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Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.
Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.
The fact is: such deportations are already happening, in record numbers. Experts are divided about what the impact of President Obama’s 2014 executive order will be. Will the granting of temporary status be outweighed by the increased enforcement measures?
In the meantime, families continue to live in fear, especially those with children.
When we deport their parents, we reinforce the rhetoric that “anchor babies” are a drain on the system by turning them into public charges. I have been thinking a lot about these left-behind children as my teaching at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and research on immigration intersects with their very real stories.
1.6 Million Kids
In September, five-year-old Sofía Cruz captured headlines and sympathy when she delivered a letter to Pope Francis pleading for comprehensive immigration reform.
Rewind five years. Then seven-year-old Daisy Cuevas stole hearts by telling Michelle Obama that “Barack Obama is taking away everybody who doesn’t have papers” and “my mom doesn’t have any.’ Her family then went into hiding.
Sofía’s and Daisy’s only crime is being born to parents who lack proper papers. That and being brown, or yellow.
In the span of eight years, our nation’s decision to deport 3,165,426 unauthorized immigrants has affected about 1,582,711 citizen-children. … Legislators who promote increased enforcement effectively increase family disruption and separation; citizen-children are collateral damage.”
Potentially as many citizen-children are living abroad in exile, as their parents grapple with taking them to countries where they have never set foot or leaving their children in the US.
Sammy is a teenager I recently met who was born and raised in the Southwest. His parents were living in the US, working and raising their children, until they were stopped for a traffic violation, or audited for taxes, or turned in by a teacher or medical provider, or any of the mundane ways that undocumented status gets uncovered.
Now Sammy is living with foster parents. They are kind and genuinely interested in his well-being. Sammy is doing his best to adjust to a new school and community. His parents communicate with him regularly, but they can’t be here to help him learn to drive, prepare for the SAT or nurse him through his first heartbreak.
In Loco Parentis
I am glad Sammy has someone in loco parentis – in place of a parent – to help him weather the normal teen dramas, and the exceptional challenges of his situation. But I also think we as a society are “loco” for refusing to fix an immigration system that makes so many parents unable to parent their own children.
The Economic Policy Institute’s Facts About Immigration and the U.S. Economy states:
“Immigrants have an outsized role in US economic output because they are disproportionately likely to be working and are concentrated among prime working ages. Indeed, despite being 13% of the population, immigrants comprise 16% of the labor force.”
In recognition of this reality and to create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, Congress introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, but failed to pass it.
As these studies show, we rely on immigrant labor to care for our children, elders and sick, but do not provide sufficient legal pathways for them to do this work, then vilify them for breaking the law and deport them. Many people have heard about the massive increase in deportations, but ignore them or convince themselves that they are necessary. The argument goes that these are criminals and potential terrorists, rather than our neighbors and our coworkers.
We are in a moment where we may be able to see these children, and their parents, as people and citizens, but we have had many of these moments and they have passed without action. It’s time now to move away from this crazy loco parentis.
I am teaching my “Sociology of Immigration” course again this semester and to reflect the importance of this issue within the public and political realms of U.S. society at the moment, below are some recently-released books that highlight the multidimensional and interrelated aspects of immigration to the U.S. these days. As always, a book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.
In 2010, the governor of Arizona signed a controversial immigration bill (SB 1070) that led to a news media frenzy, copycat bills in twenty-two states, and a U.S. Supreme Court battle that put Arizona at the cross-hairs of the immigration debate. Arizona Firestorm brings together well-respected experts from across the political spectrum to examine and contextualize the political, economic, historical, and legal issues prompted by this and other anti-Latino and anti-immigrant legislation and state actions. It also addresses the news media’s role in shaping immigration discourse in Arizona and around the globe. Arizona is a case study of the roots and impact of the 21st century immigration challenge. Arizona Firestorm will be of interest to scholars and students in communication, public policy, state politics, federalism, and anyone interested in immigration policy or Latino politics.
Education is a crucially important social institution, closely correlated with wealth, occupational prestige, psychological well-being, and health outcomes. Moreover, for children of immigrants – who account for almost one in four school-aged children in the U.S. – it is the primary means through which they become incorporated into American society. This insightful new book explores the educational outcomes of post-1965 immigrants and their children.
Tracing the historical context and key contemporary scholarship on immigration, the authors examine issues such as structural versus cultural theories of education stratification, the overlap of immigrant status with race and ethnicity, and the role of language in educational outcomes. Throughout, the authors pay attention to the great diversity among immigrants: some arrive with PhDs to work as research professors, while others arrive with a primary school education and no English skills to work as migrant laborers. As immigrants come from an ever-increasing array of races, ethnicities, and national origins, immigrant assimilation is more complex than ever before, and education is central to their adaptation to American society.
Widening global inequalities make it difficult for parents in developing nations to provide for their children, and both mothers and fathers often find that migration in search of higher wages is their only hope. Their dreams are straightforward: with more money, they can improve their children’s lives. But the reality of their experiences is often harsh, and structural barriers—particularly those rooted in immigration policies and gender inequities—prevent many from reaching their economic goals.
Sacrificing Families offers a first-hand look at Salvadoran transnational families, how the parents fare in the United States, and the experiences of the children back home. It captures the tragedy of these families’ daily living arrangements, but also delves deeper to expose the structural context that creates and sustains patterns of inequality in their well-being. What prevents these parents from migrating with their children? What are these families’ experiences with long-term separation? And why do some ultimately fare better than others?
As free trade agreements expand and nation-states open doors widely for products and profits while closing them tightly for refugees and migrants, these transnational families are not only becoming more common, but they are living through lengthier separations. Leisy Abrego gives voice to these immigrants and their families and documents the inequalities across their experiences.
The rapid rise in the proportion of foreign-born residents in the U.S. since the mid-1960s is one of the most important demographic events of the past fifty years. The increase in immigration, especially among the less-skilled and less-educated, has prompted fears that the newcomers may have depressed the wages and employment of the native-born, burdened state and local budgets, and slowed the U.S. economy as a whole.
Would the poverty rate be lower in the absence of immigration? How does the undocumented status of an increasing segment of the foreign-born population impact wages in the U.S.? In Immigration, Poverty and Socioeconomic Inequality, noted labor economists David Card and Steven Raphael and an interdisciplinary team of scholars provide a comprehensive assessment of the costs and benefits of the latest era of immigration to the U.S. Immigration, Poverty and Socioeconomic Inequality rigorously explores shifts in population trends, labor market competition, and socioeconomic segregation to investigate how the recent rise in immigration affects economic disadvantage in the U.S.
Immigration has long shaped US society in fundamental ways. With Latinos recently surpassing African Americans as the largest minority group in the U.S., attention has been focused on the important implications of immigration for the character and role of race in U.S. life, including patterns of racial inequality and racial identity.
This insightful new book offers a fresh perspective on immigration and its part in shaping the racial landscape of the US today. Moving away from one-dimensional views of this relationship, it emphasizes the dynamic and mutually formative interactions of race and immigration. Drawing on a wide range of studies, it explores key aspects of the immigrant experience, such as the history of immigration laws, the formation of immigrant occupational niches, and developments of immigrant identity and community. Specific topics covered include: the perceived crisis of unauthorized immigration; the growth of an immigrant rights movement; the role of immigrant labor in the elder care industry; the racial strategies of professional immigrants; and the formation of pan-ethnic Latino identities.
