Heartbreak for Latinos.
But next came the notice from the U.S. State Department. Its Houston Passport Agency questioned her right to a passport. Cardenas is the daughter of naturalized immigrant parents. She was born in the United States with the assistance of a midwife at home in Brownsville, a Texas border town.
The agency asked her to supply a "combination of early public documents created at the time of your birth." These included an "attending midwife's report; prenatal and postnatal notes created by the midwife of your mother regarding her pregnancy and delivery; a certified copy of baptismal certificate; your parents' tax, rent, or employment records created at the time of your birth which indicated their U.S. residency; elementary-school records showing your name, date, and place of birth and indicating your parents' address or any other document established in your infancy or early childhood that indicates your place of birth."
Cardenas said her first reaction to the notice from the U.S. Passport Agency was one of disbelief. "I mean, this is my own government," she says. "I'm an American!" But her efforts to convince government bureaucrats of this fact dragged on for months. At the last minute, her papers came through, allowing her to participate in the program. But not before she had endured significant harassment.
Cardenas was not alone. This year, several other students who were U.S. citizens born to immigrant parents found their government reluctant to certify their citizenship with a passport.
In addition, as a result of Governor Pete Wilson's tirades against illegal aliens and the subsequent passage of Proposition 187, hundreds of California students brought here as babies by parents without government papers--youngsters who have lived here all their lives--found themselves ejected from universities. Most of these students worked full time to pay for their educations in an effort to leave behind economic hardship and gang pressures. Many were forced out just weeks before graduating.
"It is both shortsighted and heartbreaking," says Cristina Bodinger-de Uriarte, a sociology professor at California State University, Los Angeles, an urban campus with one of the most diverse populations in the nation. "Suddenly, within weeks of graduation, students were notified that unless they paid out-of-state tuition, they must leave school. Students who had worked full-time jobs for four or five years in order to finance their education and escape poverty were penalized. They were already stretched to the financial limit.
"Some of my best students were in tears for days--then they simply disappeared from the student body," she says.
Bodinger-de Uriarte says she does not understand the reasoning behind this push-out policy. "They are mistaken if they believe that these youngsters will return to other countries. Most of them speak no other language, have lived nowhere else, and identify with this country."
The push-out policy is aimed not just at students without documents. It extends to legal immigrants, as well. Regardless of high grades or outstanding accomplishments, regardless of their potential in a country increasingly dependent on global commerce, these students will find it far more difficult to get federally subsidized loans and grants.
According to student advisers who work in foreign-study programs, Spanish-surnamed students are having more and more trouble obtaining government documents. "I cannot remember any other period of time when there was so much trouble with official papers," says Helena Wilkins, who has worked in the University of Texas's study-abroad program for seven years.
Norma Madrid, who captured a prestigious business internship in Spain, also struggled to get proper documents. "She received the same inquiry as Gina did," says Wilkins. "And there was no reason for it. She was an American citizen. Norma badgered the passport people for months trying to get the matter straightened out. Finally, the passport came through."
Another student who almost lost her chance to study abroad was of Indian descent, says Wilkins, "but her name could have been mistaken for a Hispanic name. On the other hand, the government agency had all her paperwork and should have been able to realize that she was not Latina."
What these three students have in common, besides Hispanic-sounding names, are naturalized parents, all of whom had become citizens many years earlier.
Harassment of Latino students is but one component of an increasingly harsh national trend that includes Republican Presidential candidate Bob Dole's proposal to bar the children of undocumented immigrants from attending school.
"This is just the kind of policy that generates more desperation," attorney Peter Schey, executive director and president of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles, says of Dole's proposal. "We are in effect saying we'd rather see young people in gangs than in schools. This is legislated marginalization. It's the same sort of thinking that leads us into policies that deny immigrants a $20 inoculation, but pave the way toward health care that will later require spending $80,000 to remove a tubercular lung."
Actually, Dole's idea was tried and failed in the 1980s, when the state of Texas attempted to bar undocumented migrant children from classrooms. That effort led to a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that undocumented youngsters could not be denied a public education.
If a new effort to bar the children of immigrants were to succeed, the results for society at large would be disastrous. The current cost of U.S. illiteracy is already $200 billion annually if one takes into account its role in incarceration, unemployment, health, and welfare. Already, one in five adults--twenty-seven million--is functionally illiterate, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Most of those in prison today fall into this category, as do a significant percentage of the unemployed.
