Week 4: Immigration, Incarceration, and Climate Change

Read the Chapter 3 ExcerptWe know that the challenges facing all Americans are often felt even more acutely in communities of color – from the obvious (immigration, education, incarceration) to the less obvious (metropolitan growth, climate change).

In our changing nation, these challenges may be different, deeper and more complex than the questions of overt discrimination that occupied attention in an earlier era.

For Week 4 of the Race and America’s Future Virtual Book Club, we look at some of the urgent challenges facing our communities. Today’s starter questions:

How do we better integrate immigrants equitably into the American economy and civic life?

How can communities of color work together to bring down the sky-high incarceration rate, especially among boys of color?

Where you live often has the biggest impact on your access to opportunity. How can we focus on the necessary work of improving entire regions without losing sight of the particular challenges facing low-income communities?

Thank you for joining the conversation today.

–Manuel Pastor

18 Responses to “Week 4: Immigration, Incarceration, and Climate Change”

  1. avatar

    The first question raises some dificult issues. One, of course, is the obvious question of whether we should treat immigrants differently depending on whether they have complied with legal requirements for residing in this country. If we do not distinguish, then we allow some people to benefit from violating the law, which bothers me as a matter of principle. It also devalues the hard work that those immigrants who did comply with the requirements of law have made, sometimes at the cost of significant hardship to themselves or people they love. Trying to distinguish among immigrants based on whether they have complied with our immigration law, however, may cause substantial harm to people who have contributed to our society or who had no role in the decision to violate the law. Integrating immigrants equitably into our society will mean reaching consensus on what is just and fair to all, not only for the immigrants who have not complied with legal requirements, but for all immigrants. While I do not have specific proposals, I imagine that the resolution will not be beneficial for every individual regardless of circumstances.

  2. avatar

    Beyond the legal question is another that may be more difficult to resolve. I do not believe we are able to integrate immigrants unless they choose to integrate. Ethnic enclaves have existed for almost as long as this country, sometimes as a result of segregation and sometimes as a matter of choice. Groups may choose to remain separate to preserve cultural identiies and values, for example. We can be welcoming, but we can not make a people or groups integrate against their will.

  3. avatar

    First, I want to underscore the "working together" part – both with regard to immigrant integration and incarceration – which is so very critical right now. It’s easy to look at an issue like immigration and fail to see how it impacts us directly. What we don’t immediately realize is that allowing the rights of one group/community to be stripped away ultimately puts us all of our rights on shaky ground (to think of it, LGBT rights is another good example of this).

    Second – there’s no denying that Black and Latino men, regardless of their ethnic/cultural differences, are bound together in a struggle way too pervasive and complex for one group to tackle alone. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, during a one-year span in 2004-2005, more than 8 in 10 individuals sentenced for immigration offenses were incarcerated (I can only imagine how the numbers have grown since then). Latino males today are twice as likely as White males to be incarcerated, and one in nine Black males ages 20-34 is behind bars. As we’ve seen and discussed in previous weeks, these disparities extend to poverty, joblessness, education, health, economic opportunity, et. al. The only way to address the shared challenges our communities face is to work collaboratively and become advocates for what’s right and just, even when it bears no direct consequence or reward for us.

    After all, the famous saying goes: “They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

  4. avatar

    As I was reading the questions and posts, I couldn’t help but think of my godmother. At Thanksgiving last year, after she asked me a bit about my job (which includes immigration issues), she dove headlong into America’s “immigrant problem.” She would not be moved from her argument around legality, legality, legality. Turns out she had been rear-ended earlier that year by an undocumented immigrant without car insurance and that (along with her penchant for conservative talk radio), I think, has left her with this single-minded focus.

    In my mind, the legality argument is a tricky one. Call me what you will, but legality just doesn’t cut it for me. It assumes that all our laws are just. My study of Oscar Romero, Rev. James Lawson, John Lewis, and Ghandi have lead me to believe that the laws themselves can sometimes be the real issue, not the supposed law breakers. Moreover, what of NAFTA and CAFTA – which we as a nation were so firmly behind – and that have made immigration one of the few options out of poverty?

