Immigrant lives

What the Immigration Rights Movement Can Learn from the Gay Rights Movement

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Reblogged from the Washington Post
by Frank Sharry

There is something about being under attack that makes a movement stronger.

I’ve been an advocate for immigrants for 30 years, working with Central Americans in Boston and policymakers in Washington. And for a long time, my colleagues and I assumed that if we developed strong reform ideas and clever lobbying strategies, we’d help create a road map to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in America.

But in 2005, with the rise of the Minutemen and fresh attention from Capitol Hill, many in the Republican Party started to turn immigration into a wedge issue. They demonized hardworking immigrants as criminals and moochers. They blocked national reform and passed harsh state laws aimed at purging immigrants. Their goal: to make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they would be forced to leave the country. Democrats were divided, our opponents were on the march, and we in the immigrants’ rights movement were on the defensive. Fortunately, we had a community we could learn from, look up to, emulate. And that was the LGBT movement.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community might have been even more marginalized than ours. In fact, I used to joke with a friend who works for an LGBT activist group about who was lower on the totem pole, gays or immigrants. But the LGBT movement bounced back from significant setbacks a decade ago to win multiple state referenda on marriage equality, turn the Obama administration around on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Read the rest of this article here.

Do the Undocumented really hurt the Economy?

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NYTimes by Adam Davidson

Earlier this month I met Pedro Chan at his small apartment above an evangelical church in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. Chan, who shares the place with three others, is short and muscular. He has a quiet voice and a patient demeanor that seems to have served him well on his journey to New York. In 2002, he left his Guatemalan village for a long trip through Mexico and, with the help of a smuggler, across the Texas border. In 2004, he made it to Brooklyn, where his uncle helped him find work on small construction crews.

These days, Chan helps skilled (and fully documented) carpenters, electricians and stucco installers do their jobs by carrying heavy things and cleaning the work site. For this, he earns up to $25,000 a year, which is considerably less than the average entry wage for New York City’s 100,000 or so documented construction workers. Chan’s boss, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that unless he learned a specialized skill, Chan would never be able to move up the income ladder. As long as there are thousands of undocumented workers competing for low-end jobs, salaries are more likely to fall than to rise.

Read the rest of this article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/magazine/do-illegal-immigrants-actually-hurt-the-us-economy.html?_r=0

Five Myths about the Immigration “Line”

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One of the most familiar (and frustrating) misconceptions about the 11 million undocumented residents of the U.S. is that they’ve failed to “stand in line” to receive legal immigration status.  The Washington Post tackles the five misconceptions about this idea today in their “Five Myths” column.

1. There is one line.The federal government has issued more than 1 million green cards per year, on average, for the past five years. But there are several lines — which one immigrants end up in depends on whether they have a job or family in the United States.

There are four family-based categories for many relatives, called “preferences,” and five based on employment. The number of green cards issued through each is limited by country of origin, but there is no cap for “immediate relatives” — spouses of U.S. citizens, U.S. citizens’ unmarried children under age 21 and parents of adult U.S. citizens over 21.

Immigrants and their lawyers track their “place in line” in the State Department’s monthly Visa Bulletin, which lists cut-off dates for each preference and country. For example, the February 2013 bulletin lists EB-1 “priority workers” — superstars in their fields, such as rock stars and neurosurgeons — as “current,” meaning they are likely to wait just the four to six months it takes to prepare visa paperwork and schedule a consular interview.

You can read the rest of the article, which covers the following topics here.

2. Anyone can get in line.

3. Once you are in line, the wait is not too long.

4. If you broke the law, it’s only fair that you get at the back of the line.

5. There’s no way to make the line any shorter.

Immigration Reform, 2013 Edition

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A bipartisan group of eight senators will unveil a framework for comprehensive immigration reform later today.  It is based on the following principles:

  • Creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, contingent upon securing the border and better tracking of people here on visas.
  • Reforming the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, math, technology or engineering from an American university.
  • Creating an effective employment verification system to ensure that employers do not hire illegal immigrants.
  • Allowing more low-skill workers into the country and allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they couldn’t recruit a U.S. citizen; and establishing an agricultural worker program.

