Scaling the Walls of Utopia. Immigration in the United States


I spent two weeks in the summer of 2001 in the back of an RV driving through the American west from Denver, to Yellowstone, to Mount Rushmore and back again. At the time the tone of British politics, much like it has been for a while, focused on angst over immigration from the Indian subcontinent , southern Europe and elsewhere; the main defence of Anti-Immigrants in the UK was that there simply was not enough room on the island to accommodate the apparent rabid hordes of brown people charging through the channel tunnel. As I looked out on the seemingly endless Wyoming plains I can remember thinking that Britain could simply send anyone UK on to the US; after all they had all this room. At the time this idea made perfect sense to me; the land used to be Native American land before it was Mexico, so why not throw some more people in to the U.S.? It’s big enough and seems to be based on the idea of Immigration renewing the country. This is why the growing anger over Immigration across the Rio Grande in recent years has, as an Immigrant, disappointed me.

The general argument on the face of it is that people are not against immigration so much as they are against illegal immigration; The insistence that they are only angry that people seemed to have ‘Jumped the line’ and are enjoying the American dream without having filled out the paperwork, nothing more, reveals several things about America; first and foremost is that a large number of people have no idea how the immigration system the United States works.

Just to be clear; the United states isn’t a Deli counter; you don’t take a number and wait in one big line. There are wide varieties of circumstances people enter this country under; many have children, many don’t, some are here primarily for work, others for familial ties, or education. Of those who are coming for work, some have a specific job to come to, some don’t, some are here temporally for business. All of these circumstances have different Immigration forms handled by different offices in the Department of Homeland Security. The idea of people who are already here interfering with the process of my or anyone’s paperwork process is laughable.

Funnily enough this is no longer an accurate depiction of U.S. Immigration.

This wilful misunderstanding of how the immigration system works and the philosophy of immigration generally has meant that people who feel the ethic cleansing of the American south-west wasn’t quite enough the first few times can use legal immigrants like myself as shields for their racist rhetoric. In the American Right’s enduring – and at times perversely admirable in its vigour – campaign of insisting they’re not racist the word ‘illegal’ has been awkwardly wedged into the race hatred based rhetoric used by the kinds of people who thought it advisable to harass children fleeing violence in central America. Suddenly fear of a black planet is actually a sense fair play, suddenly I – the white English-speaking European – am the true victim of the current illegal immigration system. Whilst Mexicans and Guatemalans get a luxurious lifestyle living under the radar on starvation wages, almost entirely at the mercy of their employer’s whims lest they get reported to Homeland security; I unfairly have to wait a little longer for my permanent Green Card potentially.

The Anger over the idea that Obama is going to accept the facts on the ground and try to work with the people who are already in America and have been part of the economic and social life of the country instead of ejecting them by force is symptomatic of American self Identity. As previously mentioned on this blog “Americans” are hard to define as “America” is hard to define. However I think I can have a crack at it; America, in the most abstract sense is an extended utopian experiment in enlightened republican government. America is the last country left whose first function is to create perfection rather than mealy keeping the lights on and the trains running. This mentality that to be in America is a reward defiantly informs the notion that to be an illegal immigrant in the united states is to be a thief; you have stolen a piece of the American Dream from the decent and hard-working.The notion of American perfection means that stealing a part of America from someone is such an important problem that true residents of Utopia must be vigilant against any potential cheater. The problem is that this mentality lends itself to the kind of hateful isolationist rhetoric prevalent in European countries now that as an attempt at perfect government, America doesn’t get to work with.

The general argument levelled against the recent arrival of central American children is that America is not a dumping ground. This is wrong in two very important ways; The first being that those children are not trash, the second is that America is very much the world’s Dumping ground.The essence of what is good and cool about America is the notion of the melting pot; the idea that as a country we call on ancient lands to keep their storied pomp whilst we take on their tired, their poor, their huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Since colonisation of this continent the M.O. of what made the U.S.A. the dominant culture in the world comes from taking in the wretched refuse of  the old world’s teeming shores and utilizing this scum of the earth to outperform and dominate the countries that had sent them here, in many cases those Irish, Poles, Cantons, Germans and Jews where, in many cases, as legal as the 11 million or so people who are living here “illegally” and just as productive. Either you can get on board with the fundamental idea that America is from many too one, or you can fuck off back to where your ancestors snuck in from.

Art by Favianna Rodriguez


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