The Case of the Huddled Masses: United States v. Migrante

Your Honor. Members of the jury. My clients stand accused in this court of violating the territorial and legal integrity of the United States, undermining its economic stability and threatening its national security. Opinion polls show broad public support for immigration reforms that would provide a twisted path to citizenship, punish those who came without permission and a continued military buildup on our southern border. Politicians are in the process of hammering out proposals that can achieve these ends without jeopardizing the profits produced under the current arrangement.

As counsel for the 11 million defendants, I will argue that they are not guilty of the charges; that they are in fact victims of a crime wave of a massive scale; and that by rights they should be awarded compensation. We concede the facts presented by the prosecution. My clients admit to transferring themselves to this country without invitation or permission. Our case relies on facts which they have found it convenient to omit.

I must point out that U.S. law does not absolutely prohibit any specific action. Even homicide is permitted if it is committed in defense of someone’s life or liberty. It might even be considered heroic. Any determination of guilt must therefore begin by establishing motive.

The scene of the crimeMy clients’ communities of origin were battered, directly or indirectly, by the devastating force of Hurricane NAFTA. This economic storm was as destructive as any natural disaster. Unlike them, however, it was deliberately contrived and, once set in motion, it has no end. Negotiated by corporate lawyers wrapped in flags, this “treaty” picked the locks on Mexico’s marketplaces so they could be drowned in cheap food imports and low-cost manufactures; it erased the prohibitions on concentrated land ownership that had been Zapata’s cardinal achievement; and facilitated the removal of profits from Mexico and of manufacturing jobs from the US.  It was a devastating success!

Subsidized U.S. corn poured into the villages, sweeping small farms away in its wake. An estimated one and a half million agricultural jobs were washed away, leaving displaced campesinos to stream to the cities and into the waiting jaws of the maquiladoras – high tech sweatshops surrounded by tall fences and toxic drainage ditches. Some made it to the US where they, too, were greeted with low pay and lousy conditions, enforced by the government-backed threat of deportation.

It may be impossible, your Honor, to describe desperation to people who have not known it. “Chronic hunger” takes on a different meaning when you read it in your child’s eyes. Some would call it a greater crime.

New industries did arise. Exporters of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and meth, sustained by endless US demand provided jobs aplenty. The 253,000 guns sold illegally to the cartels each year (Star-Tribune, March 19, 2013) keep thousands of U.S. dealers afloat (and background checks off the table). Too-big-to-jail global banks manage the cash flow while small drug users are fed to a mass incarceration industry which—among other services—erases their right to vote. I submit that these proceedings should more properly be heard before the International Criminal Court with my clients as star the witnesses, not the defendants. What’s that? Stricken from the record? I’m sorry, your Honor, I don’t know what came over me.

PrecedentAt this moment, well-fed politicians, in consultation with the agribusiness, hotel and assembly industries, are going all bipartisan on the issue of immigration. There are no room-cleaners or meatpackers at the negotiations. It brings to mind a precedent worthy of this court’s consideration. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was another brilliant Democratic/Republican bargain designed to keep everyone (of importance) happy. Thousands of agricultural workers were fleeing harsh working conditions, coming north in search of possibility. Law enforcement agencies and citizens were required under the law to turn in suspected illegals to be sent back into the gears of the tobacco and cotton industries. The human hungers and dreams deferred of millions were not given great weight. I would remind the jury that this calculation did not work out well.

Defending the homelandAs a final matter, I will address my clients’ alleged threat to the national security. The Washington lawyers for the plantation owners—I’m sorry, I meant to say the politicians of both major parties—agree that we must fortify our border. They say this is needed to prevent terrorists, smugglers and criminals from sneaking in. This is almost too easy. If the problem is as they describe it, any security policy intern could solve on her lunch break (and still have time for coffee).

The people you are worried about are slipping in with the migrants. You just need to do is separate them. For starters, stop treating everyone like they’re terrorists. Allow the unrestricted movement of humans across the borders to find work or visit family whenever they wish. In one stroke you have deprived the criminals of the river in which they hide. Now only ne’er-do-wells will be sneaking through the desert and across the river. Everyone else will be happily pulling out their IDs at the ports of entry.

Concluding argumentGranted, this would produce other consequences. We could eliminate most of Homeland Security’s budget, for one. Immigrants would not have to bring their entire families in because they’d be permitted to visit freely. Wages would equalize—like warm and cold water when they’re allowed to mix. Terrorizing immigrants could no longer be used to keep all of our wages down. The immigration detention gulag could be dismantled. Tearing families apart would no longer be a career path.

What make such ideas unthinkable are the vast profits derived from maintaining walls of concrete, barbed wire and fear.

Members of the jury. The most serious issues we face today are not the product of systems that are broken or problems that are unsolvable. Rather, they are systems that are crooked and problems that are profitable. In fact I fear that I have been wasting your time in this stuffy court room. Your time and mine would be more productively spent in the fresh air and sunlight of our communities. Only the time-tested traditions of organizing, mobilizing and bridge-building can render the verdicts which history demands of you. It’s time to tear down those walls!

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