Tag: undocumented immigrants

This Is Either the Best Idea or the Worst Plan Ever

So I’ve been following the advice of the Freakonomics guys, who advise us to think like a child and ask seemingly naive questions in the pursuit of higher truths.

At first, my childlike wonder led to such inquiries as “Why do men have nipples?” and “Can you hit a baseball thrown at the speed of light?” and of course, “If zombies aren’t alive, why do they need to devour the brains of the living?”

But let’s face it, some questions are just unanswerable.

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So I turned my attention to one of America’s big issues, and a subject that I have written about at length: immigration.

I asked myself, “Would something like the Homestead Act for undocumented immigrants be a good idea?”

For those of you who skipped U.S. history class to go smoke in the parking lot, here is a quick refresher: The Homestead Act was passed in 1862. It encouraged Western migration by giving settlers 160 acres of land. In exchange, homesteaders paid a filing fee and completed five years of residence before receiving ownership of the land.

So how does that relate to undocumented immigrants?

Well, right now, undocumented immigrants are either caught in an expensive, inefficient loop of deportation/return/deportation, or they live in constant fear of la migra. The system doesn’t work very well, which is something that both conservatives and liberals can agree upon.

And don’t fall for the classic mistake of saying undocumented immigrants should just wait in line to get their papers. It is well-established that for many people, there is no line and never will be.

So here’s my proposal: We say to undocumented immigrants, “Well, we can’t just hand you citizenship. But you can stay in the country if you agree to move someplace where your insane work ethic and tireless pursuit of the American Dream can benefit the nation.”

And then we give them the option of claiming an abandoned house in Detroit’s inner city, or moving to a small town that’s dying, or going to some other location where they can help reestablish a troubled community and work off their debt. If they live in the location for a certain number of years without getting into legal trouble, and pay a filing fee, they get citizenship.

Yes, that’s crazy. Because we can’t solve a societal issue by giving away vacant homes… except that we can. And an influx of newcomers won’t revive rural America or fading cities… except that it can. And the cultural clashes that would erupt over such a policy are insurmountable… except that they’re not.

In essence, there is a precedent for each element of this idea. It would be a massive undertaking loaded with political landmines, but hey, what isn’t these days?

Also, this would not be the only way for undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship. It would be one of several potential pathways available to them.

Now, I’m not saying this a great idea. I’m just asking the question and looking for feedback. So what do you say? Is a new Homestead Act for undocumented immigrants worth pursuing?


Publish or Perish

It may be apocryphal. But supposedly an unnamed New York publishing executive was once asked why there were so few books by Hispanic authors, or novels featuring Latino characters.

His response was a blasé “Hispanics don’t read.”

This is indeed bad news, as apparently none of you Hispanic readers are literate enough to even comprehend this article. And I’m not literate enough to write it, which is quite the paradox.

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In any case, that publishing exec was clearly not familiar with Latin America’s rich literary tradition, exemplified by the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the greatest writer of all time (let’s not debate this). He also didn’t know that one Latin American country, Cuba, has the highest literacy rate in the world.

But closer to home, why hadn’t this exec heard of the brilliant Junot Díaz or the groundbreaking Sandra Cisneros? Or did he believe only white people were reading those authors?

For whatever reason, our anonymous publishing executive refused to believe that the largest ethnic minority in America was interested in books. And in this refusal came justification for the continued blackballing of Latino authors.

“There are several factors contributing to the paucity of published books written by Latinos,” says Marcela Landres, an editorial consultant who publishes the award-winning e-zine Latinidad and co-founded the Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference.

“Primarily, we need more Latinos on the inside working in key positions, such as agents, publicists, sales reps, bookstore owners, and especially as acquisitions editors,” she says.

Landres adds that Hispanic culture itself is another barrier.

“Latinos immigrated to the U.S. so their kids could live the American Dream, which is defined by financial security,” Landres says. “Writing generally does not pay well, so our parents understandably pressure us to choose more sensible careers. In order to be successful as artists, Latinos need to respect our parents but perhaps not obey them.”

As any Hispanic can tell you, disobeying your parents is a tall order. But that is another story.

In any case, some Latino advocates believe that the big publishing houses have hoodwinked us into buying their mainstream books, giving them little impetus to change the formula.

Of course, one strategy to force change is to bypass the big publishing houses altogether. That’s what I did with my novel Barrio Imbroglio.

After some nibbles of interest from the majors, I got the picture that my black comedy tale — about a reluctant detective named Hernandez — didn’t fit in with the preconceived notions about Hispanic literature. Yes, I had the word “barrio” right there in the title, but where were all the undocumented immigrants and magic realism and metaphors using avocados? It was a little too different. So I’ve done what more and more authors — Latino and otherwise — are doing, and publishing directly to Amazon.

But this end run has its drawbacks.

“There are few Latino self-publishing success stories,” says Landres. “I have yet to see literary writers, and/or writers who take years to produce a single manuscript, whose self-published books have sold well. If you write genre and have a bunch of books ready to go, the odds are in your favor. If you’re a literary writer who spends years polishing a single manuscript, not so much.”

In addition to the self-publishing crapshoot, there is the unpleasant fact that — like it or not — the NYC houses still have the most influence on what people read. And they are not packing the midlist with Hispanic authors.

