On Underground Railroads, Fugitive Slave Laws, and Deportation

By Dan Cadman on February 5, 2016

The deeply disturbing series of events leading to lead contamination of public water sources in Flint, Mich., has been a major source of news in recent weeks.

The story took an odd turn when it was raised by Maria Hinojosa, NPR voice and host of the MSNBC show "Latino USA". Hinojosa alleged that illegal aliens in Flint were not availing themselves of untainted water resources available to them because they were not opening the door, in fear of raids by federal agents. I know of no empirical data to support the assertion. She apparently believes the basis for this is the recent announcement by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson that there would be targeted operations against aliens who have been ordered deported, but refused to report for removal, choosing instead to abscond.

But linking such operations to nationwide fear is absurd, given both their limited scope and the results to date: 121 apprehensions total, out of a potential of tens of thousands, even among the limited announced targets — and many of those immediately received stays of removal from the Board of Immigration Appeals. There is every reason to think, in fact, that the so-called raids were a political exercise (see here and here ). To suggest a panic has ensued among the 11 or 12 million aliens illegally present as the result of these raids is either to seriously underestimate their intellect and political savvy, or to engage in bombast and bloviation sufficient to fill a zeppelin, or both.

But then Hinojosa took it further by a bizarre verbal free-associational stream of consciousness on the word "underground", concluding that movement of illegal aliens into the country apparently represents the modern equivalent of the Underground Railroad of pre-abolition/pre-Emancipation Proclamation renown.

The Underground Railroad! Really? If Hinojosa's analogy had even a scintilla of honesty or accuracy about it, then by extension alien smugglers and human traffickers would stand on the same moral footing as Harriet Tubman, a former slave and heroine of that railroad. Does anyone believe or accept that premise? I sincerely hope not. I don't.

Hinojosa's guest, Melissa Harris-Perry, a host in her own right of another MSNBC show ("The Melissa Harris-Perry Show") took the analogy even further down the rabbit hole of unreality when she compared deportation to "fugitive slave laws".

Putting aside the moral impropriety of the comparison, such outrageously inapt, and inept, analogies overlook notions of national sovereignty and the importance of the rule of law, both of which are universally recognized international precepts even, perhaps especially, in the area of migration.

This isn't the first time that the phenomenon of illegal immigration and alien smuggling has been compared to the American civil rights movement. The U.S. Civil Rights Commission did the same in a thoroughly disreputable report issued last year having to do with immigration detention.

I admit to my befuddlement. How can one possibly make such a comparison between aliens who willingly "flee" to the United States to seek better lives, and slaves who were forcibly ripped from homes and family to be placed into bondage on a different continent? It seems to me to be so far beyond the pale of acceptable analogy as to be reprehensible. Yet I do not hear voices of outrage from the black community.

This strikes me as doubly odd because the presence of a huge, generally unskilled class of aliens working illegally in the United States depresses wages and make the lives of those on the bottom end of our economic ladder — often, African-Americans and other people of color — much more difficult.

What's more, the incredible amounts of money that these aliens send home as remittances act as a safety valve that ensures the status quo of ineffectual governments, and the continued existence in power of the entrenched kleptocracies that drove them northward to begin with, because the remittances alleviate the pressure to change the abysmal social and economic conditions that make bettering life for the average person nearly impossible. (See here, here, and here.)

Who, in the long run, is served by such an arrangement? Nobody.