Thursday, September 27, 2012

No New Immigration Proposals

This week's blog on HuffPost Voces Latino:
trabajadores inmigrantes

English Version:

“We asked for workers. We got people instead.” ― Max Frisch

Terri E. Givens
It has been a very interesting week in politics.  In the wake of the release of videos showing Mitt Romney writing off 47% of the electorate, both candidates had important appearances on Univision.  Despite the partisan audiences, many important questions were asked on immigration by Jorge Ramos in particular.  Neither candidate had any new proposals or positions to present, but the policy differences were clear, President Obama has been unable to get Congress to pass the legislation he wants on comprehensive immigration reform or the DREAM act and Governor Romney maintains his position on “self-deportation.” For immigrants and those who want immigration reform, the stakes in this election are high.
Amidst the politics surrounding the immigration issue, I was reminded once again that this is not just about politics but about human lives.  The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is at least a temporary step forward, but there are real human lives in the balance if this policy does not turn into a law that will address the situation of these undocumented immigrants for the long-term.
It’s a problem that has haunted U.S. policy makers throughout our history.  One the one hand, we tout the “American Dream” and on the other, we demonize many of those who would dare to reach for it. Although we are a country of immigrants, nativism rears its head on a regular basis, nearly every ethnic group has faced discrimination and been told to “go home” often despite being in the country for generations.  Organizing and voting for pro-immigration candidates is important, but perhaps some of the more important initiatives in moving forward on immigration reform have to do with humanizing immigrants.  People like Jose Antonio Vargas have given a face to DREAMers who came to this country as children.  Several new movements of undocumented youth have grown out of the article he wrote, declaring their status and perhaps influencing President Obama’s moves on deferred action. 
Another initiative for highlighting the stories of recent immigrants is Tony Hernandez’s Immigrant Archive Project (  The videos are a chronicle of the life stories of immigrants from a variety of backgrounds and countries including celebrities like Edward James Olmos to a DACA eligible college student.  Although these stories may not change the political narrative on immigration, they certainly can have an impact on the narrative that these immigrants have for themselves.  Rather than being acted upon, they can take action and take pride in their stories.
As the title quote demonstrates, immigrants are more than units of labor that can be easily shifted around.  They are grandparents, parents, children and members of the community.  They have dreams and aspirations for themselves and their children.  There are millions of them who are here with visas and green cards and millions who have no such documents.  As the politicians debate the issues around immigration, it is important to keep in mind that it is not just policy, but human lives that are involved.  As Governor Romney said, it would not be possible to deport 12 million people.  But some states like Arizona and Alabama are already trying to make the lives of thousands of immigrants miserable enough that they will leave of their own accord, with predictable consequences for those labor markets, particularly agriculture.
Hopefully the immigration reform debate will move forward after the election.  While all voices need to be heard, there is a time for leaders to step forward and be a voice for those who represent the future of our country. We are for the most part a product of our ancestors who came to this country from other lands. We need to honor our tradition of being a country of immigration and deal with this ongoing issue in a responsible and equitable manner.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Blog post from HuffPost Voces Latino - English Version: Latinos and the 2012 Election – Lessons from 1996
Latinos and the 2012 Election – Lessons from 1996
Terri E. Givens
It’s mid-September and the presidential campaigns are moving into high gear.  It is clear that both parties are trying to court the Latino vote (acknowledging the diversity within this category), with Latino politicians playing a prominent role in both the Republican and Democratic conventions.  The latest polls show that President Obama is maintaining a strong lead over Mitt Romney among Latinos. Vice President Joe Biden told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s audience, Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to become, and already have, the most powerful force in American politics,” at their recent gala. Despite this, neither candidate has talked much about immigration – not necessarily a top issue in comparison to the economy, but still an important to many Latinos. This summer President Obama announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which falls far short of what is called for in the DREAM Act. Mitt Romney mainly played to his base early in the campaign and came out against an amnesty for the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country, while supporting high-skilled immigration. Despite the fact that comprehensive immigration reform has been a bi-partisan issue, it’s clear that it will take more motivation on the part of Republicans in Congress to move forward legislation that will address the main problems with our immigration system.
Like many immigrant groups before them, Latinos are moving into a position to influence elections in many states beyond places like Texas, California and New York, where they already have strong influence.  I was in graduate school in California in the mid-1990s when then Republican Governor Pete Wilson pushed forward an anti-immigrant agenda with Proposition 187 which would have denied undocumented immigrants and their children welfare benefits and access to public schools. Wilson was re-elected in 1994 and Prop 187 passed with nearly 60% of the vote.  Much like today’s SB1070, it seemed like a restrictionist tide was heading across the country.  Pete Wilson was unable to turn his success in California to success as a presidential candidate, but the Republican platform in 1996 called for legislation that would bar the children of undocumented immigrants from public schools.
However, these restrictive moves prompted increased naturalizations, helped by President Clinton’s Citizenship USA initiative in 1995, and subsequent increased voter registration in the Latino community. Mexican Americans in particular voted in record numbers in the 1996 presidential election.  Clinton won handily, including in California, and naturalizations continued to increase, particularly as permanent residents were being restricted from getting certain welfare benefits under welfare reform. George W. Bush was much more conciliatory towards immigrants, and worked much harder at getting the Latino vote than Bob Dole had in 1996.  Once he became president, he was on course to work with Mexican President Vicente Fox on immigration issues, but 9/11 put an immediate stop to those efforts.
Latino voters were successful in shifting the agenda on immigration in 1996.  With the wave of anti-immigrant bills being passed in state legislatures over the past few years, the question is whether the Latino vote will once again have an impact.  As with Proposition 187, most of the components of SB 1070 have been found unconstitutional. In California, Governor Jerry Brown is pursuing a much more immigrant friendly agenda and is considering whether to sign the TRUST Act which would limit local law enforcement cooperation with federal authorities through the Secure Communities program. In Texas, Republicans have been much more conciliatory on the immigration issue, while promoting the careers of Republicans like Senate candidate Ted Cruz.  Although some are arguing that the Latino vote won’t grow much, if at all in the November election it’s often at the margins where the vote matters, particularly in swing states like Iowa.  Turnout will not only have an impact on the current election, it will have a major impact on the direction of policy for many years to come.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

