Dreaming of Justice: Undocumented Students and Punitive Immigration Policy

Undocumented students across the country are torn between achieving their dreams of an education, and knowing full well that once they complete their college degree they may not have many options to pursue their careers. This is because the political rhetoric surrounding immigration is punitive and it is time for it to stop. The costs to us all are too great.

One cost is to children raised in the U.S. but brought here illegally by their parents. Rather than giving them the opportunity to attend university by allowing them to pay in-state tuition and passing the Dream Act, so that upon completion of their degrees they can become contributing members of society, we currently leave them in a state of limbo. Those that do make it to university live in constant fear for their futures once they complete their degrees, but even while they attend college they are not able to fully participate in the college experience because they cannot participate in work-study programs on campus or participate in the many study abroad programs. Our current attitude towards immigrants, especially towards Latinos must change. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education argues that undocumented students who pay in-state tuition at universities not only attend university at higher rates, but they have lower dropout rates, and bring financial benefits to the states who allow in-state tuition as well.

However, there are three fundamental challenges in changing this punitive focus on immigration policy:

First, a because of the white racial frame Latinos encounter discrimination, whether immigrant or citizen, even among Latino professionals. We must become aware and challenge the white racial frame. Feagin demonstrates that the current rhetoric of America as a post-racial society is wrong. He states, “this new colorblind rhetoric has just papered over what are still blatantly racist views of Americans of color that have continued in most whites’ framing of this society” (p. 97). This important awareness of racism in America is the first challenge that must be overcome before immigration policy can turn away from its punitive direction.

Secondly, until we can see immigrants as human beings who come here because of crippling poverty, poverty that is so great and unimaginable to most Americans that they resort to doing unthinkable acts just to be here. I recently heard a story of a mother and father who got caught trying to cross into the U.S. illegally and left their four year old daughter with a hotel front desk worker until they could safely get her. Imagine the conditions in Mexico to make parents risk this kind of behavior with their most precious children. A recent report from La Opinion reports that immigrants are also increasingly willing to cut the ends of their fingers off for thousands of dollars in order to not be fingerprinted.

Finally, until we see immigrants as a contribution rather than a cost to America the punitive focus of the immigration debate will not change. There are too many studies which demonstrate that the millions of illegal immigrants who are working in the US are actually providing great services and wealth for small businesses and large corporations. They are contributing not costing America. This economic debate should have been over a long time ago.

Until immigration political rhetoric and policy change from its current punitive position, not only will be continue a racist immigration agenda, endure many humanitarian costs from leaving one’s children vulnerable to cutting ones fingers off to avoid detection, but we will continue on a path bad economic policy as well.

Most sadly, there are too many victims of punitive and misguided immigration policy. And this will not change until we all fight against the white racial frame for immigrants allowing them to express some dignity and humanity while they try to provide for their families in the face of our racialized society today.

Targeting Latino Children is Not the Answer

A recent article published in the New York Times by Kirk Semple reports that federal officials have had to send a memo to various states and school districts informing them that asking for citizenship status before enrolling children is illegal. It seems not only are many school districts (139 in New York State alone) are asking for documentation of students, but certain states such as Oklahoma are considering state bills requiring it. This should not surprise us considering the fact that Congress could not pass the Dream Act, that we have witnessed record number of deportations in recent years which have separated families and placed children in the foster-care maze, and that states have passed discriminatory laws like Arizona’s SB1070. These examples all point to a dark shadow side of America, this land of immigrants.

Xenophobia is nothing new in America, especially during economic hard times. Politicians and other civic leaders historically have succeeded in redirecting the public’s attention to symbolic policy issues that target the most vulnerable, the voiceless, and those who are marginalized. To an American of Asian, African, Middle Eastern, Jewish, Irish, or Southern or Eastern European ancestry, this isn’t news. Immigrants from these groups know all too well what it is like to be needed for one’s labor, but despised for one’s presence. We’ve been down this road before. Recall the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907, halting new Japanese immigration in exchange for non-discrimination against those of Japanese descent already in the U.S., as examples of racist immigration practices in America’s past. Arizona’s SB1070 is not unique in our history. What is different now is that this treatment is now being directed to children too.

