A day without immigrants makes people think about a day without police officers

February 17, 2017

activism / politics

I saw a person post something about the economic impact of immigrants in support of the Day Without Immigrants protests. It was capitalism: immigrants put a lot of money into the economy and we’d be kind of screwed without them. This is documentedly true, of course.

While I’m more interested in the value of immigrants beyond their utility to capitalism, I noticed that someone dove into the comments to ask what it would be like to have a day without police officers. It was all about “illegals” who commit crimes.

I say those things to give a little context. I’ve written here before about my view that policing and prisons should be abolished. So obviously we’d have a lot of days without police officers. For the sake of thought, I’d like to examine what that would be like.

In the abolition framework, there is never a situation in which we get rid of police and prisons with no preparation. All advocates of this position realize that we have to journey in that direction. We have to make it so that these things are not necessary. That means a lot of things. The main thing it requires is finding alternative ways to handle the things that police and prisons handle. Many of these alternatives already exist.

For example, we know that caring for people with mental illness, or who are experiencing homelenessness, can be done without involving the prison industrial complex because it used to be done that way. This can instantly be applied to many other issues that we often refer to as social service issues, in which funding has been intentionally diverted from social services to policing over the course of decades. It could be reversed.

The same is true for many other issues. It is true for the drug war which occupies much of the work of the prison industrial complex. This is why advocates seek decriminalization. It is true for domestic violence work: the engagement of the prison industrial complex with domestic violence is documentedly ineffective at helping victims, whether their victimization is unreported, lost in the system, or is itself criminalized. This is why advocates seek other ways of siding with victims.

All of this is why advocates seek other ways of doing justice in a society. They advocate for restorative justice practices because that is a different way of dealing with harm. We already know that what we have doesn’t work, so we could try other things.

I will admit that there are issues where we don’t currently have replacements for the work of police. These aren’t unsolvable issues, but in my view the advocacy has sought to work on issues like the ones above because we know these are valid alternatives with vast potential to get us toward a society that doesn’t need these things.

For the sake of thought, I’d like to also look at immigration from the same perspective. Not because I want immigration to go away like I want policing and prisons to go away, but because “a day without ____” is a complicated thing. What would it actually take to have a day without immigrants?

In the United States, we could create a society that doesn’t need immigrants just like we could create a society that doesn’t need policing and prisons. I don’t want to live in a society that doesn’t have immigrants, but a society that doesn’t need them is a different thing.

If we had that society, we would have revolutionized our foreign policy, especially as it relates to the countries from which most immigrants come. Our policies that relate to Mexico, for example, among which are the drug war, agriculture, and trade, and also the legacy of our imperialism all over Latin America, screw over the entire country (and all the other countries south of us) in many ways.

These policies make it difficult for people to survive in their home countries, whether it’s because of violence, poverty, or something else. These environments cause them to make the difficult decision to come to the States, or to send their children here. It’s not because they want to leave their homes. It’s because their homes are unlivable, and the United States is directly or indirectly responsible for much of this.

To be clear, I support the change of these policies. I don’t want people to feel like they have to leave their homes to be safe. I don’t want them to make anguished decisions between staying in dangerous and disadvantaged places or sending their children on dangerous journeys where they might die, or be detained at the border in private prisons, or be sent back on the same dangerous journey. These things are evil. I want us to welcome people who would like to be part of our communities, for whatever reason.

These changes would arguably mostly change immigration from Latin American countries. But there’s no reason we couldn’t change our (primarily military) policies toward Middle Eastern countries as well. We don’t need to be creating refugees either. We don’t need to destabilize regions, either by bombing all the countries in them or by political work for our own benefit. None of these things have to happen.

I support this as well. I don’t want us to create refugees, either directly or indirectly. I want us to welcome them into our communities, whatever their country of origin, but not because we caused their status.

This is the thing, though: we can have a society that doesn’t need police and prisons, and we can also have a society that doesn’t create immigrants and refugees through bad policies. Neither of these things can happen in one day, but they can happen.