It is an unprecedented time in a nation’s political history. A
neophyte politician — a man famous for lowbrow TV antics who has never held
political office — is vying to become president. He feeds on simmering
discontent about the corruption of the political establishment and mainstream
politicians. Backed by extreme right-wing elements, he makes vague promises and
trumpets his lack of political experience as a reason to vote for him. His
competition is a former first lady married to a left-leaning ex-president. She
is an altogether polarizing figure considered by a large portion of the
electorate to be deeply corrupt.
Surprising all the pundits, he rides a wave of populist anger to victory.
Sound familiar? Yes, but it is also the story of Guatemala’s 2015 presidential
election. The politician is a man named Jimmy Morales, a clownish talk-show
comedian who ran on the ticket of an extreme right-wing political party called
the National Convergence Front. His oft-repeated campaign slogan was “Neither
corrupt nor a thief.”
Support for Mr. Morales, like that for Donald Trump, was based in part on
voters’ frustration with a political establishment they hold responsible for a
blatantly unfair status quo. But unlike Mr. Trump, Mr. Morales won a landslide
victory against his opponent, Sandra Torres, getting nearly 70 percent of the
At first glance, the uncanny parallels between President Morales’s and President
Trump’s victories may seem mere coincidence. In many ways, the two nations could
not be more distinct. Guatemala has long been one of the Western Hemisphere’s
most unequal societies, and for generations the American dream has lured
hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans seeking to escape poverty and insecurity.
And yet in the United States, the promise of a better future that animates the
American dream — not only for poor migrants but also for American working-class
families — has been in retreat for decades. Since the 1970s, the gap between
rich and poor has widened inexorably. And now, the aspirations of right-wing
United States lawmakers may portend even deeper and more disturbing convergences
between Central American nightmares and the fading American dream.
Guatemala’s spectacular levels of inequality have been long in the making. For
100 years, a tiny oligarchic elite has fought ferociously to keep hold of the
reins of power and monopolize the nation’s export economy. Through both military
oppression and manipulation of a weak democratic system, it has continually beat
back efforts at reform from below. As a result, today Guatemala has the
12th-highest level of income inequality in the world, with some studies
indicating that 5 percent of Guatemalans own or control 85 percent of the
national wealth. This elite has also labored to keep the Guatemalan state weak
and incapable of interfering in its business interests. In this, it has been
incredibly successful. Guatemala has one of the lowest income tax rates in the
hemisphere, and some of the weakest financial, environmental and workplace
The consequences of the elite’s success have been dire for the rest of the
country, offering a cautionary tale for those who believe that gutting public
institutions could ever make for a more equitable society. Lack of funding for
public education ensures that Guatemala remains one of the most illiterate
countries in the Americas, and failing health care and social security systems
undercut what scant social safety nets exist for the poor. Meanwhile, a sliver
of a middle class clings to its precarious perch between the superwealthy
superminority and a sea of abject poverty. More than 50 percent of Guatemalans
live beneath the poverty line, and social mobility is virtually nonexistent,
which is one reason so many poor Guatemalans risk the dangerous journey to the
However, the social and economic conditions in the United States that made the
American dream possible have long been eroding. Working-class wages have
remained stagnant for 30 years while more and more wealth is controlled by the
top 1 percent, putting income inequality in the United States at its highest
levels since the 1920s. Institutions that make social mobility possible, like
affordable higher education, and those that protect lower-income families, like
welfare programs, have undergone drastic cutbacks over the past 30 years,
forcing poor families to shoulder more debt and lower their horizons. Even as
the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, deepening tax breaks for the rich
have ensured that they can pay a smaller percentage of their wealth into public
coffers than do members of the increasingly beleaguered middle class.
And now, by accelerating the destruction of national institutions and fortifying
the elite, right-wing politicians in the United States appear hellbent on
restructuring American society to match ever more closely the Guatemalan
blueprint. As President Trump blusters about his “big beautiful wall” to keep
out poor migrants, Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation to neuter
financial-oversight laws on banking, gut environmental protection standards,
eliminate the Department of Education and roll back health care affordability.
They call for further easing of the tax burden on the rich and major corporate
tax cuts to make the United States more competitive in the global race to the
The United States is still a beacon for Central Americans desperate for a better
life. Last July, I spoke with a 20-year-old Guatemalan man named Wilmer who was
traveling through Mexico and looking to cross into the United States. “For poor
people like me, my country is like a cage with no way out,” Wilmer said as he
waited with dozens of other Central Americans to hop a northbound freight train.
“And we all know that this journey is dangerous. We might fail, we might even
die. But at least there’s some hope at the end of it.”
For now, the American dream is alive and kicking. How terrifying, though, to
imagine a future in which the hope that the United States has come to represent
for poor Central Americans is extinguished, not because of some “big beautiful
wall” but because entrenched inequality has made it a monstrous doppelgänger of
their own societies.
Anthony W. Fontes is a postdoctoral fellow at the University
of Wisconsin, Madison.
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Lawmakers probably meant no harm when they codified the term
“alien” into the landmark 1952 bill that remains the basis of America’s
immigration system. Since then, “alien” has found its way into many parts of the
statute: foreigners granted temporary work permits are “non-permanent resident
aliens”; those who get green cards by making investments in American businesses
are “alien entrepreneurs”; Nobel laureates and pop stars who want to make
America home can apply to become “aliens of extraordinary ability.”
Over the years, the label has struck newcomers as a quirky aspect of moving to
America. Many, understandably, have also come to regard it as a loaded,
disparaging word, used by those who regard immigrants as less-than-human burdens
rather than as assets.
Recognizing how dehumanizing the term is to many immigrants, officials in
California recently took commendable steps to phase it out. In August, Gov.
Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that deletes the term from the state’s labor
code. Last month, the California Republican Party adopted a new platform that
does not include the term “illegal alien,” saying it wanted to steer clear of
the vitriolic rhetoric that the presidential candidate Donald Trump has injected
into the 2016 race.