Immigrant rights activist Aviva Chomsky shows how “illegality” and “undocumentedness” are concepts that were created to exclude and exploit. With a focus on US policy, she probes how and why people, especially Mexican and Central Americans, have been assigned this status—and to what ends. Blending history with human drama, Chomsky explores what it means to be undocumented in a legal, social, economic, and historical context. She also unmasks how undocumented people live—how they work, what social services they’re eligible for, and how being undocumented affects the lives of children and families. Undocumented turns a fresh lens onto one of today’s most pressing debates.
As always, the start of the new semester has been quite busy and a little hectic. As a result and as my regular readers have probably noticed, I have not been able to write new posts as often as I would like. This spring semester, I am teaching my “Sociology of Immigration” course once again, so below are summaries of some newly-released books and recent news articles related to the issue of immigration to the U.S. As always, a book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.
This incisive book provides a succinct overview of the new academic field of citizenship and immigration, as well as presenting a fresh and original argument about changing citizenship in our contemporary human rights era. Instead of being nationally resilient or in “postnational” decline, citizenship in Western states has continued to evolve, converging on a liberal model of inclusive citizenship with diminished rights implications and increasingly universalistic identities.
This convergence is demonstrated through a sustained comparison of developments in North America, Western Europe and Australia. Topics covered in the book include: recent trends in nationality laws; what ethnic diversity does to the welfare state; the decline of multiculturalism accompanied by the continuing rise of antidiscrimination policies; and the new state campaigns to “upgrade” citizenship in the post-2001 period.
To the American public it’s a 2,000-mile-long project to keep illegal immigrants, narcotics, and terrorists on the other side of the U.S.–Mexico border. In the deserts of Arizona, it’s a “virtual fence” of high-tech electronic sensors, cameras, and radar. In some border stretches it’s a huge concrete-and-steel wall; in others it’s a series of solitary posts designed to stop drug runners; in still others it’s rusted barbed-wire cattle fences. For two-thirds of the international boundary it’s nonexistent. Just what is this entity known as “the fence”? And more important, is it working?
Through first-person interviews with defense contractors, border residents, American military, Minutemen, county officials, Customs and Border Protection agents, environmental activists, and others whose voices have never been heard, Robert Lee Maril examines the project’s human and financial costs. Along with Maril’s site visits, his rigorous analysis of government documents from 1999 to the present uncovers fiscal mismanagement by Congress, wasteful defense contracts, and unkept political promises. As drug violence mounts in border cities and increasing numbers of illegal migrants die from heat exhaustion in the Arizona desert, Maril argues how the fence may even be making an incendiary situation worse.
Avoiding preconceived conclusions, he proposes new public policies that take into consideration human issues, political negotiation, and the need for compromise. Maril’s lucid study shows the fence to be a symbol in concrete, steel, microchips, and fiber optics for the crucible of contemporary immigration policy, national security, and public safety.
Immigration Nation is a critical analysis of the human rights impact of US immigration policy. In the wake of September 11, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created to prevent terrorist attacks. The creation of DHS led to dramatic increases in immigration law enforcement raids, detentions and deportations have increased six-fold in the past decade. Immigration Nation considers the widespread impact of this new enforcement regime.
Immigration Nation explains how immigration policies in the U.S. have had negative consequences for citizens, families and communities. Even though family reunification is officially a core component of U.S. immigration policy, our policies often tear families apart. Despite the perception that immigration policy primarily affects immigrants, it frequently has devastating effects on citizens. The immigration policy debate is nearly always framed in terms of security and economic needs. In contrast, this book addresses the debate with the human rights of migrants and their families at the center of the analyses.
Today’s polarized debates over immigration revolve around a set of one-dimensional characters and unchallenged stereotypes. Yet the resulting policy prescriptions, not least of them Arizona’s draconian new law SB 1070, are dangerously real and profoundly counterproductive. A major new antidote to this trend, Living “Illegal” is an ambitious new account of the least understood and most relevant aspects of the American immigrant experience today. Based on years of research into the lives of ordinary migrants, Living “Illegal” offers richly textured stories of real people—working, building families, and enriching their communities even as the political climate grows more hostile.
Moving far beyond stock images and conventional explanations, Living “Illegal” challenges our assumptions about why immigrants come to the United States, where they settle, and how they have adapted to the often confusing patchwork of local immigration ordinances. This revealing narrative takes us into Southern churches (which have quietly emerged as the only organizations open to migrants), into the fields of Florida, onto the streets of major American cities during the historic immigrant rights marches of 2006, and back and forth across different national boundaries—from Brazil to Mexico and Guatemala.
A deeply humane book, Living “Illegal” will stand as an authoritative new guide to one of the most pressing issues of our time.
Do you have a relative or friend who would gladly wait on you, hand and foot, for a full month after you had a baby? How about someone to deliver a delicious, piping hot home-cooked meal, just like your mother’s, right to your front door after work? Do you know people you’d trust enough to give several hundred dollars a month to, with no receipt, on the simple promise that the accumulated wealth will come back to you a year later?
Not many of us can answer “yes” to these questions. But as award-winning journalist Claudia Kolker has discovered, each of these is one of a wide variety of cherished customs brought to the United States by immigrant groups, often adapted to American life by the second generation in a distinctive blending of old and new. Taken together, these extraordinary traditions may well contribute to what’s known as “the immigrant paradox,” the growing evidence that immigrants, even those from poor or violence-wracked countries, tend to be both physically and mentally healthier than most native-born Americans.
These customs are unfamiliar to most Americans, but they shouldn’t be. Honed over centuries, they provide ingenious solutions to daily challenges most of us face and provide both social support and comfort. They range from Vietnamese money clubs that help people save and Mexican cuarentenas—a forty-day period of rest for new mothers—to Korean afterschools that offer highly effective tutoring at low cost and Jamaican multigenerational households that help younger family members pay for college and, eventually, their own homes.
Fascinated by the success of immigrant friends, Claudia Kolker embarked on a journey to uncover how these customs are being carried on and adapted by the second and third generations, and how they can enrich all of our lives. In a beautifully written narrative, she takes readers into the living rooms, kitchens, and restaurants of immigrant families and neighborhoods all across the country, exploring the sociable street life of Chicago’s “Little Village,” a Mexican enclave with extraordinarily low rates of asthma and heart disease; the focused quiet of Korean afterschool tutoring centers; and the loving, controlled chaos of a Jamaican extended-family home.
She chronicles the quests of young Indian Americans to find spouses with the close guidance of their parents, revealing the benefits of “assisted marriage,” an American adaptation of arranged marriage. And she dives with gusto into some of the customs herself, experimenting to see how we might all fit them into our lives. She shows us the joy, and excitement, of savoring Vietnamese “monthly rice” meals delivered to her front door, hiring a tutor for her two young girls, and finding a powerful sense of community in a money-lending club she started with friends.
The Immigrant Advantage is an adventurous exploration of little-known traditional wisdom, and how in this nation of immigrants our lives can be enriched by the gifts of our newest arrivals.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick joins his counterparts in New York and Illinois in declining to participate in the controversial federal “Secure Communities” program that critics charge encourage police to round up anyone suspected of being undocumented.
“America’s red and blue states are increasingly going in exactly opposite directions on the issue of illegal immigration – a testament to how difficult finding middle ground has become on the federal level.”
