I loved the title of this article. The author is Peter Rachleff, a Professor of History at Macalester College in St. Paul, and a specialist in labor and immigration history. I am not suggesting that we become uncaring to who is in our country, I believe we need to know, but we will have to become innovative and foward thinking if we want to find reasonable, humane, and fiscally sound solutions to comprehensive immigration reform.

In April 2006, hundreds of thousands of immigrant rights protestors marched in cities across the United States. They countered prolonged debates about the pros and cons of comprehensive immigration reform with a short but sweet affirmation, scrawled on placards: “No Human Being Is Illegal.” Their direct assertion challenged the deeply entrenched practices of our government and a deep wellspring of racism in our culture. Their actions also evoked traditions of protest, organization, and resistance.

Since the days of slavery – well before the establishment of the United States itself – the government, buttressed by popular culture, included some residents as citizens and excluded others as outsiders, as what historian Mae Ngai has called “impossible subjects.” Not only were slaves defined as outside the political and social community, but freed slaves and their children were typically excluded from citizenship. The federal constitution counted slaves as three-fifths of a person. The Naturalization Act of 1790 offered citizenship to “free white persons.” The Alien Act of 1798 authorized the president to order the deportation of any alien “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States” during peacetime. Once the government began to regulate immigration, argues Professor Ngai, it had begun to create the “illegal” alien.

Race was the central criterion by which such decisions would be made, and thinking about race was shaped by popular prejudices, beliefs, and passions. A dual process cast the racially different as “other,” while securing a place on the inside for all of those accorded “white” status. The outsiders were vulnerable to the worst forms of economic exploitation, from slavery and servitude to sweatshops, in the most dangerous conditions at the lowest wages. Yet they enriched their employers. Just a step above these outsiders on the economic ladder, from their own position of insecurity, simultaneously threatened by the wealth and power of those above them and the lack of power manifested by those below them on the socio-economic ladder, working class whites struggled to hold on to what status and privilege they had. They practiced discrimination and even mob justice at times, and they sought laws, court orders, and enforcement from the state to shield them from competition with the outsiders. And hence a pattern took shape which would be seared into the American body politic. When insecurity spread among working class whites and popular discontent threatened to swell, the elite and the state responded by scapegoating and exorcising “the other,” both people of color and immigrants.

This pattern has dominated our society since its founding to the present day. When the industrial revolution undermined the independence of white artisans in the first half of the 19th century, they began to organize unions and independent political parties. But one state after another revised its voting qualifications from property ownership to whiteness and maleness and the discontent subsided. The deep depression of the 1870s and the political turmoil it occasioned led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first law which proscribed a particular race. Amidst the economic and political turbulence after World War I, Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, the nation’s first comprehensive immigration restriction law. It established numerical quotas on immigration and a racial and national hierarchy that favored northern and western Europeans over southern, central, and eastern Europeans, most of whom at that time were not considered to be “white.” An enforcement bureaucracy blossomed, attentive not only to borders and ports, but also to cities, fields, factories, and mines throughout the country.

Ironically, the post-1965 era also marked the transformation of the global and American economies into the turbulence generated by neoliberalism and free market economics.

The very same economic shifts were sweeping the U.S. domestic economy, destabilizing manufacturing and undermining the economic security of American workers. They feared losing their jobs, while they were becoming increasingly aware of the presence of new non-white immigrants in their communities, many of whom were willing to work for longer hours and less pay than they were. Politicians, demagogues, radio talk show hosts, and the like found this to be fertile ground for the replaying of that historical nativist script. Scapegoating immigrants, especially non-white immigrants, was a path to fame, fortune, and political power.

23 Thoughts to ““No Human is Illegal””

  1. Elvis

    reasonable, humane and fiscally sound methods exist already, they just have to be enforced. Honestly Elena, do you really think we need an amnesty? That’s what you are getting at right? look what the amnesty for the salvadorans got us, MS-13 and then some.