Several news organizations have adopted policies discouraging its use in
reporting about immigrants. According to a review by the Pew Research Center in
2013, the use of the term in newspaper articles dropped sharply between 2007 and
2013. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency
that administers immigration benefits, has removed the word from some documents,
including green cards.
But the term remains firmly embedded in conservative discourse, used by
Republicans to appeal to the xenophobic crowd. Mr. Trump, the leading Republican
presidential candidate, uses the term 12 times in his ruinous immigration plan,
which calls for the mass deportation of millions of unauthorized immigrants and
proposes that Washington bill Mexico to build a wall along the border. It was
often uttered by former Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential
nominee, whose idiotic immigration plan called for “self-deportation” by
“If you want to demonize a community, you use words that demonize,” said
Muzaffar Chishti, the director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York
University School of Law. “Alien is more demonizing than immigrant.”
Semantics may seem like a trivial part of immigration reform, but words, and
their evolution, matter greatly in fraught policy debates.
States that use the word alien in their laws should consider following
California’s lead. The federal government should scrub it from official
documents where possible. In the end, though, it will be up to Congress to
recognize that there is no compelling reason to keep a hostile term in the law
that sets out how immigrants are welcomed into the country.
A version of this editorial appears in print on October 20, 2015,
on page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: Time to Retire the Term
IMMIGRATION is in the headlines again, with President Obama’s
decision last week to stop deporting young illegal immigrants who came to the
United States as children, and the Supreme Court’s approaching decision on the
constitutionality of Arizona’s crackdown on undocumented migrants.
But too much of the public debate has focused on the legality of immigration
without considering a more fundamental question: What effects has mass
immigration had on American society?
As a result of the 1965 immigration act, which opened the door widely to
non-European immigrants, 40 million foreign-born immigrants now live in the
United States. They make up 13 percent of the population, the largest such
proportion since the 1920s. More than half of these migrants are from Latin
America and the Caribbean, although a study released Tuesday by the Pew Research
Center found that Asians overtook Hispanics in 2009 as the fastest-growing group
For the May issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social
Science, we commissioned some of the most meticulous research done to date about
the effects of immigration on a cross section of American communities — urban,
suburban and rural.
The scholars who participated were in remarkable agreement: while new immigrants
are poorer than the general population and face considerable hardship, there is
no evidence that they have reshaped the social fabric in harmful ways.
America is neither less safe because of immigration nor is it worse off
economically. In fact, in the regions where immigrants have settled in the past
two decades, crime has gone down, cities have grown, poor urban neighborhoods
have been rebuilt, and small towns that were once on life support are springing
Scholars can’t say for sure that immigration caused these positive developments,
but we know enough to debunk the notion that immigrants worsen social ills.
For example, in rural counties that experienced an influx of immigrants in the
1980s and ’90s, crime rates dropped by more than they did in rural counties that
did not see high immigrant growth. Higher immigration was associated with
reductions in homicide rates for white, black and Latino victims. In both
Hazleton, Pa., which has a recent history of hostility toward immigration, and
St. James, Minn., a much more welcoming community, migrants have also bolstered
dwindling populations and helped to reverse economic decline.
In large gateway cities, immigration has been associated not only with a
decrease in crime but also with economic revitalization and reductions in
concentrated poverty. Data from the 2005 American Community Survey showed, for
example, that the income of blacks in the New York City borough of Queens
surpassed that of whites for the first time, a development driven largely by
immigration from the West Indies.
Scholars found that immigrant youths in Los Angeles were involved in less crime
and violence than their native-born peers in similar economic circumstances.
Research also has shown that an increase in immigration in cities like San
Antonio and Miami did not produce an increase in the homicide rate. Furthermore,
social scientists found that people in immigrant communities in New York were
less cynical about the law than were people in less diverse communities; they
were also more likely to indicate that they would cooperate with the police.
If migration has had such beneficial effects, why, then, has there been such a
Part of the answer surely lies in the social changes — language, political
attitudes, religious mores — that immigrants bring, in addition to the effects
of the recession. The leveling-off of migration, especially from Mexico, may
bring a sense of relief to opponents of these social changes, but if the new
research is any guide, the consequences of the slowdown may be the opposite of
what the critics intend.
Comprehensive immigration reform — last attempted during the second term of
President George W. Bush — should be a priority for whoever wins in November.
Mr. Obama’s decision to exempt undocumented children who were brought to the
United States by their parents from harsh deportation rules is an overdue, but
welcome, first step.
Establishing a clear path to citizenship for undocumented adults, creating a
more permissive guest-worker program, reducing unwarranted police stops of
immigrants and preserving families rather than separating them through
deportation are controversial ideas, but they deserve a hearing.
It’s early yet for a full accounting of the economic damage Alabama has done to
itself with its radical new immigration law.
Farmers can tally the cost of crops left to rot as workers flee. Governments can
calculate the loss of revenues when taxpayers flee. It’s harder to measure the
price of a ruined business reputation or the value of investments lost or
productivity lost as Alabamians stand in line for hours to prove their
citizenship in any transaction with the government. Or what the state will
ultimately spend fighting off an onslaught of lawsuits, or training and
deploying police officers in the widening immigrant dragnet, or paying the cost
of diverting scarce resources away from fighting real crimes.
A growing number of Alabamians say the price will be too high, and there is
compelling evidence that they are right. Alabama is already at the low end of
states in employment and economic vitality. It has long struggled to lure good
jobs and shed a history of racial intolerance.
That was turning around and many foreign manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz,
Hyundai and Honda, have set up there. Its business-friendly reputation took a
serious blow with the arrest in Tuscaloosa of a visiting Mercedes manager who
was caught driving without his license and taken to jail as a potential illegal
Sheldon Day, the mayor of Thomasville, has aggressively recruited foreign
companies to his town, including a Chinese company — Golden Dragon Precise
Copper Tube Group — that plans to build a $100 million plant there, with more
than 300 jobs.