The current immigration debate focusing on Latinos is no different from our past. Whether one is a proponent of earned citizenship through some time of amnesty, tougher border enforcement either by building fences or militarizing the border, a proponent of another guest worker program, or is engaged in the on-going debate about whether immigrants cost or benefit society, Latinos in America are experiencing prejudice, discrimination, cruelty and mistreatment from this latest round of scapegoating. The bottom line is that the 50 million Latinos in this country—16.3 percent of the population according to a new Pew Hispanic Report, are not accepted or seen as real Americans, regardless of our legal or professional status as discussed in a forthcoming book on Latino professionals. The current debate on immigration underscores this fact.

People need to remember some fundamental American values, such as the Golden Rule and what it means to walk in the footsteps of another. If we can honestly put ourselves in immigrants shoes, we may see that most of us would make the same decisions that undocumented workers have made. Regardless of the law, we would make the sacrifices necessary to do the best we can for our families. For example, try to sincerely imagine living in an agricultural community that, since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, has suffered tremendous financial hardship. Local corn, grown there for generations, can no longer compete against the corn imports from the United States, which are heavily subsidized by the U.S. government. To clothe your children, your wife has taken to sewing their underwear out of old flour sacks. Your children lack shoes. Your family eats little protein, maybe once a week. Meals mostly consist of “chicken” soup, without the chicken — a watery broth of tortillas or rice and beans. The only hope seems to be to go work in the U.S. While it breaks your heart to leave your children behind, knowing your youngest may not even remember who you are upon your return and knowing your older ones need you to learn life’s lessons, you make the only rational decision a family-centered person can. You give up everything and join the countless numbers of people who have left their communities empty of working-aged men.

Not many of us could sit back and watch our children or elderly parents suffer hunger and destitution without doing something to ease their suffering and improve their lives. Missing from so much of the immigration debate is the humanity of the undocumented immigrants who are making sacrifices such as being separated from their children often for years, or being away and unable to return if a parent dies. These are sacrifices most of us cannot even imagine.

It is only through an understanding of the complex circumstances that lead people to migrate that we can create a much-needed constructive, humane, realistic, and just immigration policy. Blaming undocumented immigrants is not the answer. As Michele Wucker states in her book Lockout, “The population of immigrants who are in this country without legal papers did not grow to more than 10 million people without America’s full participation in the legal charade.”

Instead of focusing on the unjust immigration laws, politicians, political pundits, and anti-immigrant advocates have hypocritically taken the stance that undocumented workers are “lawbreakers” who need to learn to “follow the rules” and “do it the right way.”

They should take note that laws can be, and are often, wrong. When half the American population could not vote until 1920, were women wrong to demand the law changed?

Instead of hiding behind the façade of law, we should remember the humanity of undocumented immigrants. We all lose when we discriminate against one another. We are a better country than to require children to prove residency status in order for them to go to school. Targeting children is not the answer.

Latinos Account for Half of US Population Growth 2000-2010

The Pew Hispanic Center has a new (pdf) report that makes use of US census sources to estimate the huge role that Latino population growth played in the overall US population growth over the last decade, growth that the final Census figures will show and that will be used for congressional seat reapportionment:

Using 2009 population estimates from the American Community Survey, Hispanics accounted for 51% of the nation’s population growth since the 2000 Census, which counted 281 million U.S. residents. From 2000 to 2010, the nation’s population grew 9.7%. From 2000 to 2009 (the last year available), the Hispanic population grew 37%.

Since southwestern states with fast growing and ever larger Latino populations will get numerous new congressional seats from this census, it is likely that some of them will be substantially composed of Latino voters. Given that Republicans have regularly alienated Latinos with their anti-immigrant and nativistic rhetoric, these will eventually be very blue political areas — even red areas like Texas right now.

The official US population count for 2010 is 308.7 million people.