  2. Elena

    Amnesty is a twisted code word, meant to divide people on this issue Elvis. I am wondering what you think of the article I posted?

  3. […] “No Human is Illegal” on the article by Peter Rachleff at Anti-BVBL. […]

  4. Elvis

    i’m sure the article has some basis in fact, I’m still wondering why they have to go back to the 1700’s though, different situation and different times. Probably the most important times to look at are the last 30 years. That’s when things really started happening on the immigration side. I think people in this country are mad. mad about the immigration situation and mad about seeing people murdered on TV by illegal aliens. the rapes and attempted rapes around here (along with the murders) and recent murders in san francisco dont do anything to make people want a workable solution, it makes people want them out of here (along with any “peaceful” ones they brought with them). I mean you cannot have your cake and eat it too, if the good go with the bad I’m fine with that. to amplify my post above, had an illegal alien in my office about two months ago wanting services from me (I dont discriminate by the way) and I asked him flat out if they gave full amnesty would he become an american citizen and he said “why would I if they granted amnesty?” that’s the mentality out there. for everyone one of them that says they want american citizenship, there are thousands that do not. The problem is separating the ones from the thousands.

  5. Robb Pearson

    On 7. August 2008, 8:13, Elvis stated:

    Honestly Elena, do you really think we need an amnesty? That’s what you are getting at right? look what the amnesty for the salvadorans got us, MS-13 and then some.

    Amnesty is a good thing. But I would like to know, Elvis, what your objection(s) is(are) to amnesty.

    As to MS-13, no matter how hard you may try its existence cannot possibly be attributed to “amnesty”, or even “illegal immigration”. For you to advance such a notion is not only intellectually dishonest, but is foolish beyond measure. MS-13 is a gang whose presence represents barely a fraction of the Hispanic/Latino population of immigrating people (MS-13 has only 6,000 to 10,000 members in the US, according to FBI statistics), nor is MS-13 representative of the decent and inoffensive values of America’s Hispanic/Latino population overall.

    Though again, Elvis, your racism toward Hispanics and Latinos is painfully obvious. When the topic of amnesty came up, you couldn’t help yourself but to mention MS-13 (a gang whose members are of Hispanic/Latino heritage) as a means of attempting to demonstrate how amnesty would give rise to crime by Hispanics/Latinos. Your racist vision, which is based upon irrational fear, is this: immigrant = Hispanic/Latino = criminal. And that vision permits you to dehumanize an entire race of human beings. And to do so is simply evil.

  6. Robb Pearson

    Elena, interesting article. Its theme is quite simple: US policy is responsible for creating (or at the very least perpetuating) a culture of racist and anti-immigrant sentiment. A large segment of American culture — particulary Americans given to patrio-nationalistic devotion — has historically taken peculiar pleasure in scapegoating the weak, defenseless, and marginalized in society. We completely subjugated the indigenous natives on this continent. We dehumanized Africans during the slave-trade, after Reconstruction, and kept their Americanized descendants under boot and fist throughout the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. We did it to the Chinese in the 1880’s and into the 1920’s. And the latest race targeted for diminishment is Hispanics and Latinos, and that began in the eighties and continues to today.

    Where social policy is concerned, Elvis makes a point that when a crime is committed by an individual of a certain race, many people don’t care about a solution to the individual crime or seeking authentic justice, they simply want the entire race ejected. They blame (or scapegoat) the entire race, not the individual, and feel that to eject the entire race is to solve the crime issue.

    Of course, that’s an erroneous, if not blatantly immoral, position. Neither race nor policy is at the heart of the issue of crime. For example, there are those who protest “sanctuary cities” and say “oh, if these people weren’t here they wouldn’t have committed any crime.” Such a statement is rather empty by mere virtue of it being an obvious truism immune from refutation. But when the logic of such an argument is reduced, it fails. And that reduction results in “if these people weren’t born [i.e., if they were never here to begin with] they wouldn’t have committed any crime.”

