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Can Conservatives Change How They Talk about Immigrants?

For many years, it's been obvious conservatives do a better job of manipulating language than liberals, not only because they seem good at coming up with new terms to describe things, but more importantly because once they decide on a new term, they very quickly get everyone on their side to use it. One of the classic examples is how they took the "estate tax," with its evocation of a white-haired gentleman named something like Winthrop Flipperbottom III sipping brandy from a gigantic snifter while petting his afghan hound as he looks over the vast gardens of his estate, and renamed it the "death tax," which evokes a cruel IRS agent bursting in on your family mourning the death of your beloved uncle and making off with his lovingly amassed collection of vintage baseball cards. You will never, ever hear a conservative call the tax anything but the "death tax," because they all understand the utility of language. How much these kind of linguistic efforts really affect the outcome of...

The Wrong Kind of Immigration Spending

AP Photo/Tuscaloosa News, Robert Sutton
The Republican party's abysmal performance among Latino voters in the 2012 election, and the ensuing realization among many in the GOP that they need to change their stance on immigration or risk more defeats, have made it a real possibility that passage of the first comprehensive immigration reform bill in over a quarter-century could happen soon. The debate will no doubt be intense, so as it begins, some facts about the recent and not-so-recent history of immigration in America will be important to keep in mind. Immigration had its first peak in the first decade of the 20th century, when over 8 million people from other countries became legal permanent residents of the United States, a number that wasn't exceeded again until the 1990s. By the 1960s, however, immigrants from North America (mostly Mexico) exceeded those from Europe; Asian immigrants exceeded Europeans in the 1970s. (These data, and many more, can be found in the Department of Homeland Security's annual yearbook of...

Why "Make Them Learn English" Is the Key to Immigration Reform

New Americans taking the oath of citizenship. (Flickr/Grand Canyon NPS)
Among the provisions in the immigration-reform proposal released by a bipartisan group of senators yesterday was a requirement that in order to get on that path to citizenship, undocumented immigrants would have to "learn English and civics." They don't detail exactly how it would happen, but presumably there'd be a test of English proficiency immigrants would have to pass, and perhaps some money appropriated for English classes. There are two things to know about this idea. First, in practical terms it's completely unnecessary. And second, in political terms it's an excellent idea. In fact, it could be the key to passing immigration reform. The reason it's unnecessary is that every wave of immigrants follows basically the same pattern when it comes to English. People who immigrate as adults tend not to learn much beyond the most basic words and phrases, and continue to speak their native language at home. Their children grow up bilingual, speaking one language at home and another at...

Invisible Workers, Global Struggles

Flickr/Janinsanfran
Flickr/Janansanfran L ike countless other migrant girls toiling far from home, her life was invisible—except for the chilling way it ended. Earlier this month, Rizana Nafeek, a young Sri Lankan migrant in Saudi Arabia, was executed after being convicted of killing a baby in her care. The case drew international condemnation not only because of the severe punishment and opacity of the legal proceedings—she was reportedly just 17 at the time, not 23 as her falsified passport indicated, and advocates said her confession had been coerced—but also because the girl’s brief life exposed the consequences of the invisible struggles facing domestic workers in the Middle East and beyond. Nafeek's case symbolized the severe treatment of migrants in Saudi Arabia (human-rights watchdogs report that numerous other domestic workers have faced the death penalty after unfair accusations—sometimes stemming from cases of self-defense against abusers—pushed them into a biased and abuse-ridden legal system...

No, We Don't Need More Immigration Enforcement

AP Photo/Tuscaloosa News, Robert Sutton
AP Photo/Cliff Owen Members of immigration rights organizations, including Casa in Action and Maryland Dream Act, demonstrate in front of the White House in Washington, Thursday, November 8, 2012, calling on President Barack Obama to fulfill his promise of passing comprehensive immigration reform. I f you need proof that nothing short of a Soviet-style blockade along our Southern border will satisfy immigration hardliners, look no further than Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies—a think tank that, as the Southern Poverty Law Center points out, "has never found any aspect of immigration it liked." Krikorian has previously used his space at the National Review Online to grouse about the "unnatural" pronunciation of Sonia Sotomayor's name and to suggest that the United States slough off Puerto Rico to end the "gravy train." Last week, he used it to denounce a recent Migration Policy Institute report showing the United States spends approximately $18...

