Editor’s note: Eloisa Aguirre, a mentee from Mendoza, contributed to this article
What can philosophical debates on the ethical issues surrounding the immigration and refugee crises offer to those most affected by these crises? How can human rights abuses in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities be understood in a larger context?
Dr. José Jorge Mendoza, assistant professor of philosophy at UW, uses critical concepts such as “crime” understand the border security industry, analyze the racialized construction of national identity, and work towards a world with open borders.
“A lot of debate is about values, not facts,” Mendoza said. “There is a limit to what the social sciences can do, to what political science can do, to what anthropologists can do. At some point the philosophers have to step in and we have to fight these ideas against ideas.
Mendoza, who published a article last month, commenting on Dr Serena Parekh’s 2020 book “No Refuge: Ethics and the Global Refugee Crisis”, noted that the issue of immigration has always been important to him as both of his parents were undocumented and he has grew up terrified of the US Border Patrol.
“When [I] started working on immigration… my [graduate] counselor told me not to work on this issue, because people are going to think you’re not a serious philosopher,” Mendoza said. “Parekh is one of those other people who also bucked the trend.”
Parekh’s work distinguishes between the “first refugee crisis”, which involves Western citizens’ perspectives on the arrival of large numbers of asylum seekers, and the “second refugee crisis”, which focuses on the crisis of the millions of refugees themselves.
Parekh points out that most refugees remain in camps or urban settlements in the Global South, with less than 10% seeking asylum in the West and less than 1% finding resettlement.
“It creates these terrible situations where [refugees are] just sitting in a camp and there’s no money to be made, [they] I can’t do anything, the food is not very good,” Mendoza said. “The truth is, nobody really talks about it.”
Mendoza explained that people working on refugee issues embrace the United Nations definition of a refugee, which he says is the narrowest possible definition, as a smaller pool is more attractive for aid. Furthermore, he added that the category must be expanded to include those forcibly displaced by climate change, economic unrest and other forces.
“Even though [the United States] decided they wanted to help economic or climate refugees or any other kind of refugees from Latin America, he should take responsibility for everything he did,” Mendoza said. “The United States has interfered in almost every country in Latin America [for the last] 150 some years.
Mendoza said that after the relatively recent creation of the US Border Patrol in 1924it steadily grew and provided Americans with middle-class taxpayer-funded jobs, which ironically led to many children of immigrants working as border agents.
He explained that when there is not enough war, arms manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon sell supplies for militarize borders not only to the government of the United States, but also to governments throughout Latin America. He stated in his article that smugglers profit from this industry alongside immigration officers.
“If for no other reason, I thought we should advocate for open borders, because that would eliminate the entire need for the border security industry,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza said the term “illegal” acts like a whistle for Latinx people. He explained that immigration laws in 1965 criminalized the movement of Mexican seasonal workers. He said it led to the 1975 United States v Brignoni-Ponce Supreme Court case, which ruled that a “Mexican appearance” can be used as a factor in the detention of people.
“As immigration laws change, some people are becoming the kind of people who are now white,” Mendoza said. “The Irish, for example, [and] The Italians, who are now white, for a while they weren’t white. And part of the reason is that you had laws sort of criminalizing their migration.
Mendoza said changing the world requires activism and everything he learned about activism he learned outside of college.
“[Veteran activists] taught me what to do when it comes to tear gas, but also how to build the networks,” Mendoza said. “A lot of it will be about working together in people-to-people relationships, finding ways to build solidarity, which is a lot harder than it looks.”
He said he remembers working in Costco warehouses and being tired in college, which influenced his own teaching and the design of his classes which try to accommodate the many things students may face.
“I was an activist for a long time and I think philosophy helped me understand why I thought what I thought,” Mendoza said. “If people thought philosophically about immigration, our world [would] be a much better place.
Mendoza will teach a Immigration Ethics Course this coming fall.
Contact contributing writer Vyom Raval at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @SemiVyom
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