    The ultimate implications are clear.

    And my point is this: the “anti-illegal immigration” lobby and its adherents, by and large, approach the issue of immigration with fear, not with a sense for authentic human justice. That is why racism is rampant in a vast portion of the “anti-illegal immigration” lobby, and why people with preexisting racist sentiments are attracted to it. Having said that, I don’t support much of the “pro-immigrant” lobby either. Both sides, inasmuch as politics informs their approach, miss the point entirely. The seeking of human justice must be done for its own sake, not for the purpose of achieving political superiority or dominance on an issue.

  7. Elena

    Do you see how you are being brainwashed to believe that illegal=latino, that illegal connotes the idea that all people are “criminals” and being criminal connotes the impression that one is deviant? Take a moment do a little soul searching, you may not like what you see Elvis. I don’t “know” you, and even though you have been cruel in your words to me, I don’t believe you have evil in your heart, I think you are just easily misled. It’s never too late to have a change of heart, Robb is the perfect example of that each time he posts, I appreciate his indepth commentary.

  8. NotGregLetiecq

    After reading that incredible article, and then reading “Tickle Me Elvis” rant and rave about immigration in the past 30 years (since people of color have been coming here in larger numbers) is quite eye opening.

    Within the context of our shameful history with regard to new immigrants of all races, and also native peoples, Elvis seems almost like a relic from darker days.

    And then sadly we are reminded that racists can always be motivated to join and perhaps swamp our democracy, all they need is an invitation.

    Sadly, some no-good politicians and lobbyists decided Prince William County was just the place for such an invitation….

  9. Just Cause

    All accusations aside, here is why I flip flop on as far as amnesty is concerned:

    Doesn’t it kinda ‘reward” those that have broken the law?

    Encourage MORE illegals to cross the boarder?

    I have heard people make comments that illegals do the jobs most Americans wont do, how will the wages ever increase then? Won’t that put a BIGGER strain on public services and Our taxes?

  10. NotGregLetiecq

    Just Cause, I used to be of that mind until I researched just who it was that was making that argument….

  11. Moon-howler

    Elvis, I can’t imagine what services an illegal immigrant would want you to perform for him or her, but if you say so. Care to enlighten us? Did the person you were talking to know what you were saying about amnesty? I guess the black velvet spin that ‘illegals’ don’t speak or understand English probably wan’t the truth?

    Any penalty imposed on an illegal immigrant when changing status would make the term ‘amnesty’ not true. It would negate its meaning. Frankly, unless the government comes up with a plan that says ok, everyone here who is illegal is now legal, then we aren’t talking about amnesty and I simply will not go along with conversations that use it. What would consititute non-amnesty? Shooting people? Giving up their first born? a sacrificial pound of flesh? It is a a freaking buzz word.

    The Immigration Reform bill of last summer had all sorts of conditions for changing from illegal to legal status. It wasn’t cheap and it wasn’t easy. A loud continguency of people hollored louder than the rest of us who thought the bill wasn’t perfect but a starting place, and we are right back where we started. Nothing has been done.

    And Elvis, Elena has been pretty darn kind to you, as has Alanna. Has it occurred to you that you owe them an apology? I think it is time to say those words.

  12. Just Cause

    NGL- I have no idea what your trying to say..but are you under the impression that Amnesty will provide the exact opposite? Its not an argument, its a fact of what people, including myself, are thinking……What facts did you research to change your mindset?
    Thats what people need to hear and need to know. We can scream racist and racist acts all day long, I am not racist, I am more a realist and these are my concerns……if you have the answers, Please please share….

  13. NotGregLetiecq

    I know you’re not a racist Just Cause. I hope you didn’t think I was saying that.