“The extraordinary Mexican migration that delivered millions of illegal immigrants to the United States over the past 30 years has sputtered to a trickle, and research points to a surprising cause: unheralded changes in Mexico that have made staying home more attractive. A growing body of evidence suggests that a mix of developments — expanding economic and educational opportunities, rising border crime and shrinking families — are suppressing illegal traffic as much as economic slowdowns or immigrant crackdowns in the United States.”
“Huge increases in deportations of people after they were arrested for breaking traffic or immigration laws or driving drunk helped the Obama administration set a record last year for the number of criminal immigrants forced to leave the country, documents show. . . . The spike in the numbers of people deported for traffic offenses as well as a 78 percent increase in people deported for immigration-related offenses renewed skepticism about the administration’s claims that it is focusing on the most dangerous criminals.”
“In a spate of recent cases across the country, American citizens have been confined in local jails after federal immigration agents, acting on flawed information from Department of Homeland Security databases, instructed the police to hold them for investigation and possible deportation. Americans said their vehement protests that they were citizens went unheard by local police officers and jailers for days, with no communication with federal immigration agents to clarify the situation. Any case where an American is held, even briefly, for immigration investigation is a potential wrongful arrest because immigration agents lack legal authority to detain citizens.”
“The U.S. government said Thursday that [Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio] who called himself the toughest sheriff in America ran an office that has committed wide-ranging civil rights violations against Latinos, including a pattern of racial profiling and heavy-handed immigration patrols based on racially charged complaints. The U.S. Justice Department’s expert on measuring racial profiling called it the most egregious case he has seen, the department’s civil rights division chief told reporters.”
“What began as an effort by political opponents to block Alejandrina Cabrera from the ballot for a seat on the City Council has mushroomed into an uncomfortable discussion of just how fluent Arizona officeholders need to be. Like many other states, Arizona has long required politicians at all levels to speak, read and write English, but the law fails to spell out just what that means. Is grade-school knowledge enough? Must one speak flawlessly? Who is to decide?”
Federal prosecutors charge four East Haven CT police officers with systematically harassing, beating, and retaliating against Latinos in their town and people who spoke up for them. East Haven’s Police Chief is eventually forced to resign. When asked how he would support Latinos in his community in lights of these indictments, East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. answered, “I might have tacos when I go home.”
This is the second of my three-part list of the best documentaries that focus on immigration and are great choices for showing in high school and college immigration classes. This second part will focus specifically on the issue of unauthorized immigration. We all know that unauthorized immigration has become one of the most controversial, hotly-debated, and emotionally-charged issues in American society today. In that context, these documentaries highlight various sides of the debate and taken together, will hopefully provide a more comprehensive picture of this complicate and often contradictory issue.
Part 1 focused on the historical and global context of immigration and Part 3 will look at socioeconomic attainment, mobility, and assimilation. The following list is organized by topic and corresponds to the chronological order in which I discuss each topic in my “Sociology of Immigration” course. For each topic, I highlight the documentary that I tend to show the most often, followed by other videos that are good choices for that topic as well.
Unauthorized Immigration: The Basics
As the name implies, this section lays out the basic historical, political, and economic foundation and concepts that frame the contemporary nature of unauthorized immigration. I focus much of the discussion on such immigration from Mexico but also stress that much of the unauthorized immigrant population are people who had official permission to enter the U.S., and with that in mind, why we as a society focus such a disproportionate amount of attention on those from Mexico.
Farmingville: This video chronicles the events surrounding the influx of Mexican day laborers in the town of Farmingville, NY on Long Island. While the video is about 10 years old now, it still provides an excellent overview of the institutional factors that precipitated the arrival of so many day laborers, along with the individual-level tensions and hostilities that eventually resulted in the community.
In this section, I describe historical and contemporary examples of how immigrants from various backgrounds and countries have encountered nativism, xenophobia, and racism upon their arrival. At the same time, I also focus on how such hostility and tensions have been magnified in recent years against unauthorized immigrants and the racial/ethnic connotations behind them.
9500 Liberty: Produced by acclaimed filmmakers Eric Byler and Annabel Park, this documentary describes how Prince William County, Virginia became ground zero in the national debate over unauthorized immigration several years ago. Specifically and as a preview of Arizona’s SB1070, it describes how newly-elected officials passed a law requiring police officers to question anyone they have “probable cause” to suspect is an undocumented immigrant.
This section explores the various proposals, programs, and laws that attempt to address the unauthorized immigration issue. I cover the pros and cons of both the “enforcement only” and “comprehensive reform” approaches, as well as examining the variety of costs and benefits that unauthorized immigration have on American society and its economy.
“Immigration” episode of the reality TV show 30 Days (Season 2): Created by Morgan Spulock (the guy who made Supersize Me in which he only ate McDonalds fast food for 30 days), this particular episode follows the experiences of a conservative Cuban American who participates in the Minuteman vigilante border patrols. He then agrees to live with an unauthorized immigrant family for 30 days and in the process, learns more about the institutional and individual aspects of their lives. An extremely powerful portrayal that should be required viewing in all immigration courses.
This section highlights the immigration process and experiences of women, children, and families specifically. I examine the multi-level issues involved in transnational families where parents are separated from their children and the effects that workplace raids by Immigration Control and Enforcement agents have on unauthorized immigrant families.
Maid in America: This documentary follows the lives of three Latina domestic workers in the Los Angeles area. Through looking at their daily lives, we see how they balance the satisfaction of earning money for them and their families, versus the emotional toil of being separated from much of their family, including their young children.
As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them. A book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.
In addition to mentioning new book releases, I will periodically include links to recent news articles from around the internet that relate to the books’ topic as well, to give readers a wider exposure to the different dynamics involved. This time around, I highlight books, recent news stories, and internet links that focus on the ongoing effort to achieve meaningful immigration reform.
Help Support the DREAM Act
Introduced several years ago in a bipartisan effort between Senators Orin Hatch (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL), the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act would allow young immigrants without legal status who meet several strict qualifications to apply for citizenship by completing a college education or serving at least two years in the U.S. military.
Since its introduction, it has languished in the Senate as the ideological debate over unauthorized immigration continues to boil and churn. Last week, efforts to pass it as part of a Defense Appropriations bill failed. Nonetheless, you can still show your support for this bill that would benefit many deserving Americans by contacting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and your state’s Senators and asking them to support the bill by calling for an immediate vote as a stand-alone bill.
9500 Liberty Documentary to Air this Sunday
The much-anticipated and critically-acclaimed documentary 9500 Liberty (produced by notable Asian American filmmakers Eric Byler and Annabel Park) is scheduled to be shown on several channels of the MTV Network (MTV2, MTV U, and MTV Tr3s with Spanish subtitles) this Sunday, Sept. 26th at 8 PM ET/PT. Below is the synopsis from the documentary’s website and its trailer:
Prince William County, Virginia becomes ground zero in America’s explosive battle over immigration policy when elected officials adopt a law requiring police officers to question anyone they have “probable cause” to suspect is an undocumented immigrant.
9500 Liberty reveals the startling vulnerability of a local government, targeted by national anti-immigration networks using the Internet to frighten and intimidate lawmakers and citizens. Alarmed by a climate of fear and racial division, residents form a resistance using YouTube videos and virtual townhalls, setting up a real-life showdown in the seat of county government.
The devastating social and economic impact of the “Immigration Resolution” is felt in the lives of real people in homes and in local businesses. But the ferocious fight to adopt and then reverse this policy unfolds inside government chambers, on the streets, and on the Internet. 9500 Liberty provides a front row seat to all three battlegrounds.