Republican politicians from Bob Dole to Pete Wilson have built political careers around promises to get tough on immigrants. In a pre-convention television commercial, the Republican National Committee launched a blatant attack on immigrants. As The New York Times reported, the ad opens with a shot of the border, and in case there is any misunderstanding, it has a sign saying MEXICO. The ad proceeds to show immigrants fleeing up the road under the glare of spotlights. "You spend $5.5 billion to support illegals," the ad screams, adding that "spending for illegals" is "up 12.7 percent under Clinton." The ad ends by urging voters to "tell President Clinton: Stop giving illegal benefits to illegals. End wasteful Washington spending."
The blame for immigrant-bashing can't all be placed on Republican politics, however. Bill Clinton has grown increasingly punitive in his policies and opportunistic in his portrayal of undocumented immigrants.
In response to the Republican ad, the Democratic National Committee released its own anti-immigrant ad. Clinton has boosted the number of border-patrol officers, brags the ad, while showing a picture of a brown-skinned man being handcuffed by a border-patrol agent. Another brown-skinned man is shown climbing down a wall with a rope, the Times reported, and then the ad shows "two gloved hands clutching a large chisel and trying to pry open a window."
In both the Republican and Democratic ads, Mexicans are portrayed as the only illegal-immigrant group. Thus an entire population is criminalized through visual images meant to incite anger and fear. What's more, the information in the ads is out of context and slippery.
U.S. Latinos should be wary of pledging allegiance to either party. Both seem equally prepared to generate hatred against those who look Mexican, Central American, or indigenous Latin American.
As the Democrats' commercial indicates, Clinton often links immigration to crime.
"As we have worked hard to bring the crime rate down all over America, we've made special efforts in our border communities, because we know we have special responsibilities there," he told San Diegans recently, citing increases in border-patrol agents in Arizona, California, and Texas. He described communities in the Southwest as "under siege" and pointed to the tough line taken by the Administration's Operation Gatekeeper.
In April the President signed anti-terrorism legislation that gives the INS sweeping new powers. One provision of the new law pushes due process aside, and allows for the hasty removal of foreign-born individuals who arrive at ports of entry without proper documentation. The decision is left to the immigration officer on duty, without court hearing or judicial review. The burden of proof of legal entry falls on immigrants. This provision fails to uphold international human-rights laws that were incorporated into the U.S. canon in 1980. Nor does it ensure the legal treatment of refugees protected under the U.N. convention relating to the status of refugees.
Clinton's decision to sign the welfare bill is a huge assault on legal immigrants, who will immediately lose food stamps and supplemental-security insurance.
"These proposals and enactments would strip away many of the already threadbare protections these people have," says Schey, who has successfully argued immigrant class-action suits before the U.S. Supreme Court. Schey says that the current anti-immigration movement is the most repressive in the past fifty years.
The crackdown on immigrants is based on political propaganda, not reality. Most undocumented individuals arrive on commercial carriers and overstay their visas or cross from Canada, according to the INS. Nevertheless, the United States disproportionately reinforces its southern border. The Clinton Administration recently proposed a $46 million increase for San Diego/Tijuana border control.
Most of the individuals who cross the southern border do not take jobs that Americans seek. A 1982 Reagan Administration initiative called Operation Jobs proved this point rather conclusively. For two weeks, beginning on April 26, 1982, dramatic TV visuals showed INS sweeps of workplaces in Fort Worth, Houston, San Francisco, Detroit, Newark, New York, Chicago, and Denver. It was one of the most extensive deportation efforts that the U.S. government had ever undertaken. Within five days, the INS seized 6,000 individuals. Local businesses felt the pinch immediately. In Los Angeles, merchants along Broadway, a main shopping thoroughfare for Latinos, reported a drop in sales of 30 to 80 percent. Subsequent newspaper reports revealed that the few Americans who took those vacated jobs quit within days because of brutal labor conditions. Two weeks after the raids, the press reported the deportees were once again at work.