    This is why I find hope in “immigrant integration” – economic mobility for, civic participation by, and receiving society openness to immigrants – rather than simply “immigration.” Immigrant integration is a broader frame. It makes room for us to talk about, say, US trade policy. Or to broaden the debate to include human welfare, in addition to legal concerns. Or to talk in a nuanced way about immigrant contributions.

    But, back to my godmom. She also happens to be part of the Orange County (CA) conservative complex. (Did I mention the 2’x3’ signed and framed portrait of George and Laura in her guestroom?) Oh, and she’s white. Despite the fact that she lives in a city (and region) with many immigrants, beyond her fender bender, I’m not so sure she knows them. She seems very disconnected.

    And I think this is the case for a lot of – and I generalize, here – white, suburban folks. I should know, these are my own roots. And I think this disconnect is a menace to work around immigration, incarceration, and climate change and improving entire regions with an eye for low-income communities. I think part of the necessary work for people like me is to work within my own (white, suburban, middle-class, etc.) community.

    And yes, this means talking about immigration with my godmom, again, next Thanksgiving. God help me. (No, really.)

  5. avatar

    How old are the complaints that recent arrivals refuse to learn English or assimilate? Here is an excerpt from a paper written by Benjamin Franklin in 1751…

    "Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.

    Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth."

    As to the "legality" of today's undocumented immigrants, let’s not confuse morality with geography. If the Ellis Island immigrants from Europe could have simply walked across the border instead of having to cross an ocean in a ship to find a better life, do you think they would have waited patiently behind an invisible line? The idea that a land border would have kept out waves of desperately poor Europeans eager for work is pure self-delusion. Europeans do not hold the franchise on morality. And citizens of the United States don’t either.

    Beginning with the thirteen original colonies carved out of Native American land, the United States has spread inexorably west. In many cases, this annexation was carried out without any legal treaties. When land was available, American settlers simply overran the territories of other peoples.

    For example, the first illegal immigrants into Texas came from Tennessee. Families from Arkansas, Kentucky and Missouri also added to the flood of Americans who rushed into Mexican territory without legal authority beginning in the 1820s. By 1835, there were ten times as many Anglos (and their slaves) as Mexicans in Tejas. The Mexican province was awash in foreigners who spoke a strange language, lived in separate enclaves, paid no taxes and ignored the traditions of the local citizens including the abolition of slavery. This massive land grab spurred the Mexican government to send a military expedition to expel the squatters—or at least get them to pay the back taxes they owed. The first place the newcomers decided to make a stand against the Mexican army was at a defunct Spanish mission called The Alamo. The rest of the story is what most American kids are taught in school. Many Latinos “remember the Alamo” in an entirely different way.

    Does the unlawful Anglo migration into Texas during the 1800s justify today’s illegal immigration into the USA? Certainly not. All the same, it’s galling to hear the Know-Nothings of today rant about how their ancestors were “legal” immigrants.

    The immigrant experience in America today is part of a pattern that goes back for centuries. Since its inception, this nation has been infused with the energy and vitality of newcomers. Above all else, being American is an attitude. It is an affirmation of hope, the dream that sweat and energy can create a better life. No ethnic group can lay claim to that ideal. Nor is it limited to a single language.

    And while we’re discussing legal immigration, who issued Green Cards to the Pilgrims?

  6. avatar

    While I can agree with the idea that the 'Pilgrims' were here illegally…they had no claim here and went about owning land…something that was unknown to the original 'Americans' the curreny state of affairs requires a much different mindset. There is an abosolute unquestionable need to know who is crossing our borders, Who and Why?
    If you don't see the reasons for this then you are turning a blind eye to realities of the modern world.

  7. avatar

    When my ancestors came to America they were not welcomed. They came anyway.
    I have noticed a few comments regarding the origins of the US and how the founding fathers were racist. They were. I won't argue the point, it's historical record that some of them owned slaves (note: some but not all). But what I wonder is that had the US never been founded…..would slavery still be the global institution it was in the 1700's? What would have prevented this if not the notion that "all men are created equal" since those words were written we have all fought and argued to make this a fact…isn't that what we are still doing? Isn't that what we are doing here? If there was no America would we ever have been given the platform (and freedom) to even discuss such a thing?