Mayor Day is now worried about that project and future prospects. He was quoted
by The Press-Register in Mobile as saying business inquiries had dried up since
the law was passed. “I know the immigration issue is being used against us.”
Alabama’s competitors certainly won’t waste any time. After the Tuscaloosa
incident, the editorial page of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch invited Mercedes to
Missouri. “We are the Show-Me State,” it said, “not the ‘Show me your papers’
Undocumented immigrants make up about 4.2 percent of Alabama’s work force, or
95,000 people in a state of 4.8 million. For all of the talk about clearing the
way for unemployed Americans, there is no evidence that Alabamians in any
significant numbers are rushing to fill the gap left by missing farm laborers
and other low-wage immigrant workers.
The loss of job-filling, tax-paying workers may get even worse if Alabama is
allowed to enforce a law requiring people who own or rent a trailer home to
obtain an annual registration sticker. This puts the undocumented in a Catch-22
— criminals if they don’t have a sticker, criminals if they try to get one. For
now, a judge has issued an order blocking enforcement. But if the state wins,
many thousands may simply join the exodus, tearing more shreds in the economy.
The law’s damage is particularly heartbreaking in poor towns across the state,
where small businesses are the economic lifeblood. We’ve spoken with Latino
shopkeepers and restaurant owners in places like Albertville who say business is
catastrophically down, with customers in hiding or flight. The situation isn’t
much better in Huntsville and Birmingham.
There should be no doubt about the moral repugnance of Alabama’s law, which
seeks to deny hardworking families the means to live. But even some of the law’s
most enthusiastic supporters are beginning to acknowledge the law’s high
economic cost. There is growing talk of revising or repealing the legislation.
The sooner Alabama does so — and other states learn — the better.
Alabama’s new anti-immigrant law, the nation’s harshest, went
into effect last month (a few provisions have been temporarily blocked in
federal court), and it is already reaping a bitter harvest of dislocation and
fear. Hispanic homes are emptying, businesses are closing, employers are
wondering where their workers have gone. Parents who have not yet figured out
where to go are lying low and keeping children home from school.
To the law’s architects and supporters, this is excellent news. “You’re
encouraging people to comply with the law on their own,” said Kris Kobach, the
Kansas secretary of state, who has a side career of drafting extremist
immigration legislation for states and cities, notoriously in Arizona and now in
Alabama’s law is the biggest test yet for “attrition through enforcement,” a
strategy espoused by Mr. Kobach and others to drive away large numbers of
illegal immigrants without the hassle and expense of a police-state roundup. All
you have to do, they say, is make life hard enough and immigrants will leave on
their own. In such a scheme, panic and fear are a plus; suffering is the point.
The pain isn’t felt just by the undocumented. Legal immigrants and native-born
Alabamans who happen to be or look Hispanic are now far more vulnerable to
officially sanctioned harassment. Many of those children being kept home from
school by frightened parents are born and bred Americans.
The problems do not stop there. Farmers are already worrying that with the
exodus, crops will go unpicked. Like much of the rest of the country, Alabama
needs immigrant labor, because too many native-born citizens lack the skill, the
stamina and the willingness to work in the fields — even in a time of steep
The new law has also added frustrating layers of paperwork for Alabamans who
must now prove legal status when enrolling schoolchildren, signing leases and
interacting with government. After the law went into effect, the lines at the
Department of Motor Vehicles in Birmingham grew so long that officials had to
bring in portable toilets.
Alabama’s reputation has also taken a huge hit just when it is trying to lure
international businesses. No matter how officials may try to tempt foreign
automakers, say, with low taxes and wages, the state is already infamous as a
regional capital of xenophobia.
If Alabama succeeds in driving out all of its estimated 120,000 unauthorized
immigrants, restrictionists will surely cheer. They will have only 49 states and
11 million more people to go.
There is another more humane and realistic path in which immigrants could earn
the right to stay — if Congress would accept its responsibility and move ahead
with serious immigration reform. America’s history shows that assimilation works
better than deportation — for everyone. If first-generation immigrants don’t all
learn English, their children and grandchildren invariably do. They may be poor,
but their children grow up to be productive citizen taxpayers. Unless, of
course, you frighten and oppress them, and forbid them to work, live and go to
Other states that are tempted to follow should look at what is happening in
Alabama. Nobody is winning there.
SAN DIEGO — At the Saturday farmer’s market in City Heights, a
major portal for refugees, Khadija Musame, a Somali, arranges her freshly picked
pumpkin leaves and lablab beans amid a United Nations of produce, including
water spinach grown by a Cambodian refugee and amaranth, a grain harvested by
Sarah Salie, who fled rebels in Liberia. Eaten with a touch of lemon by
Africans, and coveted by Southeast Asians for soups, this crop is always a
Among the regular customers at the New Roots farm stand are Congolese women in
flowing dresses, Somali Muslims in headscarves, Latino men wearing broad-brimmed
hats and Burundian mothers in brightly patterned textiles who walk home
balancing boxes of produce on their heads.
New Roots, with 85 growers from 12 countries, is one of more than 50 community
farms dedicated to refugee agriculture, an entrepreneurial movement spreading
across the country. American agriculture has historically been forged by
newcomers, like the Scandinavians who helped settle the Great Plains; today’s
growers are more likely to be rural subsistence farmers from Africa and Asia,
resettled in and around cities from New York, Burlington, Vt., and Lowell,
Mass., to Minneapolis, Phoenix and San Diego.
With language and cultural hurdles, and the need to gain access to land,
financing and marketing, farm ownership for refugees can be very difficult.
