Category Archives: Immigration

State of the Immigrant Rights Movement

Following is the text of a keynote speech I gave at the 2014 AKIN annual meeting.

State of the Immigrant Rights Movement

Good evening. I want to thank AKIN for putting together this event and for inviting me to give this talk tonight. When the steering committee invited me to speak, it was suggested that I address the “State of the Immigrant Rights Movement.” Now, if I were a politician – say, the President of the United States – I might feel obliged to assure you that, “The state of our movement is strong.” Then, after your partisan applause, I would spend the next forty minutes explaining how good old American ingenuity and elbow grease will ultimately triumph over the myriad challenges we face today in this exceptional nation of ours, this “shining city on a hill.”

But, unhappily for all of you, I am an academic. And so instead I will say this: the state of our movement is complicated. The challenges we face are numerous and far from easy to resolve.

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Contextualizing the Child Migrant Crisis

Following is the text of an invited talk I gave at a vigil sponsored by Virginia Organizing.

I’ve been asked to speak today to provide context for the humanitarian crisis that we are facing, to explain why so many young people are showing up at our borders.

Before I do that, however, let me start by identifying some things that have not caused this crisis.

You’ve probably heard a number of pundits, politicians, and reporters blaming the Obama administration, saying that these young people are coming to the United States because our country is too soft, that we treat undocumented people too well.

The problem with this argument is that it does not match the evidence in any way, shape, or form. Since Obama took office in 2008, annual removals have increased dramatically. While Bush deported 2 million people over his 8 years in office, it has taken Obama only 5 years to do the same. In fact, since the start of the Great Recession, the number of removals has increased, even as the total number of undocumented residents has declined. If things continue at this rate, Obama will preside over more than 3 million removals before he leaves office.

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Immigration from Law to Justice

Following is the text of an invited talk I gave at Foothills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in 2012.

Immigration From Law to Justice

At the core of the Unitarian Universalist covenantal principles, we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people. By and large, we recognize that this includes people regardless of their gender identity, race, sexuality, and political ideology. Recently, the Unitarian Universalist Association and other faith traditions throughout the United States have also urged us to “Stand on the Side of Love” with immigrant communities, especially with those who are unauthorized immigrants. But what does it really mean to stand with immigrants, and to affirm their inherent worth and dignity, regardless of their immigration and citizenship status?

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On migration and respectability

Ahh… the age old politics of respectability, most recently appearing in a HuffPo article on what immigrants contribute to the US economy.  According to the writer, an immigration lawyer with decades of experience, “People do not immigrate to the United States to go on welfare!” And “The rising tide of immigration floats the boat of the U.S. economy.”

First, let’s acknowledge that both of these claims are well supported by data.  What’s more, thanks to PRWORA and an ensuing patchwork of state laws, unauthorized immigrants are barred from receiving most forms of welfare, and authorized immigrants are severely limited in their access to public assistance.  With regard to the economy, most reputable scholars agree that immigration has a small net positive impact on the economy as a whole (the impact of immigrants on so-called “low skill” workers is worth discussing, but only inasmuch as the conversation focuses on how corporate capitalism pits workers against one another by manufacturing a sense of scarcity).

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Is the GOP sincere about immigration reform?

So inquires the (paraphrased) headline to a news article in the Arizona Republic.  Don’t you love how newspapers so easily give the impression of debate where none actually exists?  Because we really doesn’t need someone with specialization in the political economy of migration to know the answer to this “question.”

But just in case you’re curious: the answer is no. GOP leaders are most definitely not sincere about immigration reform.

Nothing against the Repubs here, folks.  Let’s face it: the fact is that the Democratic party – indeed, most of the United States – is equally insincere about immigration reform.  Even Joe Biden is starting to look like a concern troll.

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Unauthorized migration is an act of desperation, not love

A lot has been said recently of Jeb Bush’s “compassionate” conservatism with regard to unauthorized migrants.  Rejecting the idea that the unauthorized are felons,* Bush explains that immigrants who come to the US “illegally” do so as an “act of love.” He explains,

The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families — the dad who loved their children — was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love.

Well, kudos to Bush for remembering that unauthorized migrants are human beings too.  No, seriously: I mean it.  It’s not like many Republican politicos can claim the moral high ground here, what with ardent nativists like Steve King calling for the immediate and unconditional removal of everyone with brownish skin.  Ok – that last bit may be a slight exaggeration, but I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised.

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