Immigrants are not the drain on the social budget they are made out to be. Immigrants pay much more in taxes than they receive in education and social services. Over the course of their working lifetime, immigrants pay an average of $89,437 in state income and sales taxes, far more than the $62,600 it costs to educate a person from kindergarten through twelfth grade, according to a study released June 10 by the Tomas Rivera Center in Claremont, California.
The Urban Institute found that legal and illegal immigrants contribute $70.3 billion in tax payments into the system--but draw out only $42.9 billion in total services. Immigrants add billions more to the U.S. economy in consumer spending, the study found.
U.S. businesses have always depended on cheap foreign labor. The United States could not have become the wealthy industrialized leader of the early nineteenth century without both slave labor and European immigrant workers. The railroads were largely built by Chinese immigrants brought in by U.S. development barons for this purpose. Large-scale agricultural production still depends on Mexican workers today.
That's why the borders have remained porous. But in this era of downsizing and falling wages, border rhetoric plays well in Washington, and it's not the businesses that are being blamed, it's their workers.
Cracking down on migrant workers and their children does not address the root causes of immigration to the United States. The main reasons for the migration phenomenon we see around the world are flights for safety, job searches, and travel to reunite families, says attorney Schey.
"Yet never have our lawmakers sat down to develop a broad-based plan that would address these motivations," he says. "They have never targeted outflow nations. They have never effectively addressed oppressive regimes--indeed, we often support them, even when their citizens are immigrating in huge numbers. Consider our track record with Iran, Haiti, the Philippines, and El Salvador, to mention just a few."
Anti-immigrant movements throughout our history have ridden the crest of prejudice.
Jeremiah Jenks and W. Jett Lauck, former members of the United States Immigration Commission, observed this pattern in 1912: "Many persons, who have spoken and written in favor of restriction of immigration, have laid great stress upon the evils of society arising from immigration. They have claimed that disease, pauperism, crime, and vice have been greatly increased through the incoming of immigrants. Perhaps no other phase of the question has aroused so keen feeling, and yet perhaps on no other phase of the question has there been so little accurate information."
But backlash against immigrants seems to be ingrained in our culture. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act provided the most obvious example. Its forerunner, an 1879 California statewide ballot that passed by a margin of 154,638 to 833, may have set a precedent for the exclusion act, which restricted Chinese immigration for more than fifty years, and for its contemporary counterpart, Proposition 187. The 1952 McCarran-Walter Act was another effort to control ethnic distribution. Among other provisions, it established a complicated procedure for admitting Asians, and set up a long list of conditions allowing for deportation. It also granted wide powers of search, seizure, and interrogation to INS agents.
These efforts have portrayed immigrants as criminals, economic parasites, or health risks. In recent years, those targeted most frequently have been Latinos. My own research indicates that over the last century, the U.S. press has exhibited a consistent negative bias against Latinos.
A rise in hate crimes since 1991 shadows the current anti-immigrant rhetoric. In 1994, the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission reported a 23.5 percent rise in hate crimes against Latinos. Last November, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles released an eighteen-page report, "Hate Unleashed: Los Angeles in the Aftermath of 187," which documented 229 cases of "discrimination, denial of services, civil-rights violations, hate speech, and hate crimes" since the passage of Proposition 187.
Gina Cardenas is in many ways a prototypical immigrant success story. Her mother and father met and married in the United States. Both worked hard to give their four children opportunities they never had. Gina, the oldest, is the first in her family to go to college, the first to travel to the nation's capital, the first to receive scholarships. Like many other American children of immigrant parents, Cardenas is a profile of initiative and independence.
Now she is poised to contribute to her nation, pursuing her interest in international relations, and developing her foreign-language skills--valuable assets in the current, global economy. But her government has shown little interest in her contribution, and has treated her with suspicion because of her Mexican name.
Cardenas and thousands of other Latinos are caught in the maelstrom of anti-immigrant sentiment, which has cycled through our history for more than a century. The maelstrom swirls around U.S. economic needs, as the government responds to both urban and agricultural demands.
Today the nation faces major changes as technology retools the workplace, as demographics reconfigure the population, and as trade becomes globalized. These changes require discussion of public policies, including immigration.
But instead of looking for solutions, our leaders are carting out the old scapegoats.
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|Title Annotation:||anti-immigrant politics; Baiting Immigrants|
|Author:||Lynn de Uriarte, Mercedes|
|Article Type:||Cover Story|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1996|
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