Programs like New Roots, which provide training in soil, irrigation techniques
and climate, “help refugees make the leap from community gardens to independent
farms,” said Hugh Joseph, an assistant professor at the Friedman School of
Nutrition at Tufts, which advises 28 “incubator” farms representing hundreds of
Cameroonian peanut plants are growing at Drew Gardens in the Bronx, chronicled
on the Facebook page of Angela Nogue, a refugee farmer. Near Phoenix, a
successful goat meat farm and store was begun by Ibrahim Sawara Dahab, an ethnic
Sudanese from Somalia. “In America, you need experience, and my experience was
goats,” he said.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement in Washington formed a sustainable farming
program in 1998, financing 14 refugee farms and gardens, including one in Boise,
Idaho, where sub-Saharan African farmers have gradually learned to cope with
Larry Laverentz, the program manager for refugee agriculture with the Office of
Refugee Resettlement, said inspiration came from the Hmong, Mien and Lao refugee
farmers of Fresno County, Calif., who settled in the late 1970s and now have
1,300 growers specializing in Asian crops.
These small plots of land can become significant sources of income for refugees,
with most farmers able to earn from $5,000 to more than $50,000 annually, as the
Liberian refugees James and Jawn Golo do on their 20-acre organic farm outside
Phoenix, including sales to five farmers’ markets, restaurants and chefs.
In Burlington, a four-acre farm started by Bhutanese-Nepali, Somali Bantu and
Congolese farmers is still reeling from the flooding of the Winooski River after
Hurricane Irene, which ruined crops at the height of the season and caused an
estimated $15,000 in losses.
“This is a significant supplement to our diet, and budgets are geared to it,”
said Yacouba Jacob Bogre, 38, executive director of the Association of Africans
Living in Vermont and a lawyer from Burkina Faso. “Emotionally, we lost a lot,
along with fresh vegetables for our households.”
New Roots in City Heights, which Michelle Obama visited last spring, is a model
for today’s micro-enterprise. (It is also a culinary education, where a
Zimbabwean grower can discover bok choy.) It was started at the request of his
Somali Bantu community, said Bilali Muya, the effervescent trainer-in-chief.
“There was this kind of depression,” he said. “Everyone was dreaming to come to
the U.S.A., but they were not happy. The people were put in apartments, missing
activity, community. They were bored.“
They were also homesick for traditional food, grown by hand. In City Heights,
where half the residents live at or below the federal poverty line, the
three-year-old farmer’s market was the city’s first in a low-income
neighborhood, a collaboration between the nonprofit International Rescue
Committee and the San Diego County Farm Bureau.
One can hear 15 different languages there, amid the neat rows of kale, rape and
banana plants — but body language is the lingua franca.
“If I see a weed, I pull it, shaking my head,” said Mrs. Musame, the Somali
farmer. “We understand each other.”
The hub of refugee life, City Heights was largely home to African-Americans and
Mexican immigrants until the fall of Saigon in 1975, when thousands of Southeast
Asian refugees arrived to a massive tent city at nearby Camp Pendleton.
From 1980 through 1990, the population almost doubled with immigrants and
refugees (most recently from Iraq). The changing demographics of the
neighborhood resemble an electrocardiogram of international conflict.
But the exquisite fruits and vegetables for sale, lovingly grown, belie the life
experiences of the growers. Mrs. Salie, the Liberian, was raped by rebels and
hid for two years in the bush after reporting the crime, she said. Mrs. Musame,
a Somali Bantu, came to San Diego as a widow after her husband and three of her
sons were gunned down.
And Mr. Muya said Somalis had taken his father, who dug irrigation trenches for
a local banana farm, and tortured him, his screams echoing through the village.
His grandfather went to help and was beaten with the butt of a rifle. Many hours
later, Mr. Muya said, the villagers were told: “Come pick up your dogs.”
“As a Somali Bantu, you don’t go to sleep really deep,” Mr. Muya continued. “You
In addition to accepting food stamps, the market offers $20 a month to
low-income shoppers to buy more produce (financing comes from Wholesome Wave, a
nonprofit based in Connecticut, and a $250,000 grant from the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention).
“Especially in tough times, farmers are becoming pharmacists — providing healthy
fresh local fruits and vegetables to vulnerable families,” said Gus Schumacher,
a former under secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture and now
an executive vice president of Wholesome Wave.
Their produce is sold to restaurateurs like George and Samia Salameh, who buy
the farm’s tomatoes and mint. Mr. Salameh, a former airline pilot, came to the
United States from Lebanon 37 years ago. “This product is absolutely fitting for
me,” he said.
The country’s pioneering refugee farm program, in Lowell, Mass., was founded by
Tufts University and continues to thrive.
Visoth Kim, a Khmer refugee from Cambodia, now 63, farms land in Dracut, Mass.,
owned by the widow of John Ogonowski, the pilot of American Airlines Flight 11
that crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. Mr. Ogonowski, whose
ancestors were Polish immigrants, made land available to Hmong and Cambodian
refugees, teaching them modern irrigation techniques in exchange for fresh
Mr. Kim, who witnessed mass starvation in Cambodia, losing a brother, refers to
his two-acre plot as “my plenty.” His fellow farmer Sinikiwe Makarutsa grew up
in Zimbabwe and now grows maize on land rented from a local church. She made
enough money to buy a tractor and rototiller.
Ms. Makarutsa was inspired to farm, she said, after tasting supermarket
tomatoes. She uses the Zimbabwean phrase “Pamuzinda” to describe her seven-acre
Roughly translated, she said, “It means ‘where you belong.’ ”
Only about 3.5 percent of Alabama’s population is
foreign-born, according to the Census Bureau. Undocumented immigrants made up
roughly 4.2 percent of its work force in 2010, according to the Pew Hispanic
Center. But the drafters of Alabama’s harsh immigration law wanted to turn their
state into the country’s most hostile territory for illegal immigrants. They are
succeeding, as many of Alabama’s most vulnerable residents can attest.
The law went into effect over the weekend, after being largely upheld by a
federal district judge. Volunteers on an immigrant-rights group’s hot line said
that since then they have received more than 1,000 calls from pregnant women
afraid to go to the hospital, crime victims afraid to go the police, parents
afraid to send their children to school.