    I’m just saying if you look under the surface, every “study” you find saying that having our workforce and our economy continue to grow is a BAD thing is underwritten by the same lobbying firm. You can trace them ALL back to this one group called Federation For Immigration Reform. There’s this graphic I saw FAIR Family Tree. I’ve read tons of stuff and gone to lectures, but this is one thing I found quickly just now:


    I know, the next thing to say is “them folks is liars!” about Southern Poverty Law Center or whoever contradicts this gigantic network of lobbyists talking hatefully on the news. They have media people working 24-7 to dominate the news. Lou Dobbs puts their talking points on as if it is fact almost on a nightly basis. And many other TV and radio shows do the same. But that doesn’t mean they’re right.

    The economy will continue to grow whether they like it or not, IF we don’t suffer from a labor shortage either by “sending them all back” or by allowing the current immigration problem to continue as the Baby Boomers retire. See, we don’t have enough workers RIGHT NOW to feed our economy, and we REALLY won’t have enough 10 years from now without the help of immigrants in great numbers to replace the retiring Baby Booomers in the work force and to allow new economic engines to start up.

    Basically, you have to accept the U.S. economy is GROWING, and to grow we need more workers. And we want it to grow. But to get more workers we have to fix our immigration laws, and we have to accept the fact that some of them, or even most of them, will not be from the countries in Western Europe we used to favor by law (see the article above).

    I’m sure you’re not a racist Just Cause. But the people who founded the national lobbying organization (we call it the Anti-immigrant Lobby) that puts out the other argument, well, they have a pretty checkered past with white supremacy ties via funding.

    Their argument, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, is that there is a finite limit to our land, our resources, available jobs, tax revenue, and all these economic things that are actually growing all the time. They say we should limit ALL immigration to save us from a big disaster of overpopulation.

    As the article states, lobbyists such as these have always tried to turn people against each other, make the people on the bottom hate the other people who have just arrived and are trying to work their way up.

    If the trickle down economics people can make the claim that the best thing for America is that corporations grow and keep growing and keep making larger profits, WHY CAN’T THEY ALSO EXPLAIN that it’s good when the economy in general grows too?

    A massive labor shortage would be a bad thing, most people can agree. The argument that our economy won’t grow is silly. But the argument that there isn’t enough to go around and we’d better kick “those people” out of here is as old as time. AND it works every time, all you need is leaders and opinion makers to stoke the flames. And unfortunately we’ve got that in Prince William County in spades….

  14. Just Cause

    I guess its soo hard to see the big picture because the economy is in a bad place right now. With the forclosed homes, the business’s that are closing or cutting jobs, Gas increase…heck…even the cost of food..

    It seems we have so much of a demand and not enough supply.

  15. DB

    I am not opposed to the notion of amnesty, but I wonder as to how it could be done. If the US decided to one day give amnesty, how on earth would the gov’t be able to handle 20 million amnesty applications? Can you imagine the backlog? Would it even be feasible? Ack!

  16. Elvis

    oh sure moon….

    nice spin, you only have to open your eyes but apparently you fail to want too. have you looked at the last amnesty that was granted for salvadorans? how many of those decided to take american citizenship? you are correct however, it’s not cheap and it should not be. there should be a financial amount attached, american citizenship should be prized upon all others..I’m pretty damn proud of being an american, son of an immigrant who immigrated here legally and waited an awfully long time with his family to get that way (as well as expending a great deal of money). and amnesty is not a buzzword, just google it. apparently you feel the best way is to give people a free ticket. that free ticket is why you have truckloads of MS-13 orbiting our neighborhoods killing people, you can thank the salvadoran amnesty for that one.

    Dont care if they dont have the money. it’s just a fact of life that some people have more and others have less. Cant make everyone a millionaire can we?

    I’m all for immigration reform, but I’m not for handing things out like candy to those who cannot demonstrate that they really want to have it. american citizenship should only be given out to people who can deserve it. now exactly what those criteria are I dont care, people much higher on the legal foodchain than I can determine that.

    as for an apology? for what? until I get a few I’m not dishing any out.

