Debating the Raids, Part 2: Lovato Replies

February 25, 2009

Editor’s note: The November/December issue of the NACLA Report included an article titled “Building the Homeland Security State,” by Roberto Lovato. The article contained a sentence that, due to a regrettable error on the part of NACLA’s editor, not Lovato, misstated labor and immigration journalist David Bacon’s interpretation of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s immigrant deportation raids.

The sentence should have read: “David Bacon posits that the crackdown is purposefully meant to trigger a political crisis that will pressure Congress to approve the migration policy the government has been pushing for all along: a temporary guest-worker program”—whereas the published sentence mistakenly had Bacon positing that the crackdown was meant to trigger a labor shortage.

Nonetheless, a substantive disagreement between Bacon and Lovato remains on how to interpret the raids, and immigration policy more broadly. Below, Lovato replies to Bacon’s letter published in the January/February issue (“Debating the Raids: A Misstatement and a Disagreement”).

Before anything, I’m sorry that the editor added to my article a statement that neither Bacon nor I agree with. And whatever the reason Bacon feels the need to bandy about his qualifications (i.e., “As a journalist I’ve covered immigration raids for 18 years. I was a union organizer for 20 years before that and have been an immigrant rights activist during all that time”), I do not question his long-term commitment to writing about immigrant rights issues.

The problem is his limited and limiting analysis.

My article was designed build on the usual left analysis, which many in the immigrant rights community find stale. Like Bacon, I too have written about how immigration enforcement is used to control and exploit low-wage immigrant workers. But rather than write as if immigrants and immigration policy are frozen in time, I seek to give voice to the other, equally relevant and increasingly urgent concerns of those in the field, including immigrants themselves, many of whom have described in the most chilling terms what I’ve called the Al Qaeda–ization of immigrants and immigration policy in the post–Cold War era.

Bacon’s analysis of immigration enforcement—as “part of a social, political, and economic system whose primary purpose is the supply and control of labor”—is accurate, but labor control is only part of the story. Bacon ignores fundamental shifts in national security policy and the nation-state system itself and doesn’t offer a full explanation of why we’re witnessing the birth of a multibillion-dollar militarized industry centered on immigrants.

Bacon does not even contemplate the possibility that immigrants and immigration policy might serve purposes having zero to do with immigrants: militarizing society, expanding the national security apparatus in the post–Cold War era, and other “reasons of state” discussed in my article. That countries around the world, including the Dominican Republic, Italy, and Thailand, have also started using immigrants to justify increased militarization, just as the United States has, makes the point of my article even more obvious.

In sum, I wrote the article (and others) not solely to disagree with Bacon, but rather to complement and expand on the limited and limiting analysis that focuses on immigration enforcement solely as a means of labor control.

Roberto Lovato
New York


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