  8. avatar

    Communities of color can work together by involving and teaching each other about our cultures. There are so many cultures in Los Angeles which makes this city very wonderful. But at the same time it can create problems especially if one culture doesn't understand the other. By teaching our kids in school to bring awareness to fight racism and also maybe after school library programs would help out a lot. The library has wealth of information and valuable resources. In reality we have people that do not want to see racism go away and those are the people we have to speak out against especially because it spreads hate. This is just my 2 cents!

  9. avatar

    I believe that immigrants can be better integrated into this society through education and the realization that they are, or will be, citizens of this country. It is also imortant that they realize that America's offficial language is English. Just like French is spoken in France and Spanish spoken in Mexico, those are the official languages of those countries. It is important to note that knowing the language of the country you're living in gives you the advantage (being bi-lingual) and gives you and opportunity to become more employable since this country is the home of so many people from other countries and cultures. It makes sense that an educated person from another country would be more in demand for job opportunies than a person who comes from another country that has little education and does not speak the language. An education and being familiar with the customs of any given country and what is celebrated and valued among the people of that country would make a person's assimulation into a new setting and a new way of life far less stressful. I also think that America is not unique to these set of circumstances and that perhaps what leaders should do regarding immigrants is to look into how other countries treat their newly found citizens and perhaps adopt some of their laws or at least take what they may learn under consideration.
    When it comes to men of color who are more likely than other groups of men in the U.S. to be incarcerated for crimes, this is a question that can best be dealt with by looking into the family structure. I believe that the family plays a critical role in how the man of color sees himself and that how we treat our males as family members will reflect on how society will treat them. Our males need to know that they are valued and that they are loved and that they are responsible for the well-being of their counterparts; females, of the family. They must know they have to be responsible for their actions and their well-being and the well-being of their families and the well-being of their communities.
    This begins at birth. And, because the family structure has changed so dramatically over the years and more women of color are raising their children by themselves men of color will have to step up and become that helping hand and show the youth how to live. Those men of color who have been incarcerated will have to be re-educated and re-trained in order to transition back into society. They need to be trained for jobs that can give them a sense of worthiness. That they too, can make a difference. For example, there are jobs tthat can be created, such as, jobs where yardwork is needed by a single parent , or an elderly individual who cannot do the yared work. Cities throughout the U.S. could train certain men who cannot find a job for that particular work and bring in revenue for the city at the same time. Renovation of old homes or foreclosed homes could be done by these men hired by the city and then once the home sold the city could make a profit. There are old sewer pipes that need replacement throughtout the U.S. these men can do that. There is a lot to be done here in this country. Of course, asking for 100% employment would probably be too much, but a significant portion of the unemployed could be employed if they are willing and want to work.
    Of course, where a peron lives makes a difference in what opportunity awaits, but that should not deter anyone from wanting to make their community better or having aspirations to live a better life. Low income communities can become more self-sufficient by creating employment from sources already available. Community gardens are begining to take off. There are individuals who could be in charge of that. Almost like a farmers market, people could set a price for those who would be willing to pay little or no money or even discounts for seniors to receive fresh produce. Like I mentioned before cities, and staes can create jobs for people that will improve the infrastructure, bridges, roads, etc. Any volunteer work done by people who are unemployed that can be considered job training and lead to jobs that pay would be very beneficial in the long run. The rebuilding of America can put everyone who wants a job to work.

  10. avatar

    The naivetey of your comments is astounding particularily; 'When it comes to men of color who are more likely than other groups of men in the U.S. to be incarcerated for crimes, this is a question that can best be dealt with by looking into the family structure." You can't really believe the high rate of blacks incarcerated is related to family structure unless of course it's a BLACK family. The inferrence is that blacks are innately more criminal than other races. Many variables surround this phenomenally (all racist based). Most significant:" The prison boom took off in the 1970s, immediately following the great gains to citizenship hard won by the civil rights movement. Growing rates of incarceration mean that, in the experience of African-Americans in poor neighborhoods, the advancement of voting rights, school desegregation, and protection from discrimination was substantially halted. Mass incarceration undermined the project for full African-American citizenship and revealed the obstacles to political equality presented by acute social disparity."(Boston Review)

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