Monday, July 2, 2007

A Real Comprehensive Immigration Reform Package: I

The authors of S. 1639 thought that to push through enhancing legal protections for 12 million undocumented residents they had to take on other problems. It is true that the status of immigrants in this or any other country is not one that can be addressed in isolation of other political and economic circumstances. But the effort to "balance" security against immigrant rights undermined both causes.

Now that S. 1639 has been defeated, it is time to contemplate a truly comprehensive, sustainable immigration policy, one that addresses the roots of the legal quagmire facing immigrants and that also goes to the heart of deeper and broader economic inequities.

Here's the basic idea: there are a few laws that are really irrational and that result in nativism (and therefore war) and wealth concentrated in families (and therefore extreme inequality), as well as the abuse of the environment. If we could eliminate just these laws, four to be precise, then we would have the sort of society where immigration among countries would be no more problematic than immigration among the states in the United States.

Here are the laws that should be eliminated:
1) Birthright citizenship
2) Inheritance (wealth to be collected at death by a global agency that would redistribute it to pay for education, health, housing, clean water and sanitation, and so forth).
3) Marriage
4) Private ownership of land

This sounds like a lot, admittedly, and not clearly connected to the present debate about immigration reform. But since a key concern in immigration is the borders defining who "we" and "they" are, it is as important to think about how nationality is made before fixing immigration as it is to understand how a house is made before fixing a foundation. The laws regulating kinship, or laws about birth in a territory, give us the main rules for how most people become citizens. If we want to think about immigration, then we want to know more about why these are the main rules for membership, even in supposedly liberal societies that abhor birthright.

The laws above, in addition to contributing to violence and inequality, have two other qualities in common. First, they are rooted in anxieties about death and the alleviation of this through institutions that call for intergenerational remembrances. Hence they reflect psychotic efforts to shape the world in ways inconsistent with the experience of mortality. Humans have a finite lifespan, a fact with which the nation, inherited wealth, marriage and being able to damage the land past one's individual lifetime are incongruous.

Second, the laws reflecting psychic wounds of mortals also follow from the specific dynamics of, to put it bluntly, pregnancy envy and compensatory masculinities, whereby men play out infant fantasies of controlling reproduction, via law and not biology. That's all that kinship rules do: put men, regardless of genetic paternity, into relations with children. (For more on this, and all the anthropological references, read this: "Pregnancy Envy and Compensatory Masculinities," Gender and Politics(2005).

To be continued!

The proposals here are based on research in my first book, Reproducing the State (Princeton, 1999) and also a soon to be complete book manuscript "States without Nations: Citizenship for Mortals."

(Image is of Shulamith Firestone's cover of Airless Spaces. Firestone wrote the Dialectics of Sex (1970), a book arguing for a feminist revolution based on the technical change of incubators for babies. It's not obvious this is necessary for a revolution in the sex/gender system, but we do need a more rational understanding and recreation of pregnancy's meanings so that it is not both overvalued and undervalued, processes that result in our present kinship rules and therefore marriage policies.)

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