It’s  good thing that lawmakers are grappling with the issue, in fact, it’s long overdue.  The entire framework, available here, does a great deal to address the basic unfairness of our current immigration system and if enacted, would help move millions of immigrant workers in the U.S. out of their second-tier status and offer more opportunities.  My concern is that the plan is contingent on “secure borders.”  I’ve written extensively about the folly of this idea, that it is money wasted when there are other solutions, like temporary visas, that could address the border issue.

It is too early to criticize the framework, whatever its deficiencies.  At this point we should hope that it moves beyond framework  and debate and into meaningful legislation

Three strategies the White House can employ to push Immigration Reform Forward

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Pablo Manriquez for HuffPost

The political window in Washington is open for landmark, comprehensive reform to the immigration code.  President Obama is expected to push for a bill in the early part of this year.  Here are three ways the White House can lead the charge for meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform.   

1.  Empower Cecilia Muñoz

President Obama listens to Cecilia Muñoz, and for good reason. Cecilia Muñoz is awesome.  As Assistant to the President and Director of his Domestic Policy Council, Muñoz has proven herself as a brilliant and loyal enforcer for the president on immigration reform.  Muñoz came up through NCLR.  She knows how the fight for immigration policy works in Washington better than anyone on the White House team.  She also has a groomed and connected Hispanic press shop — the first of its kind in the White House — and a rising tide of Hispanic media to activate and involve in a supremely beneficial policy battle for America.  That’s what immigration is, after all (12).

2.  Reach Out to Marco Rubio

Any serious negociation of comprehensive immigration on Capitol Hill must involve Marco Rubio.  Republican honchos recently met privately in Miami to map out the Hispanic outreach for the 2014 midterm election cycle.  Senator Rubio was surely factored into the strategy in a big way, especially if the Republican Party rallies behind him to support immigration reform.  The freshman senator from Florida supports a path to citizenship, and has so far been willing to make himself vulnerable to what Colin Powell calls the “dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the [Republican] party.”  The White House should collaborate with Marco Rubio to rally the American people behind meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform.

Read the rest of this post on HuffPost Latino Voices

The End of an Immigration Era? Pew Reports Net Migration from Mexico is now Zero

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Well, we finally did it.  And it only took, what?  15 years?

It appears that the longest and most sustained immigration from one country (Mexico) to the United States has ended. I’ve been watching the data from the Pew Hispanic Center closely since the end of last year.  Over the winter holiday I had lunch with my dean.  He asked about my new research project, which focuses on community development and is decidedly not going to result in an immigration book.  When he asked me why the shift in focus, I said, “Because I think it [immigration from Mexico] may be over.”  At least as we once knew it.

This press release from the Pew Hispanic Center (quoted in its entirety below) documents what I have observed in the field: the Mexicans have stopped coming.  Of course, I was not alone in my observation, even the creators of South Park recognized the shift dramatized in this episode, The Last of the Meheecans.  

What does it mean?  For the nation, it’s too soon to tell.  For me, it means my work continues to shift from newly arrived immigrants to the transitions that immigrants and their citizen neighbors experience together.

The largest wave of immigration in history from a single country to the United States has come to a standstill. After four decades that brought 12 million current immigrants—more than half of whom came illegally—the net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped—and may have reversed, according to a new analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center of multiple government data sets from both countries.

The standstill appears to be the result of many factors, including the weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings, the long-term decline in Mexico’s birth rates and changing economic conditions in Mexico.

