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As public hysteria towards illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and foreign criminals grows, world governments rush through knee jerk legislations.

In 2005, the United Kingdom’s Immigration, Asylum, and Nationality Bill set the standards for cracking down on illegal immigration.  Advancements in technology for information sharing, stricter and more technologically advanced identity checks, and constant communication with overseas law enforcement officials enabled the UK to systematically strengthen their border patrol.  Additionally, the government decided to crack the whip on companies hiring illegal immigrants, including enacting stricter identity and visa checks, and instituting fines for any companies caught hiring illegal immigrants: up to £2,000 per illegal worker, as well as jail time and unlimited fines for those employers knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.  The government had long been crying out against these so-called asylum seekers.  Now they finally had legislation to rid them from their borders. 

“Foreign criminals,” one of the biggest topics in British domestic politics today, has kicked up questions of discrimination and racism, but the innate fear of these “foreign criminals” has been so hyped up by the mainstream media that these questions remain spoken only by small, unheard groups of the relatively conscious.  Panorama reporter Steve Bradshaw recently released a film entitled Labour’s Foreign Criminal Crisis, in which he addresses the issues concerning many of Britain’s citizens and reveals that one out of every eight prisoners in the UK are foreign criminals.  In a recent BBC news report Q&A, in response to a question as to why so many foreign criminals are caught and jailed, Bradshaw replied: “A disturbingly high percentage are female, Jamaican drug mules who may either be relatively ubiquitous or easily caught. One answer suggested to us is that foreign nationals are more likely to belong to marginalized socio-economic groups with high crime commission rates.”  The response to this observation may seem like a nationwide shrug of the shoulders: “Makes sense,” right?  Yet the question of the innate classism and racism raised by these types of conclusions are rarely addressed in the mainstream media.

Meanwhile, in France, the government is giving so-called trouble-makers the riot act: quite literally.  In October of last year, French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy sent hundreds of riot police into the “rough neighborhoods” of France in an attempt to cut back on crime and reassure homeowners in the areas.  While touring the “rougher” outer neighborhoods of Paris, he was quoted as asking one citizen, “Do you want us to get rid of this trash?”  This comment was allegedly in reference to the youth of the area who were supposedly causing all of the problems.  Riot police were deployed into France’s less affluent areas, geared toward cracking down on the “disrespectful underclass” (as quoted on a BBC news report on January 10, 2006).  The orders given to these riot police were geared toward the lower class members of the community: in particular, the ethnic minorities and the large population of Arab and North African immigrants in France.  The mainstream media portrayed these issues as acts performed by a disrespectful group of youth who were not reflective of the formal and well-mannered French lifestyle, an assumption made and accepted without ever stopping to question the underlying causes behind this increase in crime. 

Across the pond, similar atrocities were taking place.  The recently proposed US legislations pending the crack-down on illegal immigrants have caused tremendous controversy throughout the country.  The right has fully voiced its concerns about “immigrant saturation” and has called for the immediate deportation of all illegal immigrants and severe penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants, including fines up to $20,000 and jail time for repeat offenders.  The left, voicing the reminder that the US is a country built upon immigration, has proposed plans for putting illegal immigrants on a path toward citizenship: plans which include back-payments of up to $3,250 in fines and taxes, application processes, and the deportation of all illegal immigrants who have been in the country less than two years.  Additionally, all immigrants given the opportunity to earn citizenship will be required by law to learn to speak fluent English.  Politicians on the left argue that these workers have a right to “earn” their citizenship in a country built around the principles of immigration.  Yet the right has viciously barked back, stating that the last legislation which put so-called “illegals” on paths to citizenship led to an increase in the flow of illegal immigration.

What both the right and the left have failed to acknowledge, however, is the United States’ immense hypocrisy in addressing the issue of “illegal immigrants.”  If any nation in the world is to be accused of illegal immigration, it should be the United States itself.  This nation, which immigrates, not by the individual people crossing borders by nightfall, but by the huge corporations which plow in and settle on foreign lands, destroying countries’ natural habitats, depleting their resources, and exploiting their people every step of the way.  The US cries out about illegal immigrants, who are predominantly Mexican and Latin American, taking work away from “real” American citizens, yet fails to acknowledge the poverty that US corporations unleash on foreign shores through heinously corrupt international negotiations and the evils of imperialism every day.  Perhaps if the people of these foreign lands were not so destitute through the US’s contribution to their poverty, they would not feel the need to “illegally” sneak out of their country and into another.  If the US is going to set up shop on foreign lands and exploit foreign workers in other countries, then why should those same workers not have the right to immigrate to the land of the very country that exploits them? 

Additionally, this hype and frenzy surrounding the issue of illegal immigrants in the US, who are predominantly Hispanic, reveals an innate fear which has quickly been brewing up in the United States over the past two decades.  The explosion in birth rates in the Hispanic communities of the US has led to an uprise in the popularity of Hispanic culture, a wide increase of Spanish communities, an increase in interracial marriages, and an increase in the Spanish-speaking population of the US.  According to the US census bureau in 2003, one in five people living in America spoke a language other than English at home.  The census also reported a 62% increase in Spanish speaking citizens in just one decade, from 17.3 million in 1990 to 28.1 million in the year 2000.  The immigration bill’s stipulation on ensuring that all immigrants on the “path to citizenship”learn to speak English, as well as the recent Senate scramble to make English the official language of the US, only further point to the fear seeping throughout white America: “they’re going to take over.”

Today, we live in a world made by borders.  The laws of the land no longer revolve around man’s natural needs and the earth’s ability to supply man with those needs, but by immigration laws, prejudice, racism, elitism, border patrols, and a whole lot of paper pushing.  The issue of illegal immigration in the West has long been the cause of great controversy; today, however, in the height of globalization, this hysteria has seemingly reached a fever pitch.  The concept of land ownership has been perverted into a one-sided display of the age-old proverb, “might makes right.”  Taking over another country’s land, habitat, and natural resources is perfectly fine when satisfying the greedy agenda of the wealthy few.  But allow a few thousand of the exploited victims of this empire-building to slip over our borders and attempt to work, and all hell breaks loose.  The stereotypes and anger surrounding the issue are only heightened when a few of those so-called “asylum seekers” slip up.  Yet selling a bit of marijuana doesn’t seem like such a horrific crime when compared to massive human rights violations and forced labor in sweatshops throughout the so-called Third World.  But those are not the “foreign crimes” we see.  We do not see the horrific atrocities imposed by Western corporations every day.  Nor do we see the underlying causes for the increase of crime in impoverished inner cities throughout the world.  No, we only see the face of the drug-dealing “Yardie,” the fires in the streets of Paris, and the profile of the Mexican who took work from a “real, honest American.”  Such is the self-serving, “I, Me, Mine!” consciousness which has unfortunately turned into a second-nature trait of life here in the West, and the greedy corporate-driven media which propagates it. 

1st June 2006
On The Other Side Of The Fence
By Jill A. Bolstridge