Over the past four decades, the United States has experienced the largest influx of immigrants in its history. Not only has the ratio of European to non-European newcomers changed, but the numbers of recent arrivals from the Asian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, South America, and other regions are increasing.
In this timely study, a team of political scientists examines how the arrival of these newcomers has affected the efforts of long-standing U.S. minority groups — Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Pacific Americans — to gain equality through greater political representation and power. The authors predict that, for some time to come, the United States will function as a complex multiracial hierarchy, rather than as a genuine democracy.
Immigration has always caused immense public concern, especially when the perception is that immigrants are not assimilating into society they way they should, or perhaps the way they once did. But is this truly a modern phenomenon? In From Immigrants to Americans, Jacob Vigdor offers a direct comparison of the experiences of immigrants in the United States from the mid-19th century to the present day.
His conclusions are both unexpected and fascinating. From Immigrants to Americans is an important book for anyone interested in immigration, either the history or the modern implications, or who want to understand why today’s immigrants seem so different from previous generations of immigrants and how much they are the same.
One child in five in America is the child of immigrants, and their numbers increase each year. Very few will return to the country they barely remember. Who are they, and what America do they know?
Based on an extraordinary interdisciplinary study that followed 400 newly arrived children from the Caribbean, China, Central America, and Mexico for five years, this book provides a compelling account of the lives, dreams, and frustrations of these youngest immigrants. Richly told portraits of high and low achievers are packed with unexpected ironies.
When they arrive, most children are full of optimism and a respect for education. But poor neighborhoods and dull–often dangerous–schools can corrode hopes. The vast majority learn English — but it is the English of video games and the neighborhood, not that of standardized tests.
For some of these children, those heading off to college, America promises to be a land of dreams. These lucky ones have often benefited from caring mentors, supportive teachers, or savvy parents. For others, the first five years are marked by disappointments, frustrations, and disenchantment. How can we explain their varied academic journeys?
The children of immigrants, here to stay, are the future — and how they adapt will determine the nature of America in the twenty-first century.
“I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” The last line of Emma Lazarus’s famous poem invites immigrants to enter a land of economic opportunity. Many have accepted that invitation; today, foreign-born workers make up nearly 16 percent of the U.S. workforce and account for almost half of workforce growth over the last decade. Rather than capitalizing on these gains, however, recent immigration reforms have resulted in an inefficient, patchwork system that shortchanges high-skilled immigrants and poorly serves the American public.
Beside the Golden Door: U.S. Immigration Reform in a New Era of Globalization proposes a radical overhaul of current immigration policy designed to strengthen economic competitiveness and long-run growth. Pia M. Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny outline a plan that favors employment-based immigration over family reunification, making work-based visas the rule, not the exception. They argue that immigration policy should favor high-skilled workers while retaining avenues for low-skilled immigration; family reunification should be limited to spouses and minor children; provisional visas should be the norm; and quotas that lead to queuing must be eliminated.
A selective immigration policy focused on high-skilled, high-demand workers will allow the United States to compete in an increasingly global economy while protecting the interests of American citizens and benefiting taxpayers. Orrenius and Zavodny conclude that while not all potential immigrants who knock at the golden door should be admitted, the door should swing wide open to welcome those who desire nothing more than the opportunity to work for the American dream.
Immigration reform is likely to be President Obama’s next major legislative battle and all sides are gearing up for a fight. In that context, I received the following email (reprinted in its entirety) from some sociology colleagues around the country in response to a recent commentary by conservative columnist George Will.
Response to George Will on the Birthright Citizenship of Children of Undocumented Immigrants
As immigration scholars, we beg to disagree with George Will’s argument (Washington Post, Sunday March 28, A15) that “the simple” solution to unauthorized immigration is a re-interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s citizenship clause to end birthright citizenship for children of unauthorized immigrants. This position, which resurfaces every few years, is a-historical, and inconsistent with constitutional principle and with American values.
“Birthright citizenship” refers to the principle of granting citizenship to any person born within the United States. This practice is derived from the first section of the 14th Amendment, which states that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”
Mr. Will, leaning heavily on an article by Lino Graglia, argues that there are three main reasons why this clause does not apply to children of undocumented immigrants: 1) unauthorized entry was a non-issue in 1868 because there were no immigration restrictions when the Amendment was written; 2) undocumented immigrants enter the country without the consent of the U.S. and thus can neither be construed to be “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” nor to owe allegiance to this country; 3) American Indians were excluded from birthright citizenship because they were considered members of autonomous tribes that did not owe allegiance to the U.S. All three claims are incorrect in their interpretation of the historical record.
Mr. Will’s assertion that the U.S. had no immigration restrictions prior to 1868 is false. Congress passed prohibitions against the slave trade in 1808. Because traders ignored the prohibition, this relegated imported slaves to the category of an “illegal commodity” if not an “illegal alien.” States and localities had also been enacting restrictions on immigration since colonial times. States had “pauper laws” targeted at immigrants from Europe and many later introduced head taxes to discourage the entry of poor Europeans. Wouldn’t individuals who evaded quarantine laws or head taxes most likely qualify as “illegal aliens” in modern parlance?
In Mr. Will’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment, the phrase “the jurisdiction thereof” excludes immigrants because as foreigners they do not owe allegiance to the U.S. government. However, the text of the Amendment does not require “allegiance”; it simply speaks of “jurisdiction.” Furthermore, the two terms do not have the same meaning as Mr. Will implies. In fact, Senator Cowen (R-PA) explicitly opposed the Amendment on the grounds that it would turn into U.S. citizens the children of people who “owe [my state] no allegiance; who pretend to owe none …”
As Harvard Law Professor Gerald Neuman notes in his book Strangers to the Constitution, being “subject to the jurisdiction” of the U.S., did encompass the vast majority of non-citizens, including undocumented immigrants. In fact, being “subject to the jurisdiction” of the U.S. means no more than being subject to the laws and rules of the U.S. government. As Justice Scalia has noted, when Congress says that a group of people are subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S., this means that Congress “has made clear its intent to extend its laws [to this group].” Surely, Mr. Will would be the first to admit that regardless of their immigration status, foreigners are subject to U.S. laws and expected to comply with them.
Kwaachund (Mohican for “chutzpah”) best describes Mr. Will’s comparison of the exclusion of “Indians not taxed” in 1787 or 1868 to birthright citizenship of children in the U.S. today. He forgets that American Indians were here first, and that the Constitution of 1787 and the 14th Amendment of 1868 acknowledged precedence for Native people by recognizing the sovereignty of tribes over their members, that is, “Indians not taxed.” This is not the same as a fear on the part of the United States in 1868 that American Indians had a “divided allegiance” to some foreign power, as Mr. Will says.
The U.S. insisted that American Indians recognize federal political supremacy through an allegiance clause in the many treaties signed with tribes up to 1871. The State of Georgia in the 1820s sought to abrogate one such treaty and have the Cherokee Nation described as “aliens, not owing allegiance to the United States.” In 1831, Justice Marshall famously rejected Georgia’s formulation and postulated that American Indian tribes were “domestic dependent nations.”
Neither Will nor Graglia are the first (and probably not the last) to argue that a “simple solution” to undocumented immigration is the repeal of birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. Yet, it is important for readers to note that this “solution” is neither “simple” nor consistent with the principles and values embedded in the Constitution. As Professor Neuman states, “[the authors of the 14th Amendment] refused the invitation to create a hereditary caste of voteless denizens, vulnerable to expulsion and exploitation.” Contemporary scholars, politicians and pundits will do well to heed this advice.
