Wed 10 Dec 2008
Taking classes from all different disciplines this semester has made me realize how much overlap they all have. For instance, Sociology and Immigration Policy.
In 2006, six Hispanic day-labourers filed a lawsuit against the Village of Mamaroneck on the grounds that they were discriminated against based on the colour of their skin. In Mamaroneck, the day labourers congregated in a designated Day Labourer Site. In January (2006) Park View Condominiums began construction on a luxery apartment building across the street from the Site. An agent for the developer, John Lese, wrote several letters to the Village Trustees complaining about the presence of the men so closely to their building. In the letters, Lese complains heavily about their presence and the negative consequences of it on the housing. His letters led to the Village’s harassment and intimidation of the men, and eventually to the lawsuit.
In one letter, he refers to the day labourers as a “sociological problem.”
I thought it would be interesting to dissect this statement. Hispanic day labourers are a “sociological problem”? Here’s how.
A. Sociology is the study of human behaviour in groups.
Under the bigger umbrella of “people” there are classes (the social structure). Day labourers are very much at the bottom. Technically the wages of a day labourer isn’t so bad. However, they can go days without work and frequently get cheated out of the money they worked for. This causes them more economic pressure and can easily catapult them into the working poor. In addition, most day labourers are of Hispanic heritage. Whether they are documented in this country or not is a moot point. Some may not know much English. Regardless of their status or knowledge, many people tend to interpret a Hispanic male face seeking work on the street to mean: illegal. And, therefore, deviant. This creates the societal stereotype of the lawbreaking, English-challenged, poor, and affects how other people interact with them, and how they interact with others in the community.
B. Hegemony: Some people have more power than others.
Race and class play a large role in society. The statuses you hold determine the amount of power you have. The white police officers and lawmakers of Mamaroneck have a lot of power. The upper/middle class residents have less but still enough to complain about the labourers and see results. The labourers, however, have little to no power. Were it not for the organizations and individuals that picked up on their case, it is safe to say the men who sued would have continued to be criminalized, harassed, and economically hindered in the community.
Racialization causes people to make character assumptions about a race as a whole based on their physical characteristics. A majority of the publicity the immigration debate generates today portrays the “undocumented immigrant,” who seeks work illegally on the street, commits acts of deviance, and speaks little to no English. Although not all day labourers are undocumented, and not all are any more deviant than the average American, the stereotype sticks. Parents are afraid. Children are socialized by their parents to be afraid of and steer clear of the day labourers. And it cycles on, creating more and more stigma.
The Labeling Theory of Deviance applies to undocumented day labourers. They commit an initial deviant act (coming into the country illegally, and then seeking work there), which causes them to be labeled as deviant. Based on this act, a stigma is generated and they are believed to be prone to committing more and more deviant acts. Pedestrians complain of the men cat-calling and talking about them as they pass (especially women). During the lawsuit there were numerous times when the Village claimed the day labourers were involved in various crimes, including public urination. In reality, a large majority of these accusations were not backed up by the facts. Women walking by would hear the men talking in Spanish and assume it was about them. Others would make assumptions about the things the men “could do” that turned into blazing rumors. According to the lawsuit the only public urination complaint during the time they cited occurred blocks away from the Site, and at night–far after 11:30am, when the labourers are nearly all gone for the day.
((An example of how Deviance and Racialization work together in Immigration:
In Farmingdale, NY (not far from Mamaroneck) a male, Hispanic, undocumented immigrant was arrested for his involvement in a fatal drunk driving accident. During this time, Farmingdale was in the midst of a nasty Day Labourer/Immigration debate. When the man was arrested, the town used his case as an example of the negative consequences of allowing the undocumented to work and live in their community. Although the man was undocumented, his drunk driving had nothing to do with his status. However, many of Farmingdale’s residents took his deviant act and transferred it onto his race, seeing all Hispanics (especially Day Labourers) as undocumented, and all undocumented as heavily deviant.))
Lese used the term “sociological problem” to describe this loop of racialization, deviance, and power. The luxury condos are going to be bought by upper/middle class families, exactly the people who most easily racialize the day labourers. The same way you wouldn’t want to live next to a dump in the middle of the swamplands, these more powerful people don’t want to live next to the day labourer stomping grounds.
In the end, the court ruled that the men were indeed discriminated against based on the fact that they were Hispanic. They technically won the case, but society has yet to win their case on Immigration, whether it be pro or anti. Immigration does have very strong roots in sociology. If this stigmatizing loop continues, it may become even more of a “sociological problem” than it is now.