School superintendents and principals across the state confirm that attendance
of Hispanic children has dropped noticeably since the word went out that school
officials are now required to check the immigration status of newly enrolled
students and their parents.
That rule is part of the law’s sweeping attempt to curtail the rights and
complicate the lives of people without papers, making them unable to enter
contracts, find jobs, rent homes or access government services. In other words,
to be isolated, unemployable, poor, defenseless and uneducated.
The education crackdown is particularly senseless and unconstitutional. In 1982,
the Supreme Court found that all children living in the United States have the
right to a public education, whatever their immigration status. The justices’
reasoning was shaped not by compassion but practicality: it does the country no
good to perpetuate an uneducated underclass.
Officials in Alabama — some well meaning, others less so — insisted that nothing
in the new law is intended to deny children an education. School districts, they
noted, are supposed to collect only numbers of children without papers, not
“I don’t know where the misinformation’s coming from,” Alabama’s interim state
school superintendent, Larry Craven, told NPR. “If you have difficulty
understanding the language anyway, then who knows what they’re being told?” With
comments like that, it’s not surprising that any of “them” would be frightened.
The Obama administration was right to sue to try to stop the Alabama law. It
needs to press ahead with its appeal of the ruling and challenge similar laws in
Utah, Georgia, Indiana and South Carolina.
President Obama needs to show stronger leadership in defending core American
values in the face of the hostility that has overtaken Alabama and so many other
states. He can start by scrapping the Secure Communities program, which
encourages local immigration dragnets and reinforces the false notion that most
undocumented immigrants pose a threat to this country’s security.
As for Alabama, one has to wonder at such counterproductive cruelty. Do
Alabamans want children too frightened to go to school? Or pregnant women too
frightened to seek care? Whom could that possibly benefit?
WASHINGTON — The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency
announced on Wednesday that it had arrested 2,901 immigrants who have criminal
records, highlighting the Obama administration’s policy of focusing on such
people while putting less emphasis on deporting illegal immigrants who pose no
demonstrated threat to public safety.
Officials from the agency portrayed the seven-day sweep, called Operation Cross
Check, as the largest enforcement and removal operation in its history. It
involved arrests in all 50 states of criminal offenders of 115 nationalities,
including people convicted of manslaughter, armed robbery, aggravated assault
and sex crimes.
“These are not people who are making a positive contribution to their
communities,” said the agency’s director, John Morton. “They are not the kind of
people we want walking our streets.”
More than 1,600 of those arrested had been convicted of a felony. The remainder
had a misdemeanor conviction for matters like theft, forgery and driving while
intoxicated, the agency said. Those arrested included illegal immigrants and
lawful resident noncitizens who had been convicted of crimes that made them
eligible to be deported.
The agency did not release the names of all the people arrested. But a sampling
that showed the geographical breadth of the operation included one person from
the New York City area: Virgilio Lopez-Ruiz, a 54-year-old Dominican who was
living in the Bronx. He had been convicted on Nov. 16, 1988, of second-degree
attempted murder, it said. It did not provide his immigration status.
Mr. Morton issued a memo in June suggesting that the agency should place a
priority on deporting noncitizen criminals like drug dealers and gang members,
as well as people who have flagrantly violated immigration laws, for example by
ignoring deportation orders or re-entering the country after being removed.
Under that approach, it would give less emphasis to removing illegal immigrants
who are not a public safety or national security threat.
In August, the White House essentially ratified that approach, announcing that
the Department of Homeland Security would, on a case-by-case basis, suspend
deportation proceedings against people who posed no public safety threat. The
policy shift has been criticized by some Republicans as a backdoor form of the
so-called Dream Act — a bill, which has stalled in Congress, that would provide
relief to illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children
and who want to attend college or join the armed forces.
But Mr. Morton said Wednesday that there were far more illegal immigrants in the
United States than the agency has the resources to remove. He said that the
agency has been deporting about 390,000 people annually for the past several
years, a record level, and that the question is who those people should be. In
2008, he said, about a third were criminal offenders, but this year about half
have been, and the majority of the remainder have been flagrant violators of
Oscar Handlin, a prolific, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian whose
best-known book altered public perceptions about the role of immigration in the
arc of American history, died on Tuesday at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was
His death was confirmed by his wife, Lilian.
Dr. Handlin wrote many scholarly volumes on immigration, race and ethnic
identity during his nearly half century as a history professor at Harvard. His
work as a chronicler of the migrations of Puerto Ricans and African-Americans to
the cities attracted a generation of historians and sociologists to urban
studies during the 1950s, when the field was considered marginal.
But his best-known work, “The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations
That Made the American People,” which won the 1952 Pulitzer for history, was
aimed at an audience of general readers in making his case that immigration —
more than the frontier experience, or any other episode in its past — was the
continuing, defining event of American history. Dispensing with footnotes and
writing in a lyrical style, Dr. Handlin emphasized the common threads in the
experiences of the 30 million immigrants who poured into American cities between
1820 and the turn of the century. Regardless of nationality, religion, race or
ethnicity, he wrote, the common experience was wrenching hardship, alienation
and a gradual Americanization that changed America as much as it changed the
The book used a form of historical scholarship considered unorthodox at the
time, employing newspaper accounts, personal letters and diaries as well as
archives. The New York Times described it as “history with a difference — the
difference being its concern with hearts and souls.”
Dr. Handlin, whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia, was among the
first Jewish scholars appointed to a full professorship at Harvard, where he
taught from 1939 until 1984. His family’s immigrant background, and the
influence of a mentor, the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr., who pioneered
the field of immigration studies at Harvard, led him to the subject of his Ph.D.
dissertation, and his first book, “Boston’s Immigrants: 1790-1880.”
Published in 1941, it was considered innovative for its use of census data, the
archives of German and Irish immigrant newspapers and sociological concepts in
tracing how immigrants, most of them coming from rural communities steeped in
ancient traditions, adjusted to life without the support of those traditions in
an American city where they were scorned.
