Any policy has to respect the values we hold as Americans: democracy, social responsibility, empathy and compassion, justice, fairness, mutual respect, freedom and autonomy, liberation, and protection. We need to be crafting policy based on our values and not off of fears.
What is the role of the United States in the world?
What is the role of the United States in relation to the rest of the world? Policing democracy and dictatorships? A beacon upon a hill? The enforcer of the unbridled market society? A war-bent empire?
We have to acknowledge that our patterns of consumption require that all of the world’s resources service us, both human and natural resources. We require a world where we can externalize the most negative costs away from our country. We acquire very cheap labor in foreign countries with lax labor laws, lax environmental protections, and corrupt governments. These workers not only lack the same level of material wealth that many people enjoy in the United States, but also lack basic protections of their human rights. Many of these workers are exposed to dangerous work conditions, inhumane work schedules, and exposure to toxic elements that can and do affect their health. Because these problems are mitigated, to a large extent, in the United States, these are major costs that our workers do not have to confront. It is a blessing for us here, but very much becomes a curse everywhere else. And we are all connected to it. We participate in this system and drive the demand for products.
Our economic system is one that allows and advocates for the free movement of goods and services, but fails to be a true “free” market by limiting the free movement of labor, in other words, workers. This alienates us in the United States from the plight of those in other countries.
At times, multinational corporations, that have more rights than people because they can cross international boundaries and aren’t subject to many national laws, use their power to coerce foreign governments to create policies that privilege the corporation over the people of that country. And still, other times, we use our military to force the opening of new markets by which our corporations can enter, destabilizing countries and regions in the name of the unbridled market society.
These larger social forces that our country pushes forward, disintegrates or weakens the social institutions and civil society of other nations. It means that their families are affected including the roles of the members of those families, economies and work, politics, laws, environment, even religion, and other social institutions are destabilized. Many people in these countries have connected the dots and point a finger at the United States and other Western powers, not out of envy, but as the root cause for many of the social problems they experience.
Indeed, some of our own policies, like NAFTA, and the subsidizing of our agricultural products, destabilized the corn market in Mexico. We dumped our cheap corn on their markets which put massive amounts of people out of work, moving them out of their own corn fields, and into the precarious workforce of cities. Many of these migrant laborers, without prospects for work, money, opportunities, and a social safety net, had no choice but be pushed out from where they lived and pulled towards markets that did offer those options. We have to understand that some of our policies which have helped bolster the profits of corporations and narrowly advantaged Americans with cheaper products, have destabilized other countries.
People have the right to live a life of dignity and stability. They should not experience want or fear. These are basic human rights all of us should be afforded no matter our nationality.
The pull factors towards the United States is that we do have modest protections for workers and general stability. There are opportunities, especially for cheap labor. There are businesses who employ immigrants, both documented and undocumented, because they tend to fill those positions when other Americans refuse to do so (and not just for economic reasons, but because these professions have been gendered, racialized, and subordinated to a lower status). There are economic incentives for businesses because by using cheap labor they are able to lower costs and hopefully bolster their profit margins. Our immigration system currently creates this pool of cheap labor by making it difficult to incorporate these workers into the rest of our society, thus leaving them in a subordinated status and easily exploitable as a cheap labor pool. With our immigration system, we have created a racial caste system based on cheap labor, tinged with racial superiority and enhanced with fear tactics propagated by state institutions. A lazy mind perceives difference, fears it, and seeks to eliminate what it erroneously sees as a threat. Our policy is mostly based on this premise of fear.
The general material comforts and luxuries that we have enjoyed to this point in the United States have had serious consequences around the world. But in order to satisfy the demands of our value system -- one based on compassion, empathy, fairness, justice, and social responsibility -- our lifestyles may have to change. They should change.
This is the situation, generally speaking of course.
A Values-Based Approach to Immigration
Based on the values of democracy, fairness, justice, social responsibility, compassion and empathy, we can evaluate our current immigration system and propose policies that more accurately align with our values.
Immediate documentation of all undocumented peoples. Prevents exploitation, allows legal work activity, extends protections, expands our economic base and our tax base, allows other cultures and ideas to permeate our society and add to the enlarging tapestry of the story of America.
Incorporation into our society. Our society isn’t static. It is constantly changing. The demographics of our country is different today than it was 50 years ago, 100 years ago, and 200 years ago. With each wave of immigration there has always been pushback from those who lived here, but as each wave integrated itself into America, so did the identity of our country and it became better.
We should be setting policies that allow quick integration that celebrates cultural diversity and creates an environment of cultural exchange. I am reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech in which he outlines the promise of democracy, envisioning a society where the color of skin, creed, and other identifiers do not prevent people from all being treated equally as Americans. An immigration system that divides America can never live up to the potential of Dr. King’s vision. This is why immigrants should not only learn the current norms and history of the United States, but that we take the time to learn about what each wave of new Americans will bring to our society to make it better. This is why I believe that a relatively quick path to citizenship must be realized. If immigrants are paying taxes, working all around us, creating communities, and adding to our society, they should become fully a part of that society.
Reforming Immigration Enforcement. Our internal security is important to live in safety. Anyone who commits heinous crimes should face the consequences for those crimes. ICE right now is another bureaucratic layer of government that has been weaponized to instill fear in immigrant communities and affect our society at large. Using fear as a weapon, and as public policy, is undemocratic, socially irresponsible, unjust, unfair, and cruel. It is not who we are as Americans.
The War on Drugs, the War on the Poor, and Arms and Human Trafficking. Another piece of this complex picture is how some politicians use immigrants as a scapegoat for the problem of drugs, poverty, weapons and human trafficking. As the Draconian barriers are torn down and immigrants are documented and legalized into the system, it will be easier to track people and allow them to leave the shadows of our society. This will leave them less vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking.
