Detroit May Day, 2007 speakers' stage in Clark Park on the southwest side of the city. PANW editor, Abayomi Azikiwe, is standing fifth from the left on the stage.
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The Detroit News, Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Deny licenses for illegal immigrants?
Legal opinion won't help workers who want a better life and fuel economy
by Jose Cuello
The latest eruption of anti-immigrant politics in state government is Attorney General Mike Cox's formal opinion that undocumented immigrant residents of the state cannot be issued driver's licenses.
Strictly speaking, Cox's opinion is legally correct. No matter how long they live here, workers and families who enter the country without valid documentation cannot claim legal permanent residence in Michigan, a requirement for obtaining a driver's license.
My point is that legally correct measures can make for bad laws if we examine their impact on society. The implementation of the Cox directive will create more dangerous conditions on Michigan roads and cost taxpayers whatever it takes to enforce the new measure.
Cox's inhumane directive will not solve either our "illegal" or "immigrant" problems. He targets people who are the human energy equivalent of oil. They do not have documents to work here because the federal government refuses to acknowledge that our nation cannot meet its labor needs with its own native work force. Sanctions against employers do not work because the immigrants fuel our industrial, agricultural and service sectors.
The overwhelming majority of undocumented workers and families are decent human beings, not criminals. They are not a threat to public safety or private property. They are just trying to drive to work and school. There is no need to further criminalize them. We need to treat them with more humanity until our federal labor and immigration policies deal with the reality of the global labor market.
Cox's directive is part of a politically motivated national movement spearheaded by opportunists who are appealing to the worst sentiments in our human nature to get our votes. It fits what social scientists have identified as a recurring historical pattern of American nativism, the targeting of foreigners as scapegoats for complicated economic and political problems that have no easy solution.
Last year, the Michigan Legislature tried to pass a package of bills that targeted both undocumented and documented immigrants for profiling and denial of services by state government. Congress has been deadlocked by the insistence of legislators who call for the impractical and inhumane punishment of more than 11 million people.
The citizens of Michigan need to stop our public representatives from promoting billy-club justice through bad laws that hurt people, including us. Let us actively oppose hate laws and directives that erode the moral authority of our legal system and encourage the vigilante in all of us.
Let us recover our American common sense, practicality and idealism.
Jose Cuello is associate professor of history and Chicano-Boricua Studies in Wayne State University in Detroit.