the battle and wonder when and if the government will return to serving the constituents rather than the political parties.

  2. Frances Reed says

    I am an immigrant. I came to the US from the UK in 1964 with my husband and child. Back then, each country was assigned a quota – with a fixed number of immigrants from that country per year. We had to have a sponsor who promised we would not be a burden on the US taxpayers for a minimum of five years. We were fingerprinted, we swore that we would uphold the Constitution, that we weren’t convicted felons or (in the female case) a prostitute. We were issued a green card and had to check in once a year with the local police in our State. We needed our green card to get back into the US if we went abroad. It seemed a very fair exchange for being allowed to live and work here and follow the American dream. Letting literally anyone into the US without any kind of control is CRAZY. Every citizen of the US has a birth cerificate, Social Security Number etc. and some sort of paper trail. We have none of that with illegals. The cry that “These people are upstanding people, they pay their taxes and contribute to our economy” is a half truth at best. If you are here illegally how do you get a social security number without fraud? If you have no SS number but work for “under the table” payments, do you honestly believe those persons are paying tax on what they are paid? If you do not contribute with taxes, social security who then carries the burden for illegals immigrants children’s education, for our police and first responders and all other aspects of government? Our citizens and legal immigrants do. Is that just and fair?And what will happen if we decide that borders are illegal and all are welcome – no questions asked? The cost to the taxpayers and the government will be staggering. Where is the money going to come from? NOT the super-rich. That 1% already pay more in taxes than the rest of us combined and their well is not bottomless. The US government pays? How? By taxing everyone else at much higher rates? Is that fair – that American Citizens pay to support and educate people who came here illegally and who may not be contributing to their own support? The bickering in Washington has to stop and Congress must tackle the job of setting up CLEAR standards for people coming here and vetting those who come. This border issue is not one that has been caused by our citizens, but by a Government (please note: I said Government not Party) that will not do its job. Setting up clear laws, abiding by them and clarifying how people can come here legally is of vital importance to the future of our Nation. Like the rich, our Country is not a bottomless pit of money to be given away. Charity begins at home.

    • ann miller says

      Excellent point, thank you for sharing.

    • A 2016 study by the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, a left-leaning research organization, estimated that undocumented immigrants pay $11.64 billion in state and local taxes in 2013, equivalent to about 8 percent of their total income. This includes sales and excise taxes on goods and services ($6.9 billion), property taxes ($3.6 billion) and personal income taxes ($1.1 billion, assuming a 50 percent compliance rate).

      The right-leaning Heritage Foundation came up with a similar result in a 2013 report. They estimated that about half the 3.4 million households with undocumented workers do not pay any taxes. Of those that do, it was estimated that the average undocumented immigrant household paid $10,334 in taxes. Using Heritage’s analysis, that translates to about $17.6 billion paid in taxes.

      But no matter how much (or little) tax revenue is lost by the failure of undocumented workers to pay their taxes, it pales in comparison to the lost tax revenue from the underground economy populated by upstanding, loyal, patriotic citizens. Ms Reed exhibits willful ignorance when she rails against undocumented immigrants and ignores, for example, lawyers and accountants working off the clock, workers in the new gig economy (eg, AirBnB, Uber), plumbers and car mechanics doing side jobs after hours, waiters and waitresses pocketing cash tips, and even teenage babysitters and flea market vendors, and so on. It is estimated that the underground sector represents $2 tillion out of our $19 trillion economy, or nearly 10% and that our annual budget deficit would be wiped out if this income stream could be taxed. Yet, there’s not one among us that hasn’t benefited from off-the-book arrangements with an approving wink and nod. But suddenly, it’s a ripoff if the service is rendered by an “illegal”.

      BTW, people do not need a Social Security number to file their taxes. Households can file income tax returns using Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs). In addition, whether a return is filed or not, taxes are still required to be deducted from paychecks.

      Finally, a word about trump’s hypocrisy. It has been widely reported that the trump organization has been firing dozens of undocumented workers at many of their golf resorts(1). Now!!! They’re just getting around to it now, four years after Dear Leader descended this golden escalator and made illegal immigration his signature issue. Why were they hired in the first place? And there is even a report (2) that a former employee of the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey said that her name was removed from a list of workers to be vetted by the Secret Service after she reminded management that she was unlawfully in the United States and that at least one supervisor helped an employee obtain forged working documents. On one hand, the trump organization claimed they were duped by employees using false IDs while at the same time they were taking active steps to cover up their illegal hiring practices.

      1. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/01/us/trump-workers-fired.html
      2. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/03/us/trump-golf-club-illegal-immigrant-employee.html

  3. Carla Massoni says

    Thank you Maria.

  4. Patsy Hornaday says

    Yes, and those I see buying groceries to feed their families are most polite and well mannered! The best of Americans say “Welcome to such and
    thank you for your hard work taking care of Eastern Shore fields.

  5. Deirdre LaMotte says

    Love and compassion for others is the only way forward.

    Thanks for this!

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