Obama's Second-Term BFD Agenda

Victor Juhasz
J ust after Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, Joe Biden came up to him and, thinking they were out of range of the microphone, said to the president, “This is a big fucking deal.” If I understand the concept of a BFD in the technical sense that Biden must have had in mind, it’s a historic reform that changes America in a fundamental way. Presidents have other imperative responsibilities, such as upholding the Constitution, keeping the nation safe from foreign threats, and promoting a strong economy. As critical as those are, they are not BFDs; a president who does all those things will probably get re-elected yet receive only brief mention in the history books. To be celebrated by future generations requires the accomplishment of substantial change with enduring benefit. In the language of the political scientist James MacGregor Burns, that is the work of a transformational leader, not merely a transactional one. Illustration by Victor Juhasz This...

SCOTUS in 2012: It Coulda Been Worse

Flickr/Rick Reinhard
Flickr/Rick Reinhard U. S. Supreme Court rules to uphold the Affordable Care Act, June 28, 2012. T he Supreme Court's most recent year will be remembered primarily for one blockbuster case: NFIB v. Sebelius , in which the Court narrowly upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). This is justified—it's hard to overstate the impact of striking down a sitting administration's crucial legislation for the first time since the New Deal. Given that assembling legislative majorities for new health-care legislation is not likely to be possible again for many years, striking down the most important domestic legislation since the Great Society would have had devastating consequences for the millions of Americans who would have been denied access to health care for the foreseeable future. And yet, in some ways, the legal challenge to the ACA represents a conservative victory as well. It is, first of all, remarkable that a constitutional argument nobody took seriously five years...

What Happens to a DREAM Deferred?

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
At first, it looked like 2012 would be another terrible year for immigration reform advocates. Mitt Romney won the Republican presidential primary by adopting a xenophobic, right-wing platform, advocating for policies against immigrants so terrible they led to self-deportation. Meanwhile Barack Obama continued to deport undocumented workers at an unprecedented pace—he’s sent 1.4 million people out of the country through July of this year—and failed to introduce comprehensive legislation, as he’d promised. A brighter picture is emerging, however. In June, Obama signed an executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which operates like the failed DREAM Act would have. Obama ordered Homeland Security to lay off deportation proceedings against immigrants who came into the country as children and who have completed high school or served in the military. Immigrants who meet those qualifications can now request a reprieve to remain in the country. The government has...

Refuge Beyond Reach

Australia's debate on asylum seekers shows how easy it is for politicians to appeal to fear of invading hordes.

(AP Photo/Hardimansyah)
H ikmat wore small frameless glasses and a blue-and-white pinstriped shirt, and the dark waves of his hair were combed perfectly. He looked as if he might have just stepped out of the office of his export firm in Karachi. In fact, it's been nearly three years since he fled Pakistan. His uncle, a Taliban supporter, had been trying to extort money from him for the organization, and saw him and his wife as "infidels": Hikmat was clean-shaven; his wife wore no hijab . Twice, gunmen ambushed him on the street. The first time, bullets ripped his intestines; he spent two years in the hospital. After surviving a second shooting, he left his homeland. Hikmat met me at the Asylum Seekers Centre in Sydney. The nonprofit works out of a converted house in Surry Hills, a gentrifying neighborhood of bike paths, cafés, and spreading eucalyptus trees. He came to Australia, Hikmat said, because he could to get a short-term business visa quickly and bring his wife and three children with him. Afterward...

What's Next for Immigration Reform?

Flickr/Anuska Sampedro
Flickr/Justin Valas An immigration rally in Washington, D.C.'s McPhereson Square P resident Obama has called it the “biggest failure of [his] first term.” Now, having once again been elected with a sizable majority of the Latino vote and with key Republicans seemingly on board, the administration has begun pressuring Congress to take up immigration reform. The president has said he plans to introduce an immigration-reform proposal shortly after his inauguration, and Senators Lindsay Graham and Chuck Schumer, who led the failed effort for immigration reform in 2009, have “resumed talks.” In previous legislative battles over immigration going back to George W. Bush’s second term, the key sticking point has been what to do with the estimated 11 million undocumented workers currently in the country. Another point of contention is whether to pass a “comprehensive” bill—one that addresses a broad range of problems with the immigration system including enforcement, the visa system for high-...

