Last week, Russell Pearce, the former Arizona state senator responsible for SB 1070, took a dig at President Obama's immigration policy with some old school anti-immigrant rhetoric:
"The problem you have now is you have an anarchist in the White House," Pearce told The Arizona Republic. "This president is the problem, not the law. He's told (police) they can't enforce the laws on the books. He's asking them to ignore the oath of office. It's obvious this administration has an agenda, and that agenda is not good for America."
Politicians of both parties are quick to call names, but it's not every day that you hear the president accused of being an anarchist. That got me thinking: If Obama really was an anarchist (he's not), what kind of immigration policies would he follow?
I figured it would be best to start with a little background on anarchism.
In its most basic political sense, being an anarchist means you desire "a state of society without government or law."
While anarchism is often associated with violence — everything from bustin' up a Starbucks to the early 20th century assassination of an Italian monarch — many branches of the ideology espouse non-violence.
Speaking in a broad sense, anarchist philosophy is mostly about removing government and protecting worker rights, kind of a radical-left version of libertarianism.
So what's an anarchist's take on modern-day immigration policy? To find out, I spoke with Lucas Alvarez, a 23-year-old from Naples, Florida, and a member of the Workers Solidarity Alliance. He follows anarcho-syndicalism, a branch of the ideology that focuses on the labor movement and worker rights. He's also close with undocumented immigrants in his personal life.
"As far as I'm concerned it's pretty simple, we're opposed to borders or even nation states," he said. "Borders should be non-existent, people should be free to immigrate where they want to, when they want to."
So to say that Obama is an anarchist on immigration is just flat-out wrong (surprise). Immigration authorities deported a record number of people in 2011, Alvarez noted, and will likely reach a similar figure this year. While the president has offered an olive branch to undocumented young people through his deferred action program, which will allow qualifying DREAMers to live and work in the US, he's simultaneously expanded the Secure Communities program, which requires local law enforcement to share the fingerprints of arrestees with federal immigration authorities.
"If you look at his track record with deportations, he's far from an anarchist," Alvarez said. "I would be hard pressed to defend his actions on immigration."
Libertarian immigration policies, like those of Ron Paul, would actually align closer to an anarchist perspective than those of the president. During his unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Paul said that he opposed "barbed-wire fences and guns on our border" and slammed politicians who use immigrants as scapegoats for economic problems.
Oddly enough, anarchists were at the center of one of the country's first immigration policy debates a century ago. After a man professing anarchist beliefs assassinated President William McKinley in 1901, his successor, Theodore Roosevelt, paved the way for the country's first wholesale restrictionist immigration laws, a period I recently read about in Roger Daniels' Guarding the Golden Door.
In response to the assassination, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1903, a law meant to keep several classes of people, including anarchists, polygamists, and prostitutes, from immigrating to the US. The legislative body added several similar laws in the years that followed.
Writing about anarchism in 1908, Roosevelt certainly seemed to consider the ideology a serious threat, stating that "when compared with the suppression of anarchy, every other question sinks into insignificance." In practice, however, the laws of the era had almost no impact on anarchism in the US: For the first decade that it was in effect, only 15 alleged anarchists were denied entry to the country.
The panic over anarchists and foreign radicals in the lead up to the first World War did, however, present an opportunity for both the president and Congress to standardized federal immigration laws and add new restrictions. In 1917, with the US poised to enter the conflict in Europe, Congress imposed a literacy test for new immigrants, the first immigration restriction applying to all newcomers.
So by dubbing President Obama an anarchist, Pearce is tapping into the talking points that helped fuel restrictionist sentiment nearly a century ago. Of course, that may have been totally unintentional, as Workers Solidarity Alliance member Lucas Alvarez suggests:
"I think he's just trying to get some voters who want a tougher stance on immigrants and make Obama seem like some wild-haired hippie."