DMI Blog

Suman Raghunathan

American Apparel Scoops the Candidates on Immigration

I’ve been writing about how the Presidential candidates have been ducking jabs and punches on immigration (more specifically, immigration reform) as the caucus season heats up, and it looks like the fun is just never going to end.

That isn’t good news for the nation’s millions of immigrants and their families. The New York Times reports today on the result of these boxing moves: the nation’s undocumented immigrants, many of them homeowners, taxpayers, and often married to or the parents of American citizens, increasingly live in constant fear of deportation. The upshot is, local economies and communities are on their way to being hamstrung due to federal intransigence on immigration policy.

Most candidates on both sides of the partisan aisle have, at best, studiously avoided the issue; others have bought into the right’s anti-immigrant hysteria, with the (formerly) relatively moderate Mike Huckabee joining hands this week with my best friend, the anti-immigrant group Numbers USA (no worries, I’m kidding. I’m pretty sure I’d be Persona Non Grata with those folks) to sign a ‘No Amnesty’ petition that promises to deport every undocumented immigrant in the country. (Click here for more on Huckabee’s stances on immigration.)

In the meantime Mitt Romney, fresh off his Michigan caucus victory, continues his flip-flop dance (now there’s a You Tube video for you) on earned legalization and other immigration policies. (Click here and here for DMI’s analysis of Romney on immigration.) As recently as 2005, according to the New York Times, the former Massachusetts governor supported a path to earned legalization for the country’s undocumented immigrants; now, less than three years later, Romney fires salvos against McCain on Sunday morning talk shows for his support in the past of that dirty word: ‘amnesty’. Yup, the very same ‘amnesty’ or earned legalization that Romney thought was a good idea a few years ago.

Hillary, after first taking a fair, smart, and practical stand to support New York’s Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to issue driver’s licenses to the undocumented, promptly got going when the going got tough and changed her mind. John Edwards, populist friend of American workers, was quick to oppose driver’s licenses for the undocumented and has been suspiciously silent on safeguarding the rights of immigrant workers – who last time I checked, were people in America who happen to be, um, working. Obama continues to (very) quietly support earned legalization for the undocumented and driver’s licenses for the undocumented – but he also backs employer sanctions, shortsighted yet popular efforts to crack down on the very same undocumented folks’ employers. (Click here for more analysis of the Presidential candidates’ platforms on immigration policy)

Unfortunately, few people are actually talking about what to do with the nation’s 12 million undocumented folks (and I’m not talking about Mike Huckabee and his homeboys at NumbersUSA’s plan to deport all of’em – talk about impractical. Say bye-bye to millions of taxpayers and homeowners in the midst of foreclosure frenzy! Wahoo!).

American Apparel is one of the few who is.
That’s right. The Los Angeles-based retailer, which usually specializes in using soft-core porn to sell hipster clothing, was founded by Dov Charney, himself an immigrant from Canada. For the past couple of months, while evening talk show hosts shout till they’re blue in the face about the immigrant menace (while the US labor market pleads for 1.5 million immigrants annually to meet the needs of the low-skilled labor sector; immigrants are responsible for nearly a quarter of New York State’s economic activity; and nearly half of physicians and surgeons in New York City’s downstate suburbs was born outside the US, according to a Fiscal Policy Institute report released last fall), American Apparel has been talking about solutions.

Through a major public education and media advocacy campaign called ‘Legalize LA’, the trendy clothing company, the largest garment factory in the US, has been taking out ads in major national newspapers like The New York Times to make the case for legalizing the nation’s undocumented workers. (Click here to check out their ads – no worries, their usually racy look's been toned down to discuss this serious topic.) The purveyor of porn, which just went public last month, has been featuring profiles of its workers – all of them with legal status – and what they and their families bring to the company and the economy. Given American Apparel is based in Los Angeles, the city with the nation’s highest number of undocumented residents, the firm’s principled and practical stance on what to do with the nation’s undocumented folks – allow them to earn legal status so they can participate in the nation’s economy and exercise their rights as workers to the fullest - works for me.

At least someone’s talking about solutions.

Suman Raghunathan: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 10:54 AM, Jan 18, 2008 in Immigration
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