Our drug problem must first be revised to reflect its true nature as a public health crisis. This will greatly change the way we set policy. If we move to solve the root causes of why people use drugs, it will decrease demand for those drugs. If the status of illegality is removed and our country can regulate drugs, we can study them and make sure that we know where all drugs are.
I wish that no one had to use drugs, especially the ones that cause the most harm to the individual and their communities, but I know that treating the systemic root causes will be more effective than punishing individuals. Punitive measures focused solely on the the individual do not work. To counteract that means we provide a strong social safety net that helps to alleviate the pain and suffering from an imperfect market system. It will provide needed relief to the American people generally. And ultimately, it will help to keep our borders more secure.
Our borders should be protected from harm. We should protect our borders from other nation-states or nefarious crime groups that threaten our sovereignty. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of immigrants aren’t agents of rogue nations nor are they evil masterminds that want to take over the world. Then why do we punish the majority of immigrants and surrender our values of democracy?
DACA. Under these policy prescriptions, something like DACA would make sense, but I would argue that if these immigrant children have only known the United States as their home, and brought to this country through no fault of their own, then they are Americans. We should immediately extend citizenship to our fellow countrymen, not leave them in a confusing state of limbo. Dreamers are as American as you and I are, in every way except on paper. We must break the chains that keep them from experiencing the freedoms all Americans have the right to enjoy.
On a closing note, I do find the history and policies of immigration especially perplexing, considering I am Native American. Our lands were stolen. Treaties have been broken. We Natives were only granted citizenship in 1924 -- and in Utah, our citizenship was only recognized in 1962. We cannot discuss immigration and citizenship without acknowledging race, prejudice, and systems of oppression. Yet, I believe that my own Native people can experience prosperity the closer our nation generally lives up to the promise of democracy: That we fight for equality and equity. That we come to terms with our past and learn from it. That we are benevolent, compassionate and empathetic. That we protect our public resources so that we can enjoy successful individual lives and freedoms.
I am proud to be a part of an immigrant family. My wife is from Venezuela where she practically fled the authoritarian regime of Hugo Chávez. We have two beautiful daughters. My mother-in-law also lives with me. This is my family and we are productive, happy, Americans.
Immigration policy isn’t just a set of things we do to keep people out -- it is a complex, interrelated system that is also a reflection of our values. Right now we’re not living up to them. If elected to Congress, I want to move us towards those values and realize the promise of democracy.
For Media Inquiries
James in the News
Here you'll find articles about James' work in the community and news on his political endeavors.
Aug. 17, 2018 | KZMU Moab: News Earful with 3rd District Candidate James Singer
Aug. 16, 2018 | Moab Times-Independent: Meet James Singer
Aug. 16, 2018 | Moab Sun News: James Singer campaigns in Moab
Aug. 15, 2018 | KUER (NPR Affiliate): Navajo Candidate James Singer Highlights Bears Ears In Run For Congress
Aug. 1, 2018 | KBOO Portland: From Shrinking Bears Ears, Approving Pipelines, and Pocahontas: What Trump Means to Indian Country
Jul. 23, 2018 | Millennial Politics: These Three Indigenous Democratic Congressional Candidates Want to #AbolishICE
Jul. 16, 2018 | Two Broads Talking Politics: The Utah Democrats
Jul. 16, 2018 | Millennial Politics: James Singer: Indigenous Environmentalist Democratic Socialist for Congress in Utah's 3rd
Jul. 12, 2018 | Indian Country Today: A plan for Indian nations and democracy in the 21st century: Indian Country should have fair representation in Congress; that's the democratic promise.
Jun. 24, 2018 | Salt Lake Tribune: Commentary: As the Democrat in the race, I'd rather debate Curtis.
Apr. 9, 2018 | Salt Lake Tribune: Commentary: Sexual violence and harassment are men’s issues. And they’re leadership issues. Rep. John Curtis shows a lack of leadership on a serious issue.
Mar. 6, 2018 | Salt Lake Tribune: To ‘help forge our path of healing forward’ after Bears Ears, Utah tribal leaders are asking for a place on the governor’s cabinet.
Mar. 6, 2018 | KUER: Tribal Groups, House Dems Call For Creation Of Indian Affairs Cabinet Position
Oct. 9, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: American Indians gather to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Salt Lake City
Oct. 3, 2017 | City Weekly: SL Council Welcomes Indigenous Peoples Day
Sep. 18, 2017 | UPR: The Wellsville Sham Battle On Monday's Access Utah
Sep. 6, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: It’s 2017, but people in Utah still put on ‘redface’ for an inaccurate re-creation of an American Indian vs. Mormon battle
Jun. 8, 2017 | The Daily Universe: Navajo man seeks Senate diversity, challenges Hatch
May 5, 2017 | KUER: Navajo Candidate Latest In Young, Progressive Democrats Running For Congress
May 4, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: Navajo candidate announces bid as Democrat for Hatch's seat
Apr. 27, 2017 | Cache Valley Daily: Navajo candidate announces bid for U.S. Senate
Jan. 27, 2017 | City Weekly: "Make America Smart Again" Water protectors congregate to denounce Trump's DAPL reignition
Jan. 17, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: It's 'more than just clean water now': Utah activists protest Dakota Access Pipeline
Oct 31, 2016 | FOX 13: Police make several arrests in Dakota Access Pipeline protest in SLC
Oct. 12, 2015 | UPR: Cultural Appropriation on Monday's Access Utah