The report is based on the Center’s analysis of data from five different Mexican government sources and four U.S. government sources. The Mexican data come from the Mexican Decennial Censuses (Censos de Población y Vivienda), the Mexican Population Counts (Conteos de Población y Vivienda), the National Survey of Demographic Dynamics (Encuesta Nacional de la Dinámica Demográfica or ENADID), the National Survey of Occupation and Employment (Encuesta Nacional de Ocupación y Empleo or ENOE), and the Survey on Migration at the Northern Border of Mexico (Encuesta sobre Migración en la Frontera Norte de México or EMIF-Norte). The U.S. data come from the 2010 Census, the American Community Survey, the Current Population Survey and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • In the five-year period from 2005 to 2010, about 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States and about 1.4 million Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born children moved from the United States to Mexico.
  • In the five-year period a decade earlier (1995 to 2000), about 3 million Mexicans had immigrated to the U.S. and fewer than 700,000 Mexicans and their U.S. born-children had moved from the U.S. to Mexico.
  • This sharp downward trend in net migration has led to the first significant decrease in at least two decades in the number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants living in the U.S.—to 6.1 million in 2011, down from a peak of nearly 7 million in 2007. Over the same period the number of authorized Mexican immigrants rose modestly, from 5.6 million in 2007 to 5.8 million in 2011.
  • Mexicans now comprise about 58% of the unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. They also account for 30% of all U.S. immigrants. The next largest country of origin for U.S. immigrants, China, accounts for just 5% of the nation’s stock of nearly 40 million immigrants.
  • Apprehensions of Mexicans trying to cross the border illegally have plummeted by more than 70% in recent years, from more than 1 million in 2005 to 286,000 in 2011—a likely indication that fewer unauthorized immigrants are trying to cross. This decline has occurred at a time when funding in the U.S. for border enforcement—including more agents and more fencing—has risen sharply.
  • As apprehensions at the border have declined, deportations of unauthorized Mexican immigrants—some of them picked up at work or after being arrested for other criminal violations—have risen to record levels. In 2010, nearly 400,000 unauthorized immigrants—73% of them Mexicans—were deported by U.S. authorities.
  • Although most unauthorized Mexican immigrants sent home by U.S. authorities say they plan to try to return, a growing share say they will not try to come back to the U.S. According to a survey by Mexican authorities of repatriated immigrants, 20% of labor migrants in 2010 said they would not return, compared with just 7% in 2005.
  • Looking back over the entire span of U.S. history, no country has ever sent as many immigrants to this country as Mexico has in the past four decades. However, when measured not in absolute numbers but as a share of the immigrant population at the time, immigration waves from Germany and Ireland in the late 19th century equaled or exceeded the modern wave from Mexico.

Immigration and Cultural Change

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Cultural change is something we folklorists think about a great deal. My colleague Kristina Downs wrote a thoughtful post on “Community Folklore in Changing Communities” that considers the issue: What traditions do you celebrate when your community members have left, only to be replaced with newer residents who do not have any links to those traditions?

If the op-ed writers of the nation’s major newspapers are any indication, white America is experiencing significant angst about immigration and cultural change. They fear that the white Protestant way of life will be usurped by the “hoards” of Latinos who (gasp, shudder) may be amnestied if the new immigration reform bill becomes law. The irony here, as I see it, is that white America rarely sees the tragedy when they are the usurpers. What about all of those ethnic or African American neighborhoods that disappear was communities gentrify? Where is the moral outrage when historically black neighborhoods become the latest hip locales?

Here in San Miguel, I’ve uncovered something unusual: Mexicans do not seem to be overly concerned with the cultural changes that are part of the expat immigration here. My assistant and I have completed nearly 60 oral history interviews, and while foreign expats are concerned that their presence may make SMA less Mexican in the long run, Mexicans to not see this as a problem? Why? That part is not as easy to tease out. Sifting through the data, and this is very preliminary, there are few instances of Mexican-expat friendship and fellowship. In fact, when expats here have Mexican friends, they are more likely to be internal migrants from Mexico City or other parts of Mexico, but not San Miguel.