  17. Elvis

    oh forgot to add…for the person above who implied I’m a “racist” nice choice of words. again that’s the word that’s thrown out there when people dont get their way. everyones got to be a racist if they dont agree with you. some of you all need to get off your rocker and open your eyes. I’m surprised you didnt through in a spin about robes and a hood, or maybe even hitler or something. I’m not sure about you but I dont think the white robes go with my eyes, I’m more of a blue kinda guy and they dont make them in blue these days I heard.

  18. Slowpoke Rodriguez

    No Human is Illegal, but their PRESENCE here sure as hell is!!!

  19. Slowpoke Rodriguez

    Don’t be upset, Elvis, I’m a racist…..everyone and everything is racist. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go eat a baby.

  20. Moon-howler

    Elvis, You made some pretty nasty remarks here about people having nothing to do with their beliefs. I feel a gentleman would have not said them in the first place. However, once uttered, then an apology would be in order.

    Moving on, tell me what you think I did spin on? As I understood the 2007 Immigration Reform Act, illegal immigrants who were here would pay $5000 and they would have to go home every 2 years and come back. That doesn’t sound like amnesty to me. Amnesty doesn’t have penalties. Amnesty is forgiveness or a pardon without penalty.

    What would YOU have a person do to obtain legal residency?

    Salvadoreans did not get amnesty either. Many are here on a TPS visa which has to be renewed every 18 months. I am not sure how many times it can be renewed. I would think that if someone was here on a TPS and became an MS-13 member, I would think the TPS would be revoked. I don’t think citizenship was offered with the TSP. The T stands for temporary.

  21. elvis

    when I get apologies for what was said about me then I’ll with hold on the apologies, never stated I was a gentleman so I’ll leave that where it’s at as well.

    I’m all for sending illegals back and making sure they get in line with everyone else, if that’s done I am happy. I want criminals gone, totally. that’s a very tall order. I dont want MS-13 in my neighborhood but apparently you all (and I mean you) seem to be comfortable with them here. I have seen first hand the affects of these people here and it’s not pretty.

    I honestly hope that you can continue your mindless chatter and never have to experience crime committed by an illegal alien, crime that would not have happened if they were not here. I would pray to whatever god that this doesnt happen to you like it’s happened to many that I know and have known on a daily basis.

    it takes extraordinary circumstances to change many peoples minds/beliefs sometimes, I was a fence sitter for the longest time and didnt care about illegals as long as they mowed my grass right or left me alone. After several run-in’s with them I’ve changed my tune and I dont want my family growing up in a country where they have more chance to come across more criminals than they should. I’m about reducing odds, not eliminating them. Removing illegal aliens reduce the odds for sure.

  22. Red Dawn


    “it takes extraordinary circumstances to change many peoples minds/beliefs sometimes, I was a fence sitter for the longest time and didnt care about illegals as long as they mowed my grass right or left me alone. After several run-in’s with them I’ve changed my tune and I dont want my family growing up in a country where they have more chance to come across more criminals than they should. I’m about reducing odds, not eliminating them. Removing illegal aliens reduce the odds for sure.”

    I agree with all of your post but this stand out and I want to comment on.
    I know I can relate, just as many here can.
    I just think that EVERYONE needs to wake up, look at the bigger picture and ASK what are we really fighting for when we all admit that it was the inaction of our Fed Gov to do something about it. We are all talking in one form or another of WHO is running for president and how more than likely they will give amnesty ( that IS and WILL always be debated)

    We are ALL arguing for the same cause but the wrong FOCUS. We need to ask why here why now ( sound familiar?, lol)

    the word DISTRACTION comes to mind as I HAVE and CONTINUE to look for solutions….

  23. Red Dawn

    I just INVITE and ask that everyone take some time out and review/ visit Awcheney’s blog. She has done a great deal of research that really demands attention and RESPECT- Read and see if you can debate or learn something new/pieces of the puzzle 🙂


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