“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 (http://immigrantarchiveproject.com). 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.