Alexandra Filindra, Ph.D.
Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions
Donna R. Gabaccia, Ph.D.
Director, Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota
Rudolph J. Vecoli Chair of Immigration History Research and Fesler-Lampert Chair in the Public Humanities (2009-2010)
Immigration History Research Center
James W. Oberly, Ph.D.
Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Professor, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs University of Minnesota
Rubén G. Rumbaut
Professor of Sociology, University of California, Irvine
 Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., 125 S. Ct. 2169, 2194-95 (2005) (Scalia dissenting).
To summarize my colleagues’ excellent arguments, denying citizenship rights to children born in the U.S. of unauthorized immigrant parents is not a “simple” way to address the larger issue of why such immigrants come to the U.S. Whether conservatives like George Will can recognize or accept it, and as several recent books explain in more detail, ultimately there are a variety of institutional and economic factors and causes that have nothing to their children being citizens.
In fact, the argument that denying citizenship to certain groups is a good idea is (1) based on incorrect historical and constitutional assumptions and (2) only reinforces our nation’s history of selective discrimination and exclusion that has formed the foundation for many of the social divisions in our society today.
So like I said, in terms of immigration reform, selectively denying citizenship is an example of what not to do.
We all know that immigration — legal and unauthorized — has been a hot-button topic for a while now. This is the case even before President Obama has even seriously tackled the question of immigration reform. One of the key points of contention has been whether immigrants contribute more to American society than they receive in social services.
In recent weeks, a few new studies try to shed some more light on this question and in the process, inject a little objectivity and data into an otherwise emotionally-charged debate. The first report comes from the non-partisan Fiscal Policy Institute and as described at the Immigration Impacts blog at the Immigration Policy Center, the economic contributions of immigrants constitute a net benefit for their communities:
The report studies the 25 largest metro areas (by population) which produce nearly one half of the total gross domestic product of the country. It shows that in the country’s main metropolises, the share of the immigrant population stacks up neatly against their share of economic output. For example, immigrants are responsible for 20% of economic output and make up 20% of the population in these 25 metropolitan areas. In other words, immigrants pull their own weight.
From the report: . . . “From the Pittsburgh metro area, where immigrants make up 3 percent of the population and 4 percent of economic output, to the Miami metro area, where immigrants represent 37 percent of all residents and 38 percent of economic out¬put, immigrants are playing a consistently proportionate role in local economies.”
The overall impact of illegal immigration on the U.S. economy is small. According to [Economics Professor Gordon Hanson, the report’s author], “Illegal immigration produces a tiny net gain to the U.S. economy after subtracting U.S.-born workers’ losses from U.S. employers’ gains. And if we account for the small fiscal burden that unauthorized immigrants impose, the overall economic benefit is close enough to zero to be essentially a wash.”
Enforcement against illegal immigration is expensive. The U.S. spends approximately $15 billion annually enforcing immigration laws. A simple cost-benefit analysis indicates that the high level of spending on enforcement is not justified. . . .
MPI policy analyst Marc Rosenblum and Jeanne Butterfield of the National Immigration Forum largely agreed with Hanson, but took the argument a step further, making a strong case for legalization . . . Rosenblum pointed out that the net fiscal impact of illegal immigrants improves over time—immigrants are not only workers, but consumers, entrepreneurs, and investors, and their contributions improve over time.
This particular report basically confirms earlier research that show that legal immigrants constitute a notable net gain for American society and its economy and that taken together, unauthorized immigrants also contribute more both in the short term (through paying sales taxes, income taxes, overall purchasing power, and entrepreneurial activities) and long term (by becoming productive citizens and not having to rely on public assistance).
Finally, at New America Media, a third article on the contributions of immigrants points out that as the laws currently exist, legal immigrants are prohibited from using Medicaid (the federal healthcare program for low-income Americans), even though they pay federal taxes that help to fund such programs and that in essence, recent legal immigrants are subsidizing healthcare for everyone else:
Currently, legal immigrants, who work and pay taxes that contribute to our health care system will continue to be ineligible to receive federally-funded Medicaid services for five years. In this case, we are not talking about those who make at least 133 percent of federal poverty level and could access affordability credits like everyone else for purchasing insurance in the exchange. We are talking about immigrants with the lowest incomes. It is unreasonable and saddening that under the current health reform proposals, the people who really need it will not get it.
I am under no delusions that these reports and data will change the mind of hard-core or extremist opponents of immigration (legal and unauthorized) anytime soon. Rather, for those who are willing to consider valid, reliable, and nonpartisan research, these studies are useful in wading through some of the political ideology and seeing what the actual numbers say.
With that in mind, the time for comprehensive immigration reform has come. By comprehensive, it means that we need to focus on more than just reinforcing our border with Mexico. Instead, it also means overhauling our immigration detention system, which, a new bipartisan report finds, has a long and documented history of bureaucratic lapses, with the detainees routinely denied basic rights such as being told why they are being held.
It also means providing unauthorized citizens already in country with a path toward eventual citizenship and access to opportunities to achieve social and economic mobility, such as the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act (currently being debated in Congress) that would allow young immigrants without legal status who demonstrate “good moral character” to apply for citizenship.
Both a revelation and a call-to-action, Immigrant, Inc. explores the uncommon skill and drive of America’s new immigrants and their knack for innovation and entrepreneurship. From the techies who created icons of the new economy — Intel, Google, eBay and Sun Microsystems — to the young engineers tinkering with solar power and next-generation car batteries, immigrants have proven themselves to be America’s competitive advantage . . . [and] will create the American jobs of the future — if we let them.
That last part seems to be the key — immigrants have much to contribute to American society and our economy, if only we let them do so, rather than trying to get rid of them.
In a recent post, I described how economic tensions seem to be making many Americans not just more stressed out, but also more likely to lash out against those around them, particularly if they are immigrants. While that post focused on individual-level tensions and hostility, a recent Time magazine article discusses the case of Cirila Baltazar Cruz, a Mexican from an indigenous background, who recently had her daughter taken away from her because she does not speak English, a case that unfortunately highlights this same kind of anti-immigrant sentiment on the institutional level:
Cirila Baltazar Cruz comes from the mountainous southern state of Oaxaca, a region of Mexico that makes Appalachia look affluent. To escape the destitution in her village of 1,500 mostly Chatino Indians, Baltazar Cruz, 34, migrated earlier this decade to the U.S., hoping to send money back to two children she’d left in her mother’s care. She found work at a Chinese restaurant on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.
But Baltazar Cruz speaks only Chatino, barely any Spanish and no English. Last November, she went to Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula, Miss., where she lives, to give birth to a baby girl, Rubí. According to documents obtained by the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, the hospital called the state Department of Human Services (DHS), which ruled that Baltazar Cruz was an unfit mother in part because her lack of English “placed her unborn child in danger and will place the baby in danger in the future.”
Rubí was taken from Baltazar Cruz, who now faces deportation. . . . [A]dvocates for Baltazar Cruz had charged that the problems sprang from faulty translation at Singing River. Baltazar Cruz was later joined [at the hospital] by a Chatino-speaking relative but the hospital declined his services and instead used a translator from state social services, an American of Puerto Rican descent who spoke no Chatino and whose Spanish was significantly different from that spoken in Mexico.