Extreme Racist Stereotyping on BBC Show: Mocking Mexicans

The hosts (h/t Carson) on the very popular and often rowdy BBC show “The Gear” let loose with one of the more racist-stereotyped contemporary tirades against Mexicans that I have ever seen. See here from youtube.
(Source: Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VH5omPNwlc&feature=player_embedded)

Notice that these whites cover many of the standard racist images constructed in the old white racial frame over the long history of the oppression and domination of Mexicans by whites in North America. Mexicans are stereotyped and mocked as lazy, feckless, liking certain “odd” foods like refried stuff (and the British should talk about odd foods?), somehow favoring blankets and sleeping, being linked somehow to cactuses, being incompetent in regard to making good products. Somehow waking up Mexican is also thought to be bad, and funny. Presumably their defense, the standard one these days among whites, is that they were “just joking.” Joking or not, repeating these racist frames, with emotions and host and audience laughter (Loud laughter, notice), only reinforces it in the brains of all those in earshot.

Notice too here the other side of the white racist framing, the great virtue of whites and whiteness, and white made (German, Italian) stuff. Once again, whites are the norm, but remain unstated and the unreflective standard.

I guess they have not gotten the message that all people are due respect and that the old extremist racism is not only “bad form,” but bad for a little island of whites in economic trouble now set in a rising political-economic world that is overwhelmingly not white–and not fond of whites’ historical and contemporary racial oppression in any of its nefarious forms.

There is an effort to protest The Gear’s racism using these addresses:

By email/telephone
tgweb@bbc.co.uk or call 020 8433 3598

Or mail:
TopGear.com, Second Floor A, Energy Centre, Media Centre, 201 Wood Lane, W12 7TQ

Brisenia Flores: The Little Girl That You Haven’t Heard About

Brisenia Flores was a 9-year-old girl murdered in Arizona by anti-immigrant vigilantes, yet her death – unlike that of the 9-year old killed last week in Arizona – is getting almost no attention in the U.S. mainstream media.

According to reports by the UK press, Brisenia Flores was gunned down at point-blank range in her own home in Flores, Arizona, as her terrified mother Gina Gonzalez, who had also been hit, played dead on the floor.

Shawna Forde, the head of the Minutemen American Defence group, is on trial accused of two charges of first degree murder. Her trial is underway in Arizona now. Forde and her co-conspirator Bush — who reportedly has ties to the white supremacist Aryan Nation — broke into the home of 29-year-old Raul Flores, Brisenia’s dad, on May 30, 2009.  This was just six weeks after Forde’s issued a call for a political revolt. As related this week at Forde’s trial:

According to testimony, Bush shot Flores, then Gonzalez. Gonzalez was hit in the shoulder and leg and slumped to the floor. She testified that she played dead as she heard Bush pump more bullets into her husband as Brisenia woke up.

“Why did you shoot my dad?” the girl asked, sobbing, according to Gonzalez’s testimony. “Why did you shoot my mom?”

Gonzalez said she heard Bush slowly reload his gun and that he then ignored Brisenia’s pleas and fired.

It’s hard to comprehend such an act of violence, especially one involving a child.    Certainly, the links to anti-immigrant politics and rhetoric seem to be much clearer in this case than in the more recent shooting, but this story is receiving virtually no attention from mainstream media.  In part, this is the white racial frame at play, drawing our attention to white victims and obscuring from view the lives of people of color.

Are Republicans Committing Political Suicide with Anti-Latino Policies?

The Pew Hispanic Center has a very interesting report on “The 2010 Congressional Reapportionment and Latinos” that shows that numerous recent Republican political gains in Congress came in states with significantly growing Latino populations. (Photo: TriciaWang) Some of these states have also gotten significant new congressional districts thanks to the 2010 census showing growth in the South and the West:

Based on averages reflecting congressional gains and losses, 15.2% of the eligible voter population in states that gained seats is Hispanic, compared with just 5.4% of eligible voters in those states that lost seats.

Because of this new political reality, it is likely that as more young Latinos become voters Latinos are going to play a much more important role in these and other states, in the near future:

Two states that gained seats, Florida and Nevada, have been key swing battlegrounds in recent presidential elections (having voted for the Republican nominee in 2004 and the Democrat in 2008). In both states, Latinos are a growing share of eligible voters.

