Monday, July 23, 2007

Tacit Consent- a post tour reflection

I’d like to do a quick post Reality Tour reflection. While I know many of my thoughts are echoed by other employees of Voces de la Frontera, I should emphasize that these thoughts and words are my own, not official word from Voces de la Frontera.

At the end of the event in Milwaukee someone asked me if I was part Latina or “just a good person?” The question caught me off guard as I really hadn’t stopped to consider my identity in the movement or even with an organization like Voces de la Frontera.

So, who am I? Aside from the logistical coordinator and blogger for the Reality Tour, I am a white, middle class, twenty something female. With the exception of a few anecdotal incidences of sexism I am largely a stranger to discrimination in my own life. Directly, the struggles of many immigrant workers, the legislation that was discussed in the senate, the local ordinances passed or in process, all of these things have little tangible effect on my everyday life.

So what is it that called me and many others like me to get involved? It’s about consent. I remember studying John Locke’s social contract during a philosophy 101 course. A core component of the social contract is the concept of tacit consent: the idea being that we uphold the status quo by not challenging it. In other words, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with a system, whether your actions are directly involved, you give your consent when you do nothing. Apathy equates approval.

As such, I am a voting, civically engaged, lifetime resident and citizen of the United States and I cannot give my tacit consent to what I see as a broken system. I’ve traveled and lived in the dual economic systems of South Africa and Mexico and have seen rags and riches living side by side. I have seen poverty to a degree that does not exist in the United States. The change in distribution of economic resources and rising income inequality has been an impetus for increased immigration- legal and illegal and there needs to be some accountability for this drastically different economic landscape. The problem is not only in the United States, it is happening everywhere.

The immigration debate is complicated no doubt. I do not wish to condone any illegal activity, but when it comes to law and survival, for most people the will to survive will supersede obedience for the law. Many will say that the responsibility lies with the governments of poor countries. I agree, but I do not give sole responsibility to those governments. There has been a lot of talk of sovereignty throughout the forums and on the blog. I feel like sovereignty is a concept that is rapidly disappearing in the world of global commerce. Yes, the minimum wage of $4 a day is far too low in Mexico. The government needs to be involved in changing that- but if they are under pressure from transnational companies to keep wages down, then pressure must also be put on transnational companies. If US subsidized corn is driving down market prices in Mexico so that local producers cannot compete, then there must be pressure to reduce or at least redistribute those US subsidies. Furthermore, there has been resistance to government policies in Mexico, particularly in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, but those movements have encountered fierce resistance not only from the Mexican government, but from the US as well. The responsibility for this problem is bilateral and any solution must be equally bilateral in nature. To negotiate trade agreements that harm the poorest segment of the Mexican and Central American populations, to actively put down efforts for social and economic change and then to bar entry and deny rights when people are pushed to migrate is an unacceptable double standard. It is this double standard to which I refuse to give my tacit consent.

This tour was not just about promoting a faster path to legalization; it was also about understanding the roots of why people choose to leave their homes. It is imperative that any comprehensive solution must also look at how to promote a global commerce that is fairer and that takes into consideration the broader ramifications of cheap labor and lax laws. Any comprehensive solution must be equally introspective as external.

We heard a lot of debate and are still receiving lots of opinions through newspaper editorials, the blog etc. The criticisms and concerns are valid and I appreciate the openness with which people have shared their opinions. For me, however the bottom line I keep coming back to are the double standards. Until a more holistic solution is proposed, as a responsible concerned citizen, I find it impossible to give my tacit consent.


Anonymous said...

I will not give my tacit consent either. We are interdependent. We need people from all backgrounds to be involved in this fight for justice. You need only have a heart to relate and to particpate.

stevenherro said...

Melanie's comments about John Locke's writings on "tacit consent" strike a chord with the words of Fr. Bryan Massingale. The latter is a African-American Catholic priest who teaches theology at Marquette University; he is seen as a leading theologian on race and religion, modern interpretations of Rev. Martin Luther King, etc.

Last week, he noted in an address to a national audience that there are five causes for declining social justice: ignorance, greed, fear, laziness, and indifference. He did not specifically use Locke's language, but his listing of indifference resonates with "tacit consent." It is when we show a lack of interest, enthusiasm, "it's not our problem" attitude, that smaller social maladies become major issues. How will we be judged by future generations for having allowed such "crimes" such as our immigration mess, Darfur, climate change, etc.?

The Pragmatist said...

I think we gave tacit consent for the current illigal immigration mess by not holding Congress' feet to the fire after the 1986 amnesty. We allowed millions of Latinos from south of the Rio Grande to believe that if they could but slip across the border and lie low for awhile they'd be on the shortcut to American citizenship.

After attending one of the "Reality Tour" town hall meetings I began to study the illegal immigration issue for myself. The more I learn and contemplate, the less sympathetic I am to the plight of the illegals.

For example, I didn't know that Mexico has the twelfth-largest economy in the world, with a per capita income second highest in Latin America. From just attending a one of your town meetings one wouldn't know that NAFTA is but one of a dozen free trade aggreements that Mexico has with 43 countries.

According to the World Bank, the transition of Mexico's economy from subsistance farming to modern agribusiness -- a process which also ocurred in the developed world with the same effect, by the way-- left perhaps 600,000 displaced farm workers. Who then are the remaining 11-plus million or more illegals?

To keep claiming that the imigration system is "broken" because millions of illegals cannot get visas on their terms is like saying that Lambeau Field is broken because the Green Bay Packers have a waiting list for season tickets. The United States has immigration limits, though ours are much more liberal, just like every other nation on the planet. If "seeking a better life" were the only requirement for immigration to the U.S. then there are close to six BILLION people who qualify. Why should an accident of geography give Latinos preferential treatment?

If VF wants a "respectful dialogue that moves forward", then it must be much more honest. Discuss ALL the facts, not just those that might help your case. Stick to the correct meaning of the term "immigrant" instead of trying to equate sneaking across the border in the dark of night like any other thief with walking up to the Receptionist in the American Embassy in a national capital, or an American consulate, and initiating legal entry to the U.S. They are NOT in any sense alternative forms of immigration.

The more I learn, the more I suspect that a vast majority of illegal immigration is simply due to the perceptions that the grass is greener on the north side of the border, the chances of being caught are small, and the likelihood of prosecution even smaller. If we were to adopt Mexico's immigration laws clause by clause, page by page, the flow of illegal immigration would slow to a trickle, stop, and then reverse. Check it out.