According to the Clarion-Ledger, the state report portrayed Baltazar Cruz as virtually a prostitute, claiming she was “exchanging living arrangements for sex” in Pascagoula and planned to put the child up for adoption. Through her advocates, Baltazar Cruz adamantly denied those claims. . . .
The social-services translator also reported that Baltazar Cruz had put Rubí in danger because she “had not brought a cradle, clothes or baby formula.” But indigenous Oaxacan mothers traditionally breast feed their babies for a year and rarely use bassinets, carrying their infants instead in a rebozo, a type of sling. . . .
In such cases, says the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Bauer, a lack of interpreters is a key factor. When a mother can’t follow the proceedings, “she looks unresponsive, and that conveys to a judge a lack of interest in the child, which is clearly not the case,” she says.
The article goes on to note that Cruz’s advocates also argue that for several centuries now, new immigrants to the U.S. who were not fluent in English have safely and successfully raised their children. So the question becomes, why is this case different and why is Cruz in danger of losing her own child now?
Unfortunately the answer is, because American society’s level of acceptance and even tolerance of new immigrants — particularly if they are unauthorized and lack English fluency — is basically at an all-time low. On top of this general sentiment and as I noted earlier, the economic recession makes Americans much more economically (and therefore emotionally) defensive, insecure, and threatened.
In this particular case, we also have another sociological dynamic — the retrenchment of a “traditional” American identity. In other words, the reality has been that in the past, in order to be considered an American, you basically had to be White, plain and simple. Non-Whites weren’t even given the opportunity to become accepted as American and this country’s history is littered with examples of systematic exclusion — the Cherokee Nation, Chinese exclusion, Jim Crow segregation, etc.
But in the last few decades and as American society has become more demographically diverse and multicultural, the definition of what it means to be an American was gradually expanding to become more inclusive such non-White and immigrant groups. However, it was also inevitable that such a change would be subtly and explicitly opposed by “traditional” Americans.
As such, we can see that in this particular case, the mother’s lack of English fluency implicitly violated the authorities’ code of “Americanness” and was enough to disqualify her from not just remaining in the country, but from raising her own child as well. An equally tragic part of this episode is our society’s misguided and naive attempt to be colorblind and to ignore and in fact, deny that these racial dynamics even exist.
Unfortunately it looks like things will get worse before they get better for many immigrants in this country.
Issues related to immigration, particularly undocumented immigration, have always been and continue to be some of the most controversial in American history and society. As I’m sure you’ve seen yourself, such issues easily provoke strong emotions from all sides and can be very divisive between and even within racial/ethnic groups. On top of that, the current recession and fears on the part of many Americans about their financial security only add fuel to the fire.
It’s within this context that many Americans and American institutions look to blame all or part of their problems and difficulties on immigrants. But this immigrant bashing can take many forms — it can be very overt and direct in the form of racial slurs and violence, or it can be subtle and indirect, implicitly supported or set in motion by politicians who are otherwise seen as “liberal” or “progressive.” I would like to explore these different degrees of immigrant bashing as they’ve recently been manifested.
On the more blatant and overt side, we see time and time again that racial prejudice and economic instability often lead to violence. However, the second step in this kind of blatant immigrant bashing is when the criminal justice system fails to deliver justice for the immigrant victim. This was evident is the recent acquittal of two White teens on hate crime charges in the beating death of a Mexican immigrant in Pottsville, PA:
The [all White] jury found the teens innocent of all serious charges, a decision that elicited cheers and claps from the defendants’ families and friends – and cries of outrage from the victim’s. . . . Prosecutors cast Ramirez as the victim of a gang of drunken white teens motivated by a dislike of their small coal town’s burgeoning Hispanic population. But the jury evidently sided with defense attorneys, who called Ramirez the aggressor and characterized the brawl as a street fight that ended tragically. . . .
The case exposed ethnic tensions in Shenandoah, a blue-collar town of 5,000 that has lured Hispanic residents drawn by cheap housing and jobs in nearby factories and farm fields. Ramirez moved to the town about seven years ago from Iramuco, Mexico, working in a factory and picking strawberries and cherries.
The two men accused of fatally beating an Ecuadorean immigrant with a bat and a bottle after shouting epithets about Hispanics and gays face 78 years to life in prison if convicted on charges handed up by a Brooklyn grand jury and unsealed on Tuesday. The two suspects, Keith Phoenix, 28, and Hakim Scott, 25, are charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and assault, all as hate crimes, for the Dec. 7 attack on the immigrant, Jose O. Sucuzhañay, and his brother Romel, who survived. . . .
The beating, coming soon after the killing of another Ecuadorean immigrant on Long Island, jangled nerves in immigrant and gay and lesbian communities. . . . Witnesses have described part of what happened next, beginning with slurs shouted from the car about Hispanics and gays. “Suddenly, Hakim Scott jumped out armed with a beer bottle,” Mr. Hynes said. “The two brothers tried to flee, but Scott caught up with Jose and slammed him across the head.”
Mr. Phoenix “rushed from the S.U.V. armed with a baseball bat, ran over to Jose, and repeatedly beat him,” Mr. Hynes said, adding that as Mr. Phoenix walked back to the car he noticed that the victim was still moving. “Phoenix immediately went back to where Jose was laying and slammed him several more times on the head with the baseball bat until his victim was motionless,” Mr. Hynes said.
This kind of sentiment is also reflected in the recent swine flu outbreak. Since the swine flu originated in Mexico, inevitably this has led many to engage in blatant stereotyping and racial profiling against anything and anyone linked to Mexico:
“No contact anywhere with an illegal alien!” conservative talk show host Michael Savage advised his U.S. listeners this week on how to avoid the swine flu. “And that starts in the restaurants” where he said, you “don’t know if they wipe their behinds with their hands!” And Thursday, Boston talk radio host Jay Severin was suspended after calling Mexican immigrants “criminalians” during a discussion of swine flu and saying that emergency rooms had become “essentially condos for Mexicans.”
That’s tepid compared to some of the xenophobic reactions spreading like an emerging virus across the Internet. “This disgusting blight is because MEXICANS ARE PIGS!” an anonymous poster ranted on the “prison planet” forum, part of radio host and columnist Alex Jones’ Web site. . . . Savage speculated that terrorists are using Mexican immigrants as walking germ warfare weapons. “It would be easy,” he said, “to bring an altered virus into Mexico, put it in the general population, and have them march across the border.”
[T]he growing public health concern has also exposed fear and hate. . . . Fearmongering and blame are almost a natural part of infectious disease epidemics, experts say. “This is a pattern we see again and again,” said Amy Fairchild, chair of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. “It’s ‘the other,’ the group not seen as part of the nation, the one who threatens it in some way that gets blamed for the disease.”
These acts of racial hatred, violence, and blatant stereotyping are undoubtedly tragic. Unfortunately, they are only one example within the range of immigrant bashing. Other examples do not involve physical violence committed onto the immigrant, but nonetheless show the same kind of callous indifference to their histories and experiences. This is exemplified by the case of a Korean Canadian student who stood up to racial taunts and slurs from a bully but was punished for defending himself (tip to AngryAsianMan for covering this story first):
The 15-year-old was suspended for four weeks from Keswick High School over a fight that he says began when another student racially abused him and punched him in the mouth. The boy, who has a black belt in tae kwon do, fought back with a single punch that broke his antagonist’s nose.