What I believe is going on here (and I will work to try to confirm over the course of the project) is that SMA natives are much more like their cohort in greater Western Mexico: they are family oriented, Catholic, and personally and politically conservative. They do not have much interest in the liberal lifestyles and politics of their new neighborhoods, so they live their lives, try to benefit from the booming economy, and in general, resist the cultural encroachments that come with immigration.

The Mexican Republic helps with this cultural maintenance, no doubt. There are federal laws which prohibit foreign residents from becoming involved in local politics. That means it is illegal for a foreign resident to participate in a protest, to express opinions against the government, and so on. I know that many of my gringo readers, recalling the mass protests in the U.S. a year ago, might call “Foul!” at this. Go ahead, but remember that Mexico historically has had significant problems with foreign interference. They do not mind expats living in their country, but this is a not so subtle reminder that it is, indeed, their country.

The article I’ve linked from today’s Washington Post discusses the American fear of Latinos as a pathology–”they’re not that different from us,” the author implores, and he’s right, to a point. The problem that is not address here, and rarely discussed in the U.S. is that our society is and has been fairly fluid. We’re a trendy nation, and because we do not have 500+ years of tradition to burden and maintain our way of life, we are more likely to succumb to different cultural influences. It’s they way we live in the U.S. Rarely have we seen many of those changes as negative. Yes, we lament that our lives are too busy, but then continue to schedule our six year-olds in four different activities. We pine nostalgically for “home town America,” yet never make time to talk to our neighbors in suburbia. We make these choices, folks. We can make others.

At the same time, I think we need to find a constructive way to talk about cultural loss in the U.S. Somehow we’ve allowed the polarized voices on the right and the left hijack civil discourse about issues that are important to us. Why would it be wrong to feel sad that the little community you grew up in is now gone, and populated with a new group of people who have no connection to that part of your life? If you value something, you should miss it when it disappears or changes.

The discussion I would love to have would ask, “if it was really important to you, that neighborhood or community, why did you let it go?” Native-born Mexicans in San Miguel have decided to hold on to what is important to them. That’s something to think about.

More about immigration Reform

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This morning I found a link to this post from Staring at Strangers blog to my post of last night, En la Frontera. The link above will take you to Jennifer’s site:

Why I’m Happy About the Immigration Bill

The proposed immigration legislation doesn’t satisfy all interests. It even leaves nearly every special interest group a little bit unhappy, and that’s a mark of a settlement that’s beneficial to the good of the whole. Any bill which lets some of those immigrations remain in the U.S. is good enough for me, because it’s good for Pablo.

But first let me tell you a bit about Pablo, whom I’ve known for the past twenty or so years. He struggled to finish secundaria, and even with that, he had next to no job skills. There wasn’t much opportunity or incentive for him here in Morelia, the capital of Michoacán. He didn’t work out in his first job here, which amounted to tending a vacant lod, preferring to nod off in a hammock. His attempt at barber school lasted a full week. He announced that he was going off to California to pick lettuce, never mind that he’d never picked any kind of produce in his life. He got all the way to Tijuana, got scared, and his dad sent him airfare back home. The next year, he made it to Austin, Texas, where he worked in a Mexican restaurant. Finally, on his third try, paying a coyote the going rate of about $3,000 USD, he made it to Georgia, where his cousins lived. And he learned to hang sheetrock, becoming rather good at the job. He flew home for Christmas that year, taking the ever-expensive Aeromar from the Mexico City airport instead of the bus. During his three-month sojourn back in the ‘hood, he found himself a wife, who remained in Mexico long enough to give birth to their first child. The wife and child both joined him, all as illegals, in Georgia, where he’s now a foreman, added two more to their family, owns a house with wall¬-to-wall carpeting, and drives a used Lincoln Continental. It’s been more than decade since he was last in Mexico.