It was not long ago that Latino voters were off were more or less off the political radar of both political parties. When I was growing up in Texas a few decades back, Mexican Americans were rarely discussed as a political factor except in the very southern part of Texas, but now they are a dominant economic and political population in all major and many smaller Texas cities. This political reality is true in many states now, and not just in the Southwest:

Among the nation’s 48.4 million Hispanics in 2009, a record 20.1 million are eligible to vote. Yet an even greater number are not eligible to vote. Some 15.5 million Hispanics are U.S. citizens 17 years of age or younger and 12.8 million of all ages are not U.S. citizens.

That is some 15.5 million who will likely be voting soon–and if current trends hold they will vote Democratic at rates of 60-70 percent, perhaps more. Over the last decade alone some six million Latinos have become voters, mostly from this aging process.

Even if some of the right-wing politicians get some significant restrictions on Mexican immigration, these changes will come in any event:

… the aging of the U.S. born Latino youth bulge ensures that the electoral strength of the nation’s largest minority group will continue to grow in the coming decades. And much of that growth will take place in states that have gained congressional seats and Electoral College votes.

As Adia and I pointed out in our recent book on the Obama presidential campaign:

Not only did an overwhelming majority of African Americans vote for Senator Obama … a large percentage of other Americans of color also voted for him. Nationally, Latino/a voters gave him fully two thirds of their votes (56-78 percent in the 13 states with data), while Asian Americans were just a little less, with other voters of color also at two thirds. . . . Project Vote has estimated that, compared to the 2004 election, the actual number of presidential ballots cast in 2008 increased by more than … by one sixth among Latinos, yet decreased by one percent for white voters. . . . One conspicuous feature of this pathbreaking election is the importance of the rapidly growing Latino/a population to Democratic Party candidates. Latino/as now make up approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population and are the country’s largest group of color. This group is now producing ever growing numbers of voters in numerous states. Highly energized by being able to participate in state and federal elections, since 2004 these Latino/a voters have increased their share of the Democratic Party electorate substantially. In key western states of New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado, Latino/as increased their percentage among voters by a sizeable 28-62 percent and also gave a significantly larger share of their votes to Obama. As with the Democratic primaries … the tensions between black and Latino/a communities cited by various observers did not appear significant for voting in the general presidential election. Winning two thirds of Latino/a voters nationally, Senator Obama improved on the 58 percent of Latino/a voters won by Senator John Kerry a few years earlier. In several states the shift contributed substantially to his winning margin. (See some of our sources here and here)

Now, as a political exercise, try to imagine our second largest state in population and political clout, Texas, as a blue state a decade or two from now!:)

9500 Liberty: Immigration Battle in Prince William County

A new documentary, “9500 Liberty,” offers a revealing look at the battle over immigration in the U.S. through the lens of one place, Prince William County, Virginia. The film has already won several film festival awards, and this is a trailer for the film (4:23) which gives you a sense of it:

Filmmakers Annabel Park and Eric Byler describe the film this way:

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.

You can find upcoming screenings and theatrical releases here.

Without Struggle, No Progress

People often ask me if I believe in “progress.”  By that, they usually mean, do I think there’s been “progress” in the way this country deals with racism.  I usually answer by saying, “I believe in struggle,”  paraphrasing Frederick Douglass’ famous quote:  “If there is no struggle, there can be no progress.”   There was some good news in the struggle toward racial justice today.   Here’s a brief recap:

  • The House passed legislation reducing the two-decades-old sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses. The Senate passed an identical bill in March and the legislation is now heading to President Obama, who supports the reform effort (h/t Drug Policy Alliance via Julie Netherland).  This is good news in the struggle for racial inequality because sentencing for powder cocaine, disproportionately used by whites, has traditionally had much lighter sentences than for crack cocaine, more often used by African Americans.  These unjust sentencing laws were enacted in the 1980s, under President Ronald Reagan.

(Image from here.)

  • A federal judge blocked the most controversial parts of Arizona’s immigration enforcement law from going into effect.  Judge Susan Bolton took aim at the parts Arizona’s draconian immigration law that have generated the most controversy, and issued a preliminary injunction against sections that called for police officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times.   This is good news in the struggle for racial equality because it means that Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants living in Arizona may be able to live their lives without being harassed.

These changes are good news and evidence that struggle can create progress, but make no mistake – these are small changes.    And, these small changes that took large numbers of people, several agencies and non-profit organizations, and legislators to create.