He was initially the only person investigated, and police charged him with assault causing bodily harm. But 400 of his fellow students walked out of class this week to denounce the racist bullying that preceded the punch, and the outcry reached newspaper front pages. In response, York police reopened the case, and assigned a special investigator to probe whether a hate crime was committed. . . .
The 15-year-old said he regrets throwing the punch, but felt he had no choice after the other boy called him a “fucking Chinese” and punched him in the face, cutting his mouth. His father said the school doesn’t seem to understand the impact of the racial comment. Afterward, a vice-principal asked his son why a Korean was upset about being called Chinese.
“Probably they don’t realize how much it hurts when someone makes a racist comment,” his father said. “My son said, ‘I felt all the way down, like I am nothing, on the floor. Like they’re the master and I’m the slave.’ “
As an update on this case, the school board has reversed the initial actions of the school’s administrators and have reinstated the student, removed the suspension from his record, and canceled the expulsion proceedings. The Korean Canadian student and the bullying student have met face-to-face and have apologized to each other.
This is a small but significant victory for victims of racial taunting and bullying but in the initial actions of the school’s principals and administrators, we once again see the evil twins of immigrant bashing — the first is the physical act itself, in this case the racial slurs, bullying, and first punch directed at the Korean Canadian student. But the second and equally appalling part are the lack of understanding, indifference, and outright hostility of our social institutions to respond to such immigrant bashing. In this case, the school officials initially blame the Korean Canadian student for the entire incident and wanted to expel him not just from the school but also from the entire school district.
Clearly, these officials just don’t get how racism works, most likely because as a White person, they’ve never experienced being called a racial slur, or had their group’s history or experiences denigrated, or had their distinct physical appearance mocked in public.
Unfortunately, examples of immigrant bashing do not end here. The entire range of such sentiments also includes official acts of government supported by politicians who we normally consider to be friends and allies of the immigrant population. One example is the federal “Troubled Asset Relief Program” (TARP) legislation that was passed in February to help bailout struggling financial institutions. One provision of the TARP act requires banks that receive federal bailout money to hire American workers over immigrants. As many community and business leaders argue, such a broad generalization against immigrant workers leads to some very troubling consequences:
In Sacramento, business leaders are worried about completing projects without the specialized expertise of consultants from foreign countries. . . . In California, foreign nationals helped create more than half of the startup companies in Silicon Valley, according to a Duke University study. In 2007, foreign nationals accounted for nearly two-thirds of all engineering doctorates awarded from the University of California and California State University systems, the study found. . . .
Wadhwa, an engineering professor at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke and a researcher at the Harvard Law School, said some of his students are getting employment offers withdrawn, while others are frustrated and ready to move back home. He says it’s part of a troubling pattern in the United States: “Whenever there’s a downturn, you start blaming foreigners.”
In this example, I understand the need to make sure that federal money is used to help out Americans first. The problem with this is the assumption that immigrants are not Americans. Instead of seeing immigrants as productive Americans who pay American taxes, who buy American goods and services, and who contribute (many times disproportionately) in so many other ways to the economic health of the country — whether they are citizens, permanent residents, or even undocumented — immigrants are the first scapegoats when our country experienced difficulties.
Rather than looking deeper and more reflectively at the institutional issues that caused the current economic crises, such as high-risk loans and excessive greed on the part of financial institutions, we sadly and instinctively look to those living around us who seem to be different from us and based on this “Us versus Them” mentality, who we perceive to be not real, legitimate, or genuine Americans, and therefore, are somehow benefiting at our expense and therefore need to be vilified, dehumanized, and attacked — through our fists or our laws — as the cause of our problems.
President Obama’s first 100 days in office have certainly been momentous and ambitious. While most of his attention has been focused on the economy and the recession, he and his administration are still planning major initiatives in the near future on other policy issues. As many observers point out, this includes the always controversial issue of immigration reform:
Mr. Obama will frame the new effort — likely to rouse passions on all sides of the highly divisive issue — as “policy reform that controls immigration and makes it an orderly system,” said the official, Cecilia Muñoz, deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs in the White House.
Mr. Obama plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said, and over the summer he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin discussing possible legislation for as early as this fall. Some White House officials said that immigration would not take precedence over the health care and energy proposals that Mr. Obama has identified as priorities. But the timetable is consistent with pledges Mr. Obama made to Hispanic groups in last year’s campaign.
He said then that comprehensive immigration legislation, including a plan to make legal status possible for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, would be a priority in his first year in office. Latino voters turned out strongly for Mr. Obama in the election. . . . But with the economy seriously ailing, advocates on different sides of the debate said that immigration could become a polarizing issue for Mr. Obama in a year when he has many other major battles to fight.
Opponents, mainly Republicans, say they will seek to mobilize popular outrage against any effort to legalize unauthorized immigrant workers while so many Americans are out of jobs. Democratic legislative aides said that opening a full-fledged debate this year on immigration, particularly with health care as a looming priority, could weigh down the president’s domestic agenda.
In preparation for intensifying the national debate about immigration reform and as the New York Times reports later, the policy positions are starting to come together, as illustrated by a major agreement between the country’s two largest labor unions on forming a united position on how to deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country:
John Sweeney, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Joe T. Hansen, a leader of the rival Change to Win federation, will present the outlines of their new position on Tuesday in Washington. In 2007, when Congress last considered comprehensive immigration legislation, the two groups could not agree on a common approach. That legislation failed.
The accord endorses legalizing the status of illegal immigrants already in the United States and opposes any large new program for employers to bring in temporary immigrant workers, officials of both federations said. . . .
But while the compromise repaired one fissure in the coalition that has favored broad immigration legislation, it appeared to open another. An official from the United States Chamber of Commerce said Monday that the business community remained committed to a significant guest-worker program. . . .
In the new accord, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and Change to Win have called for managing future immigration of workers through a national commission. The commission would determine how many permanent and temporary foreign workers should be admitted each year based on demand in American labor markets. Union officials are confident that the result would reduce worker immigration during times of high unemployment like the present.
Based on March 2008 data collected by the Census Bureau, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that unauthorized immigrants are 4% of the nation’s population and 5.4% of its workforce. Their children, both those who are unauthorized immigrants themselves and those who are U.S. citizens, make up 6.8% of the students enrolled in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools.
About three-quarters (76%) of the nation’s unauthorized immigrant population are Hispanics. The majority of undocumented immigrants (59%) are from Mexico, numbering 7 million. Significant regional sources of unauthorized immigrants include Asia (11%), Central America (11%), South America (7%), the Caribbean (4%) and the Middle East (less than 2%). . . .
They are especially likely to hold low-skilled jobs and their share of some of those occupations has grown. In 2008, 17% of construction workers were undocumented, an increase from 10% in 2003. One in four farmworkers is an unauthorized immigrant. . . . The 2007 median household income of unauthorized immigrants was $36,000, well below the $50,000 median household income for U.S.-born residents. In contrast to other immigrants, undocumented immigrants do not attain markedly higher incomes the longer they live in the United States.
The Pew report does not take a political position in regard to undocumented immigration and instead, as good social science should do, provides anyone who is interested with valid, reliable, and objective information and data to more accurately support whatever position they have on the issue.
As I’ve recently written about, it’s shaping up to be another fierce battle between those who take an “deportation only” approach versus those who see the bigger picture and advocate “comprehensive reform.” I just hope that within this debate that opponents of legalization for undocumented immigrants refrain from demonizing and dehumanizing the people involved and instead, see the issue as an institutional and structural one, more so than an individual-level one.