New Blog on HuffPost Voces - with English Version

I just started a new blog for the Huffington Post's Voces Latino - here's the link to the first post:
(thanks to Johann Roldan for translating from English to Spanish)
...and here's the English version
The Politics of Immigration – Introduction
Terri E. Givens
Why is an African-American political scientist writing a blog on immigration politics for Latino Voices?  The main reason is that it is an issue about which I am both knowledgeable and passionate.  For my first blog post, I thought it would be helpful to provide some background on me and my interest in immigration politics. My interest began when I was growing up in Eastern Washington State, where seasonal workers were an important part of the agriculture-based economy. Although I went on to study International Relations as an undergraduate at Stanford University, my interest in the politics of immigration continued as I learned how immigration had impacted French politics during a study abroad program in 1986.  When I went on to get my Ph.D. at UCLA, immigration was a hot topic in California. Proposition 187 went on the ballot in 1994, during my second year of graduate school.  Despite thousands of protestors marching in the streets, the proposition was passed, and then subsequently invalidated after five years of political and legal wrangling.  It amazed me at the time, that few in political science were studying the politics of immigration.

For over 20 years I have been a student of immigration policy and politics, both in the U.S. and Europe.  I have lived in Border States (California and Texas) that have taken very different approaches to the issues of both legal and illegal immigration. I have taught literally thousands of students about immigration policy in the U.S. and Europe. I have read countless books, conducted hundreds of interviews and spent time in Washington, DC and European capitals trying to gain insights into the factors that were influencing the behavior of political elites. As I have watched Congress and the President wrestle with issues around immigration reform I have developed my own theories around our current deadlocked politics and want to share them from my perspective as an African-American political scientists and a comparativist who has become a leading scholar in the study of immigration and immigrant integration.
From my perspective, it is clear that comprehensive immigration reform is needed to deal with a variety of issues that we are facing.  There is also a clear need for the passage of the DREAM act. Temporary measures like Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals are a move in the right direction, but don’t begin to deal with the need for long-term solutions, from those who have gotten an education here to seasonal workers and the employers whose labor needs are driving undocumented immigration.  It is an understatement to say that our immigration system is broken, with estimates of 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, increasing numbers of deportations, and states passing laws in the face of inaction at the federal level.  The dilemma for politicians is how to address the issue in a way that can actually lead to solutions while keeping from feeding into the fears that immigration raises in the general population.  Politicians have painted themselves into a corner by focusing on border security while being unwilling to pursue or compromise on policies that would deal with the immigration problem that is already inside of our borders.

With this blog, I will track developments in immigration politics and provide examples of potential solutions for our current deadlock over immigration policy.  Politicians have been able to compromise in the past, and there will hopefully be compromise in our future.  Stories from the state and local level can also provide the basis for potential solutions to our current impasse. America has been and will continue to be a country of immigration, it is in our best interest to find strength in our past to build a better future.