There still remains a lot of work to be done around drug policy and around immigration reform.   Drug laws are perhaps the centerpiece in the racial caste system of that is the U.S. criminal justice system.   Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio says that he will arrest any one protesting the immigration law there.

If and when big change comes in these arenas, it will be because people worked and struggled to make change, not because there is some inevitable, progressive trend toward racial equality.

Mexican Immigrants Target of Racist Hate Crimes on Staten Island (Updated)

In recent weeks there have been a series of attacks against Mexican immigrants on Staten Island, a borough of New York City.  The police are currently investigating another possible hate crime that occurred around 5:00 p.m. on Friday night.   News reports say that a 31-year-old Mexican man was walking home from playing soccer at a local park when he was attacked by five men yelling anti-Mexican slurs.

There is something of a history of hate crimes against Mexican immigrants on Staten Island.    In 2008, a man living in the Port Richmond area of Staten Island took out his racism-fueled anger by driving his truck into store fronts he believed were owned by Mexican immigrants.

This kind of violence directed toward a particular group can be attributed, at least in part, to the anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant rhetoric that is becoming more pervasive in the current political climate.   Evidence of this hostile climate is as close as the nearest Google search.   Type in the keyword “Mexicans” and get the suggested “Related search: I hate Mexicans.”   Also, note the racist images that generated just on the search for “Mexicans.”  This sort of rhetoric is not only created by those on the (supposed) lunatic fringe of society, but by some mainstream news media talking heads as well.  This kind of hostile environment – in speech, in images – eventually leads to action that affects real human beings.

There are ways to stand up against this sort of violence and intolerance.  The folks at Change.org have launched a website based on anti-racist actions, called Not in Our Town. The site is dedicated to empowering people to fight back against hate and intolerance in their communities.  When attacks like these occur, revealing a dangerous atmosphere of hate, it’s up to everyone to denounce that hate and violence and work toward building a community that is safe for everybody.

UPDATED 8/5/10: Another person has been attacked on Staten Island.  A young man, Christian Vazquez, 18 who volunteers at with an anti-violence organization, was kicked and punched to the ground by assailants allegedly yelling anti-Mexican slurs. The attack was the 11th bias incident in the Port Richmond area since April.  Some New Yorkers continue to stand up and speak out against this anti-immigrant, anti-Latino violence, as in the recent “Night Out Against Crime” event.

Arizona Native Americans Oppose New Nativist Law

I’ll bet Arizona’s mostly white nativists, including right-wing Republicans, did not see this one coming. Native American groups in Arizona have made it clear they will not enforce the new Arizona anti-immigrants law. An Arizona Capitol Times report by Evan Wyloge states:

Native American tribes are charging that the law was written without considering their unique circumstance and that it will violate their sovereignty and their members’ civil rights. Despite a request by Gov. Jan Brewer’s office to comply with the new law, Native American tribes will continue to oppose it and seek ways to avoid its implementation, said John Lewis, executive director of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, which represents 20 tribes in the state. [and a fifth of the lands]

One reason is that the new law will

lead to disproportionate stops and detentions for tribal members, violate their sovereignty and negatively impact the tribal economy.

Police officers, especially white officers, are likely to target Native Americans, because they often look Latino. I wonder why that is? Could it be because a majority of Mexicans and Mexican Americans have substantial Native American (indigenous) ancestry?

And that raises another point. Aren’t most European Americans in Arizona and elsewhere the descendants of undocumented immigrants who came into a country without the permission (and often against the opposition) of the existing indigenous inhabitants? (We had no general exclusionary immigration laws until 1920-1924, so requiring immigration documents for all is fairly new in this country’s history.)

Hmmm. Does that also mean that a majority of current Mexican immigrants have deeper historical and ancestral roots in North America, and in what used to be northern Mexico (e.g., Arizona), than European Americans?

Navajo Nation Councilmember Delegate Kee Allen Begay Jr. has commented on the implications of the law:

“What if we had a law that said whenever a white person is traveling through the Navajo Reservation, we have reasonable suspicion that they’re carrying drugs? Where would the outcry on that be? ….We were here before anyone else, before any white people, and now we’re going to be questioned about being here legally?”

What if, indeed!