Presuming that President Obama and his administration follow through on their plans to put the issue of immigration reform on the front burner of American politics, there will be plenty to say about this issue in the coming months.
Update: Shortly after I published this post, the swine flu began making headlines all around the world, particularly here in the U.S. Since it apparently originated in Mexico, unfortunately but predictably, we are now seeing a racist backlash against Mexico and Mexicans, as described by MSNBC:
“No contact anywhere with an illegal alien!” conservative talk show host Michael Savage advised his U.S. listeners this week on how to avoid the swine flu. “And that starts in the restaurants” where he said, you “don’t know if they wipe their behinds with their hands!” And Thursday, Boston talk radio host Jay Severin was suspended after calling Mexican immigrants “criminalians” during a discussion of swine flu and saying that emergency rooms had become “essentially condos for Mexicans.”
That’s tepid compared to some of the xenophobic reactions spreading like an emerging virus across the Internet. “This disgusting blight is because MEXICANS ARE PIGS!” an anonymous poster ranted on the “prison planet” forum, part of radio host and columnist Alex Jones’ Web site. There is even talk of conspiracy. Savage speculated that terrorists are using Mexican immigrants as walking germ warfare weapons. “It would be easy,” he said, “to bring an altered virus into Mexico, put it in the general population, and have them march across the border.”
You don’t need me to tell you that undocumented immigration is one of the most controversial and emotional issues in American society today. It is an issue that cuts across and divides members within a particular racial, ethnic, or cultural group. In fact, some of the most heated arguments that I’ve had about undocumented immigration has been with other Asian Americans.
Many critics of undocumented immigrants argue that the only realistic or effective solution is mass deportation of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country. Scholars call this approach the “enforcement only” approach. On the other hand, others believe that in order to “cure the disease” rather than simply treating the symptoms is through the “comprehensive reform” approach.
Such proposals include securing points of entry at the border and criminal punishment for the most dangerous undocumented immigrants but just as important, emphasizes ways to deal with the undeniable need for immigrant labor within the U.S. economy, settling the status of the undocumented immigrants already in the country in a fair and humane way, working with sending countries on policies that reduce the push their citizens feel to come to the U.S.
Many Americans might assume that law enforcement officials around the country, particularly in the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, are more likely to support the “enforcement only” proposals. But as Seth Hoy at the Immigration Policy Center writes in their blog Immigration Impacts, many in the law enforcement community are pleading for comprehensive reform:
In a recent Washington Post editorial, Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris asserts that focusing his attention on real criminals rather than economic migrants has not only lowered the city’s crime rate, it has also enabled police to maintain a closer relationship with the communities they serve. For Harris, who likened border enforcement to bailing an ocean with a thimble, “the answer is not in Phoenix. The answer is in Washington.”
Don’t give me 50 more officers to deal with the symptoms. Rather, give me comprehensive immigration reform that controls the borders, provides for whatever seasonal immigration the nation wants, and one way or another settles the status of the 12 million who are here illegally — 55 percent of whom have been here at least eight years. For those whose profession it is, law enforcement sometimes seems like bailing an ocean with a thimble.
No one disagrees that violence, drug cartels and human smuggling on the border are real problems that warrant real and sensible solutions, but conflating drug smugglers with economic migrants is not effective or helpful. Effective border enforcement needs to be carried out in consultation with border communities—communities whose resources are currently being diverted from arresting actual violent criminals to “chasing bus boys around the desert.”
Most state and local police departments will tell you that in order to do their jobs effectively, they rely on community policing policies which encourage immigrants to step out of the shadows, report crimes and access police protection. According to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a committee made up of police chiefs from across the country, cooperation from the immigrant community keeps crime rates lower.
Without assurances that contact with the police would not result in purely civil immigration enforcement action, the hard won trust, communication and cooperation from the immigrant community would disappear…Such a divide between the local police and immigrant groups would result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic acts.
Certainly, the debate about the best way to address the undocumented immigration issue will continue. Nonetheless, I think the opinions of law enforcement officials on how they would like to see our government best address the issue carries a lot of weight.
On a lighter and not-quite-related note, Jon Stewart from The Daily Show recently had a brief video segment on patrolling the border, embedded below.
Most of the news these days is on the economy — the recent financial institution crisis and how it will affect the presidential elections and American society going forward. But as an example of interconnections between social issues, as CBS News reports, the number of immigrants coming into the U.S. (both legal and unauthorized), significantly declined in the past year, with the economy being a big reason:
The wave of immigrants entering the United States slowed dramatically last year as the economy faltered and the government stepped up enforcement of immigration laws. The nation added about a half million immigrants in 2007, down from more than 1.8 million the year before. . . .
The Census Bureau’s’ estimates for immigrants include those in the country legally and illegally because the agency does not ask about legal status. . . .
One other obstacle could be the 69 percent increase last summer in citizenship fees, about 281,000 immigrants applied to become U.S. citizens in the first half of 2008 – less than half the number of applicants in the same period last year. . . .
Much of the nation experienced a housing boom in the first half of the decade, providing jobs that attracted immigrants. The housing bubble burst last year, sending housing markets tumbling and contributing to a slumping economy that some economists believe is in recession.
It should not come as a surprise that with the economy slumping that there are fewer economic opportunities for immigrants (both legal and unauthorized), so that the numbers of immigrants entering the U.S. has declined significantly in the past year.
Of course, the political controversy over unauthorized immigration and high-profile efforts to round up and deport undocumented workers have also contributed to a less-hospitable climate in general. Critics of unauthorized immigration are undoubtedly rejoicing at these numbers, but as sociologists have tried to point out, these issue exist in a larger context of institutional and historical factors that require a longer-range focus if we want true and fair immigration reform.
State and local governments incur costs for providing services to unauthorized immigrants and have limited options for avoiding or minimizing those costs.
The amount that state and local governments spend on services for unauthorized immigrants represents a small percentage of the total amount spent by those governments to provide such services to residents in their jurisdictions.
The tax revenues that unauthorized immigrants generate for state and local governments do not offset the total cost of services provided to those immigrants.
Federal aid programs offer resources to state and local governments that provide services to unauthorized immigrants, but those funds do not fully cover the costs incurred by those governments.
So in other words, on a national level, unauthorized immigration constitutes a slight positive benefit for the American economy but on the state and local governments have to bear a disproportionate share of the financial costs, so at the state and local levels, unauthorized immigration constitutes a slight net loss on their budgets.
That is also a big reason why opposition to unauthorized immigration is so vehement — people situate themselves at the local setting, within their own city, town, or neighborhood — not at the national level. So they mainly see what is immediately around them, rather than taking a national-level perspective.
In that sense, it’s easy to see why people are opposed to the costs of unauthorized immigration that their city or state must bear, rather than recognizing the net benefit at the national level.
As sociologists have also pointed out, part of the solution needs to include the federal government sharing more of those net benefits with the state and local levels, to offset the disproportionate burden of costs that states and cities have to bear. Unfortunately, in today’s financial climate, that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.
Update: As more evidence that unauthorized immigration to the U.S. is slowing down, last week, the Pew Research Group reported that for the first time in about a decade, between 2005 and 2008, the number of unauthorized immigrations was lower than the number of legal immigrants. Secondly, they also estimated that the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. has fallen from about 12.4 million last year to about 11.9 million this year.