“All his work tried to capture the voice and experience of people undergoing
this uprooting process, this process of immigration,” said David J. Rothman, a
history professor at Columbia University and a former student of Dr. Handlin’s.
“He was alert to the fact that every group was different. But this process,
regardless of whether you were Irish or Jewish, was something shared.”
In the often-quoted opening line of the introduction to “Uprooted,” Dr. Handlin
wrote: “Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I
discovered that the immigrants were American history.”
Oscar Handlin was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 29, 1915, the oldest of four
children of Joseph and Ida Handlin. His father owned a grocery store. Oscar
Handlin told interviewers that he decided to become a historian when he was 8,
and began reading avidly, even while delivering groceries to his father’s
He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1934, at 19, and received a master’s
degree in history from Harvard the next year. He taught at Brooklyn College from
1936 until 1938 while working toward his doctorate, which he received from
Harvard in 1940.
His first wife, Mary Flug Handlin, a historian, died in 1976 after 40 years of
marriage. He was married again, in 1977, to Lilian Bombach Handlin. Dr. Handlin
is also survived by three children from his first marriage, David, Joanna Smith,
and Ruth Manley; four grandchildren; a great grandchild and a brother, Nathan.
In 1965, Dr. Handlin lent his weight as the nation’s most eminent immigration
scholar to the effort to pass legislation abolishing an immigration quota
system, in place since the 1920s, which discriminated against many groups,
including Asians. He testified before Congress, and was said to have played an
important behind-the-scenes role. The legislation was adopted.
His views on immigration became less popular in the late 1960s and ’70s, when a
younger generation of scholars began to examine historic events through the
prisms of race, class and gender. He clashed with fellow scholars who were, to
him, distorting American history by viewing it through the politics of the
Vietnam-era culture war. His support for the war frequently placed him at odds
with students and fellow members of the faculty.
But Dr. Handlin changed the way Americans view American history, said James
Grossman, a historian and executive director of the American Historical
Association. “He reoriented the whole picture of the American story,” he said,
“from the view that America was built on the spirit of the Wild West, to the
idea that we are a nation of immigrants.”
PHOENIX — The boycott of Arizona is on. No, the boycott of
Arizona is off. Deciding whether to visit this state, which may or may not be
boycotted, is as disorienting as peering into the depths of the Grand Canyon.
After Arizona’s passage of controversial immigration legislation in April 2010,
musicians canceled Arizona concerts, tourists canceled Arizona vacations and
convention organizers bypassed Arizona in favor of less politically toxic
states. But the very activists who put the boycott in place, hurting the state’s
pocketbook in the process, are now divided over whether it ought to continue.
Some called for the boycott’s end last year, after a federal judge blocked the
most contentious elements of the immigration law. Others have peeled off more
recently, with the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group,
announcing last week that it no longer backed the boycott. Still other activists
have dug in their heels, insisting that Arizona ought to remain off limits for
the foreseeable future.
“There’s been confusion surrounding every aspect of this issue from the start,”
said Kristen Jarnagin, the spokeswoman for the Arizona Hotel and Lodging
Association, whose members were battered by the boycott and want it officially
and completely kaput. “We’re glad some say it’s over. To the others, we’d hope
they’d be as quick to retract the boycott as they were to get in line at the
Whether it is on or off, studies have pointed to significant drops in convention
and hotel business in Arizona since the boycott was declared. Besides that,
activists point with pride to the letter that Arizona business leaders, fearing
more protests, wrote to state lawmakers this year urging that they back off from
even tougher immigration measures they were considering.
But the mixed signals are creating confusion among those who are sympathetic to
The singer Steve Earle, who joined the boycott last year, scheduled a concert in
Tucson in July, thinking the boycott had been lifted. After being criticized, he
canceled but expressed frustration as he did so.
Mr. Earle said in a statement that he wanted “to do more research about the
boycott and its effects because as someone who supports the immigrants rights
movement, I am not convinced that it is useful to continue to stay away from
progressive fans in the state.”
Other artists have decided to perform in Arizona, boycott or no boycott.
Los Lobos, which initially backed the boycott and canceled its Arizona shows
last year, went ahead with a concert in May in Tucson. To show its opposition to
the Arizona law, the band allowed immigrant rights groups to raffle off a signed
guitar and to distribute literature to concertgoers in the lobby. Four groups
joined in, but not Coalición de Derechos Humanos, an immigrant rights group in
Tucson, which issued a statement saying the concert would “diffuse the effect
that boycotts and event cancellations have.”
One of the early public officials to back away from the boycott was
Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, a Democrat from Tucson, who found his
constituents up in arms about the prospect of even more economic suffering.
“I am telling people to come back to Arizona,” Mr. Grijalva said last week. “My
opinion is the new strategy ought to be to invite people to come but to urge
them to help change the political climate.”
The Service Employees International Union, an influential boycott proponent,
ended its support for economic sanctions against Arizona in December. But the
Sound Strike, a Los Angeles group that urged entertainers to steer clear of the
state after the passage of Senate Bill 1070, said last week that the boycott
Juan Ramos, a pastor at Love International, a large bilingual church in central
Phoenix, recently persuaded a national group of evangelicals to hold its
convention in Arizona, arguing that the boycott, which he never supported, was
hurting the immigrants it was supposed to help.
But Kat Rodriguez, program director for Coalición de Derechos Humanos, continues
to recommend that tourists stay away, musicians cancel for-profit concerts and
conventions look elsewhere for meeting space.
“Our interest is not boycotting for the sake of boycotting,” Ms. Rodriguez said.
“We want the state not to continue with business as usual. People think S. B.
1070 was last year’s news, but immigrants in this state are still suffering.”
The law never fully went into effect. A federal judge blocked the provision that
required police officers to check the immigration status of those they stop who
are suspected of being in the country illegally. The State of Arizona has
appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court. Gov. Jan Brewer, who
gained both political traction and scorn by signing the law, has condemned the
boycotters as misguided, saying on one occasion, “They’re hurting the people
they pretend they want to help.”
