Immigrants Are Losing the Policy Fight. But That’s Beside the Point – COLORLINES

Like many others, I’ve worked for years to get Americans to think expansively and compassionately about immigration. In a decade dominated by the push for what’s been dubbed “comprehensive immigration reform,” I’ve argued that immigrants drive economic growth, pay taxes, add value to the culture, and don’t take jobs from native-born people. Although I wasn’t thrilled with the enforcement elements of the policy—that fence, beefing up the Border Patrol, growing detention and deportation—it seemed amazing that Congress was even considering changing the status of as many as 12 million undocumented people. Most of the immigrant rights movement focused on winning that policy, and for a time, it really seemed possible.

That was then. In the spring of 2007, the last decent bill authored by John McCain and Ted Kennedy died in Congress. There have been other bills since, each with more enforcement and less legalization. President Obama’s election seemed a hopeful sign, but he refused to move forward without Republicans and then deported record numbers. The moderate Republican on this issue has become scarce; by 2011, even McCain was claiming that border crossers had started wildfires in the Arizona desert. Democrats too have moved to the right, adopting harsher language and stressing enforcement. The immigrant rights movement, for all its vibrancy and depth, has been losing the policy fight.

That’s because the movement has also been losing the profoundly racialized cultural fight over the nation’s identity, limiting our ability to frame the debate.

I watch lots of TV, where Hollywood tells the same story again and again: beleaguered Americans and their law enforcers confront hordes of “criminal aliens” rushing our borders. As a cultural event, September 11 became a gift to xenophobes, giving the show “24” its reason for being, and helping to make South Asians, Arabs and Muslims subjects of suspicion wherever they went. Battles over the building of mosques have been carried out with epic heat in Murfreesboro, TN., and New York City, during the same period that a Florida preacher threatened to burn a Quran. These “swarthy” communities have endured a relentless barrage of attacks, long predating the August massacre at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisc.

Reality TV has been inspired by immigration enforcement. Sherriff Joe Arpaio, who at age 80 doesn’t seem done winning elections in Maricopa County, Ariz., had a three-episode pilot on the Fox Reality Channel. “Border Wars,” “Law on the Border,” “Homeland Security USA,” and “Border Battles,” all aired on channels like National Geographic and Animal Planet. It was exciting to see a meaningful storyline about an undocumented father on “Ugly Betty,” but that was hardly enough to compete with the volume of material glorifying the other perspective.

The image of the unwanted, unscrupulous, immoral immigrant permeates television, talk radio, and movie screens, yet pro-immigrant organizations have largely neglected even to pick a cultural fight, until recently. That fact has started to change since 2007, as the movement took up a cultural strategy to tell the modern immigrant’s story in as many ways as we can find.

ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: Immigrants Are Losing the Policy Fight. But That’s Beside the Point – COLORLINES.

About Kurly Tlapoyawa (1010 Articles)

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