How to Talk about a Changing America

New American citizens at a naturalization ceremony at the Grand Canyon. (Flickr/Grand Canyon NPS)
After the election revealed the central demographic problem the GOP faces—it is emphatically the party of white people in a country that grows more diverse by the day—there was some triumphalism among liberals about this state of affairs. But the always humane and thoughtful Harold Pollack reminds us that we should reserve some sympathy for the people who feel unsettled by the rapid pace of change in 21st century America: These are good people, mostly older and white, who are unsettled and scared by the pace of social change in America. Same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana, talk of legalized status for undocumented immigrants—that's a lot of change to accept within just a few years. I met some others, too. Consider the liberal Jews of my parents' generation who sense—accurately, I think–that the coming generation of liberal politicians can read from the hymnal but don't sway with the music about Israel the way the generation of 1967 and 1973 once did. It's an irony of recent history...

The Future of the White Man's Party

(AP Photo/Nick Ut)
(AP Photo/Nick Ut) Former California governor Pete Wilson with his wife Gayle in 1995. During his tenure, Wilson promoted Proposition 187, which would have denied all public services to undocumented immigrants—a move that is credited with turning Latinos in the state against the GOP. O ver the past 15 years, California’s electorate has changed so dramatically and so quickly that Democrats have often won victories they weren’t even anticipating. In 1998, no one expected Gray Davis to win the governor’s office by 20 percentage points, and the tightly wound Davis, who had no life outside politics, was plainly bewildered by his own emotions during his victory speech on the night of the landslide. This week, no one expected the Democrats to win two-thirds of the seats in the state Assembly (they did expect to win that many in the state Senate, which they did), yet the Democrats won those seats going away. As California law requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative houses to raise any...

Central Florida's Corridor of Power

(Flickr/Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau/Express Monorail)
An aerial photograph of Disney World in Kissimmee, Florida I f you want to know what’s different about Florida, both in general and in this election cycle, just ask José López. The organizer and leader of a laundry workers’ union that’s part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), López has been walking precincts as part of SEIU’s campaign to re-elect President Obama since mid-summer. One day, as he was chatting with an elderly man on his doorstep, his canvassing partner interrupted and asked López, “How much do you know about snakes?” A rather large snake, it seems, had slithered between López’s legs. The elderly gentleman, who, like hundreds of thousands of new Florida voters, had migrated from Puerto Rico to the Orlando metropolitan area, excused himself, returned carrying a machete and proceeded to hack the snake not entirely to death. “The machete was too dull,” says López, shaking his head. “He ended up just beating that poor snake to death with that thing.” “Old...

A Farewell to Arms, and the United States

Hector Barajas is opening up his home to serve as a safe house for deported veterans like himself, stranded in Mexico, far from the country they served.

Hector Barajas
Hector Barajas Deported veterans at Hector Barajas's safe house, which is opening in an event in Mexico today. H ector Barajas, a former paratrooper in the U.S. Army, lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Rosarito Beach, a seaside Mexican village 15 miles south of the border. Barajas, 36, has lived near Rosarito since 2009, usually with another deported veteran living in his second bedroom or on his couch. He is a leading advocate against the deportation of veterans, which has become a more prevalent concern for members of our armed forces in recent years, and his home has become the cause’s unofficial headquarters. Barajas’ current houseguest, Fabian Rebolledo, received a Purple Heart for his service in Kosovo. When Rebolledo, 37, was deported to Tijuana earlier this year, he called Barajas almost immediately. Today, Barajas will designate his apartment a safe house for deported military veterans. The announcement and press conference will bring no obvious, direct changes: the...

The Border Effect

The fence along the U.S.–Mexico boundary has helped reduce the flow of illegal immigrants, but the human and environmental toll has been enormous.

(AP Photo/Matt York, File)
(AP Photo/John Miller) The tree-lined San Pedro River moves north near Palominas, Ariz., Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007. The federal government contends the fence is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drug-runners through the area, but environmentalists say it will have a devastating impact on wildlife and the environment. F or the aid workers who found 14-year-old Josseline Jamileth Hernández Quinteros in the Arizona desert, it is hardest to forget the little things, the beaded bracelet around a tiny wrist, the bright green sneakers, the pink-lined jacket, and the sweatpants with the word “Hollywood” across the backside. She was a wisp of a girl, barely 5 feet and 100 pounds, no match for the rough terrain or subfreezing temperatures. No one can say for sure that Josseline died because of heightened security measures along the U.S. border with Mexico. Yet, to the volunteers who found her lying under a bush, her head resting on a rock in an unnamed creek bed, Josseline’s death...

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