As it is, some activists say the boycott is over, others say it is on, and many
take an intermediate stance in which they call on visitors to make a difference
if they come to the state.
“We’re looking for real actions and not just people coming here to play golf at
some convention or go to the Grand Canyon for the views or Sedona to stand in
front of the vortexes,” Ms. Rodriguez said.
Many of the municipalities and school districts that joined in the boycott last
year have not changed their stances. “We’re just watching the situation,” said
John Stiles, spokesman for Mayor R. T. Rybak of Minneapolis, who last year
ordered department heads to steer clear of Arizona.
Unsure whether the boycott was still in effect, the National Hispanic Christian
Leadership Conference, the largest organization of Latino evangelical churches
in the country, reached out to Arizona pastors before deciding to hold its
conference in Tucson this month. Those pastors were eager for moral support,
said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the group.
“What prompted us to hold our summit in Arizona is that we don’t want people to
forget Arizona,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “We don’t want the immigration issue on the
back burner. We want to remind people that this is a state that attempted to
incorporate racial profiling into its law.”
Javier Gonzalez, the organizer of the Sound Strike, said that the group had been
holding concerts in Arizona throughout the boycott but that they were events
from which the bulk of the proceeds went to immigrant rights groups.
“We need to look at the next step,” Mr. Gonzalez acknowledged. “There is a
difference of opinion that exists. Some artists want to never play in Arizona
again. Others want to know when they can go back.”
Lady Gaga’s decision to forgo the boycott, even though she denounced the
immigration law from the stage during her July 2010 concert in Phoenix, drew
criticism from some activists. A concert planned this month in Phoenix by Manu
Chao, a French singer of Spanish heritage, is drawing praise because it is free
and in support of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
One reason the boycott has lost its effectiveness, some immigration advocates
say, is that the legislation aimed at making life difficult for illegal
immigrants has spread from Arizona nationwide.
“With Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina passing similar or more onerous
legislation, the point of telling people not to visit Arizona is moot now,” Mr.
Grijalva, the Tucson Democrat, said. “And I’m not sure it makes sense to have a
long list of boycotted states.”
WASHINGTON — Conservative legislators from five states opened
a national campaign on Wednesday to end the automatic granting of American
citizenship to children born in the United States of illegal immigrants.
At a news conference here timed to coincide with the start of a new Congress,
Republican state lawmakers introduced two model measures curtailing citizenship
rights for children of illegal immigrants. The legislators said the measures
would be introduced in at least 14 states.
They acknowledged that the state bills were not likely to have a practical
effect anytime soon, since they will quickly be challenged as unconstitutional.
But the legislators — from Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South
Carolina — said they chose the first day of a new Republican-controlled House of
Representatives to start an effort that they hope will end with a Supreme Court
decision on birthright citizenship, and spur legislative action in Washington.
In a separate effort, Representative Steve King of Iowa, a Republican who will
be chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, said Wednesday
that as soon as the new House members were sworn in, he would introduce a bill
to eliminate birthright citizenship for children when both parents were illegal
But it was the state lawmakers’ initiative that moved the highly emotional issue
of birthright citizenship, which had long been marginal in the immigration
debate, to the front of the Republicans’ immigration agenda in the 112th
“We are here to send a very public message to Congress,” said Daryl Metcalfe, a
Republican state representative from Pennsylvania. “We want to bring an end to
the illegal alien invasion that is having such a negative impact on our states.”
The states’ campaign brought an outcry from immigrant, Latino and
African-American civil rights organizations. Several of them announced they had
formed a coalition to bring court challenges to any birthright citizenship laws
that passed state legislatures.
“For the first time since the end of the Civil War, these legislators want to
pass state laws that would create two tiers of citizens, a modern-day caste
system,” said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Human
and Civil Rights, which includes many African-American groups.
His group is in the new coalition, along with the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People and the National Council of La Raza, among others.
The lawmakers were challenged even before they finished speaking. The news
conference, held at the National Press Club, was interrupted four times by
protesters who stood one by one to brandish posters and accuse the lawmakers of
intolerance and racism. One protester cited welcoming words for immigrants
inscribed at the site of the Statue of Liberty.
A brief scuffle erupted when a man who was a supporter of the state initiatives
seized one protester by the arm and tried to march him out of the room. Also
present were supporters of the lawmakers, who clapped and cheered.
One model measure the lawmakers presented was a bill creating a new definition
of state citizenship, in addition to national citizenship, which would exclude
babies born in the state with two illegal immigrant parents.
The second measure was a compact between states, in which they would agree to
issue distinctive birth certificates to babies whose parents could not show
legal immigration status.
The state bills would also deny citizenship to newborn children of hundreds of
thousands of legal immigrants who live in the United States on temporary visas.
The right to United States citizenship for everyone born on American soil is
described in the 14th Amendment. The state legislators argued that one phrase in
the amendment — which guarantees citizenship to everyone born or naturalized in
this country “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” — signals that it was not
intended to apply to children of immigrants who do not have lawful status.
The 14th Amendment was adopted in the wake of the Civil War to guarantee
citizenship to the American-born children of freed slaves. In the debate on
Wednesday, there were frequent references to the Civil War.
Daniel B. Verdin, a senior Republican state senator from South Carolina, called
illegal immigration “a malady of epic proportions,” which he said compared with
“the malady of slavery.”
The state lawmakers said illegal immigrants had a dire effect on state budgets.
Mr. Metcalfe said that Pennsylvania was facing “nothing less than an invasion,”
and that Congress had a constitutional responsibility to protect states from
Kris Kobach, a constitutional lawyer who was recently elected secretary of state
of Kansas, said the proposed laws were carefully written to avoid usurping
federal authority, but to “revive the concept of state citizenship.”
But opponents of the proposals said that determining American citizenship was
clearly a federal matter in which states had no legal role.
“We believe these laws cannot survive constitutional scrutiny,” said Lucas
Guttentag, director of the immigrants’ rights project of the American Civil
Liberties Union, another group in the new coalition.