In the early years of Pablo’s time in the U.S., his parents would ask me to mail him care packages containing what they thought were essential items. Those packages, filled with medicine, videotapes of Morelia, family photos and letters are no longer as frequent as they once were. He’s on his own now. He pays taxes, and he’s saving us his money for whatever he’ll have to pay to get legal.

I’m darned proud of Pablo. He wouldn’t have amounted to a tinker’s damn had he stayed in these parts. Getting out on his own was the best thing that ever happened to him, because he had to struggle to survive. And he made it. And when he gets the vote, I’ll lay good money that he’ll vote Republican.

I have to say, I’m happy for Pablo and that he’s done well. I also think that those undocumented men and women in the U.S. will certainly be happy if the current form of the immigration bill passes (although I’ve lived in Washington, DC long enough to know that this bill, like the ones before it, is doomed in this election year). Nevertheless, I think that this bill is essentially flawed and is a reflection of the times that produced it.

An eight-year temporary work permit is not going to solve Pablo’s, or any undocumented person’s, problems. It’s a stopgap, plain and simple. One could argue that a stopgap is better than nothing, but I would disagree. Pablo and his cohort are not going to want to go home in 8 years just because time’s up. They are also not going to be less likely to want to bring their spouses and children to the U.S. if their lack of points means that they are not skilled enough to do so legally, which is what is going on in my post about Marisol.

Most academics that write about immigration will tell you that our current immigration problems today can be traced back to the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), that Reagan-era legislation that was supposed to end undocumented immigration. We know today how well that worked.

The problem with these compromise packages is that they do not look at the heart of the problem, nor do they consider the unintended consequences of their legislation. Until we are ready to really deal with this issue and to accept, nay embrace the fact that we are a nation of perpetual immigration and that our only recourse is to regulate (not stop) immigration, then we can move forward. In the meantime, I have to admit, I won’t be complaining if someone in Washington decides it’s time for a temporary work visa program. That, at least, will end the carnage and suffering at the border and in the desert. But I can’t say I’ll be happy is the Senate’s version of immigration reform passes this year, because I know it will create more problems that it intends to solve.

A New Twist on Local Immigration Regulation

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In the last year I have often reported about local towns that have initiated ordinances that are aimed against immigrants, most often to discourage immigrant settlement and to harass others into leaving. This article from today’s Washington Post points out an alternative: communities that have immigrant friendly policies. Hightstown, New Jersey recently passed an ordinance that functions like an immigrant bill of rights. Basically, the policy is a no-questions-asked position on immigration status; it allows Hightstown’s undocumented residents to officially interact with local police and access city services without fear of being reported to federal authorities.

It appears that Hightstown is one of a growing number of municipalities that self identify as “sanctuary cities.”

In New Haven, Conn., for example, officials have prohibited police from asking about an immigrant’s legal status, and in July the city will introduce municipal identification cards, providing undocumented immigrants with a “locally legal” form of ID that will make it easier for them to apply for bank accounts and sign rental leases. Overall, at least 20 cities and towns have approved pro-immigration measures over the past three years, according to the D.C.-based Fair Immigration Reform Movement. Analysts and advocates say almost as many — including at least five in New Jersey, where about one in 17 residents is an illegal immigrant — are considering similar resolutions.

It’s an interesting development. Unlike the laws proposed by cities like Hazleton, Pennsylvania, these communities obviously see immigrants as an asset to their communities and value their long-term relationships with people who will inevidebly be long-term members of the local community. At the same time, the fact that local communities see the need to enact these rules further points to a failed national policy.

When Children fall through the Cracks of our Immigration System

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This article from today’s Washington Post highlights a now common problem with increased apprehension of undocumented immigrants: sometimes their small children get left behind when their mothers (and sometimes fathers) are taken away.

Although the parents are undocumented, their children are often U.S. citizens who are abandoned and then incorporated into the child welfare system.

This situation is incomprehensible, and extremely sad.