Mr. King, the Iowa congressman, said the birthright citizenship bill he would
introduce might not be his first priority for passage. He said he would focus
first on legislation to crack down on employers who hire unauthorized immigrant
Several House lawmakers said Mr. King’s citizenship bill could pass, although it
was likely to be defeated in the Senate, where Democrats hold a majority.
“I would have said a year ago that Republicans would not embrace anything so
drastic,” said Representative Charlie Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat who is chairman
of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “But anything is possible now.”
Some Latino Republicans expressed dismay that the party was making birthright
citizenship a central element of its immigration policy.
“Rather than attacking babies born in the United States and the Constitution, we
demand they target our suffering economy,” said Deedee Garcia Blase, a
spokeswoman for Somos Republicans, a Texas-based organization of Latino
PHOENIX — A federal judge on Wednesday blocked the most
controversial parts of Arizona’s immigration enforcement law from going into
effect, a ruling that at least temporarily squashed a state policy that had
inflamed the national debate over immigration.
Judge Susan Bolton of Federal District Court issued a preliminary injunction
against sections of the law, scheduled to take effect on Thursday, that called
for police officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other
laws and required immigrants to prove that they were authorized to be in the
country or risk state charges. She issued the injunction in response to a legal
challenge brought against the law by the Obama administration.
A spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who signed the law and has
campaigned on it for election to a full term, said Wednesday that the governor
would appeal the injunction on Thursday and ask for a speedy review. Legal
experts predicted that the case could end up before the Supreme Court.
The law, designed to seek and deport illegal immigrants in a state that is the
principal gateway for illegal border crossers, had provoked intense debate from
coast to coast, drawing support in several polls but generating boycotts of the
state by major civil rights groups and several cities and towns.
It renewed calls for an overhaul of federal immigration law and led to repeated
rebukes of it from President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who
maintained that immigration policy is under the purview of the federal
government, not individual states. The Mexican government, joined by seven other
Latin American nations, supported one of the lawsuits against the law; the
attorneys general of several states backed Arizona.
The ruling came four days before 1,200 National Guard members were scheduled to
report to the Southwest border to assist federal and local law enforcement
agencies there, part of the Obama administration’s response to growing anxiety
over the border and immigration that has fed support for the law.
Judge Bolton, appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton, did allow some,
less debated provisions of the law to go into effect, including one that bans
cities from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration agents.
But she largely sided with arguments in a lawsuit by the Obama administration
that the law, rather than closely hewing to existing federal statutes, as its
supporters have claimed, interferes with longstanding federal authority over
immigration and could lead to harassment of citizens and legal immigrants.
“Preserving the status quo through a preliminary injunction is less harmful than
allowing state laws that are likely pre-empted by federal law to be enforced,”
“There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal
resident aliens,” she wrote. “By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose,”
she said, citing a previous Supreme Court case, a “ ‘distinct, unusual and
extraordinary’ burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government
has the authority to impose.”
The judge’s decision was not her final word on the case. In granting the
injunction, she simply indicated that the Justice Department was likely, but not
certain, to prevail on those points at a later trial in federal court. She made
no ruling on the six other suits that also challenged the law.
Her ruling, issued as demonstrators both for and against the law gathered here,
and after hearings in three of the seven lawsuits against the it, seemed more
likely to add another log to the fire than settle matters.
“This fight is far from over,” said Ms. Brewer, whose lawyers had argued that
Congress granted states the power to enforce immigration law particularly when,
in their view, the federal government fell short. “In fact,” she added, “it is
just the beginning, and at the end of what is certain to be a long legal
struggle, Arizona will prevail in its right to protect our citizens.”
State Senator Russell Pearce, a Republican and chief sponsor of the law, said in
a statement that he was confident that the sections blocked by Judge Bolton
would survive on appeal, noting the state’s previous victories in court on other
statutes designed to give it a larger role in immigration enforcement. “The
courts have made it clear states have the inherent power to enforce the laws of
this country,” he said.
But Gabriel Chin, a professor at the University of Arizona School of Law who has
studied the law, called the ruling “a nearly complete victory for the position
of the United States.”
He noted that she ruled in the federal government’s favor on most of the points
Aside from stopping the requirement that the police initiate immigration checks,
the judge also blocked provisions that allowed the police to hold anyone
arrested for any crime until his immigration status was determined.
“Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the
immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully present
aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked,”
She also said Arizona could not make it a state crime for noncitizens to be in
the state without proper documents, nor could it allow the police to conduct
arrests without warrants if officers believed the offense would result in their
deportation. She said there was a “substantial likelihood” of wrongful arrests.
The parts of the law she did allow were not challenged by the Justice
Department, but do figure in some of the other lawsuits filed. They include
forbidding “sanctuary city” policies by allowing residents to sue the local
authorities if they adopt policies restricting cooperation with the federal
government in immigration enforcement.
She also let stand a provision aimed at day laborers, who are mostly Latin
American immigrants, by making it a crime to stop a vehicle in traffic or block
traffic to hire someone off the street. But she blocked a provision that barred
illegal immigrants from soliciting work in public places.
The law, adopted in April, coincided with economic anxiety and followed a number
of high-profile crimes attributed to illegal immigrants and smuggling. It has
become an issue in Congressional and local campaigns across the country.
Terry Goddard, the Arizona attorney general who opposed the law and is a
possible Democratic opponent to Ms. Brewer, was quick to condemn her for signing
it. “Jan Brewer played politics with immigration, and she lost,” he said in a
But Republican candidates, including Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is
seeking re-election, criticized the Obama administration for bringing suit.
“Instead of wasting taxpayer resources filing a lawsuit against Arizona and
complaining that the law would be burdensome,” Mr. McCain said in a joint
statement with Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, “the Obama administration
should have focused its efforts on working with Congress to provide the
necessary resources to support the state in its efforts to act where the federal
government has failed to take responsibility.”