Now, this isn’t just a matter of fairness, nor is it even all about artistic integrity and the myth of meritocracy. A more fundamental reason becomes clear when one considers that “Latino children seldom see themselves in books.” Education experts say, “the lack of familiar images could be an obstacle as young readers work to build stamina and deepen their understanding of story elements like character motivation.”

Basically, there are only so many tales of brave and adventurous white people that Hispanic kids can read. At some point, they disconnect.

And if that is the future we want — a self-fulfilling prophecy where Hispanics truly don’t read — then we should just preserve the status quo.

 


Antibodies

Two facts you probably know about me: I live California, and I am the parent of a toddler.

Those two seemingly unrelated items mingled recently when a measles outbreak hit our state, and much of the blame was placed on New Age hippie Californians who didn’t vaccinate their kids.

measles

Now, I believe in science and have little patience for religious nutjobs who fear the modern world. Also, I am not down with uber-libertarians who think it’s their right to infect other people’s kids because of, you know, personal freedom and shit.

So yes, our son is vaccinated.

Of course, as upsetting and infuriating and generally bizarre as the measles outbreak was, there was still room for right-wingers to up the craziness.

And that’s how we got Republican politicians and conservative blowhards who blamed the outbreak on undocumented immigrants from Latin America.

To these paranoid minds, it is all those undocumented kids who flooded the border last summer, who were then “just sent out across the country. Many of them had measles.”

In fact, none of them had measles. More disturbingly, “in this latest outbreak, measles has actually spread from the United States to Mexico.”

Ouch — that’s not pretty.

In sum, there is no evidence that undocumented kids are poisoning America. There is, however, plenty of proof that immigrants, particularly Hispanics, continue to be the scapegoat for America’s issues.

If only we had a vaccine against xenophobia.

 


Different, Not the Same, Totally Unalike

If I haven’t mentioned it in the last twenty minutes, I love living in California.

It’s not just the sunshine and great food and vibrant nightlife and pop-culture happenings and B-list celebrity sightings (although those are all entertaining). It’s that California is one of the most laidback and liberal states, and that tends to align with my personal philosophy — or at least those components of my personal philosophy that are not cribbed from a mishmash of Yoda quotes and baseball-as-life metaphors.

Now, through a weird and comical accident of geography, California shares a border with Arizona, which is not liberal or laidback or anything remotely West Coast cool. It is, of course, home to more than its fair share of right-wing nutjobs and xenophobic lunatics.

Both states have large Hispanic populations. And one recent development illustrates how different these neighboring states really are, and how they view their respective Latinos.

In California, a new law allows undocumented immigrants to apply for special driver’s licenses. Some Californians have griped about it, but for the most part, the law’s implementation has gone smoothly. And in a sign of forward thinking, car dealers are actively marketing to the new license holders. Many dealers report increased foot traffic on their lots, and they’re hoping for a sales boom due to the new law.

car-dealership

 

But in Arizona, a similar law hasn’t been as, shall we say, well received. In fact, it took a US Supreme Court decision to force Arizona to offer driver’s licenses to young immigrants, the Dreamers, who entered the country illegally as children. And while many Dreamers are happy to have the option, many others remain nervous about applying. Some Dreamers have seen family members deported after getting pulled over for routine traffic stops, and they’re having trouble letting go of their fear.

So in California, a law that passed with little controversy is poised to make a positive economic impact and make life easier for many people. Meanwhile, in Arizona, a similar law had to be argued all the way to the highest court in the land, at taxpayer expense, before going forward, only to encounter resistance from the people it was designed to help because they are terrorfied of the place they live in.

Yes, I think I chose my state wisely.

 

 


Summing Up Our Favorite Topic

It’s the end of the year. So let’s address immigration one last time.

Listen, if you don’t know by now that most Americans support a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants, well, I can’t help you.

But I will point out that President Obama’s recent executive decision doesn’t offer an actual route to citizenship. I know, I know. You heard that this was amnesty and the end of America and all that. But the people who are telling you this lie don’t know the difference between amnesty and Amway.

Basically, the administration is deferring the deportation of undocumented immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens or legal residents. The order also expands protection to more children who entered the country illegally with their parents (that’s right — the Dreamers). The president’s decision could mean that up to 5 million undocumented people will be allowed to stay in the country, without threat of deportation.

More than half of the undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America are now eligible to remain in America. But again, they would not be eligible for citizenship.

It’s not surprising that Latinos overwhelmingly agree with Obama’s approach. One poll shows that 90% of Hispanics support the president’s plan. Wow, you can’t even get 90% of us to agree that Shakira is hot (she is, by the way).

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Now, undocumented immigrants themselves almost universally desire a way to legalize their situation. But many of the immigrants who are eligible for citizenship aren’t taking advantage of the offer. In fact, less than 10% of the 8.5 million immigrants who are eligible for naturalization have applied so far.

Why is this? Well, some still struggle with English, and they don’t feel confident they could pass the English-proficiency language exam. Others can’t afford the naturalization process, which usually costs $680 and is often multiplied by several family members.

Some still intend to return to their homelands, even if they have been in America for years. And yet others are afraid that it’s all a scam, and that some notario will fleece them. Remember, con artists love to take advantage of hopeful, desperate people who are reluctant to report fraud.

OK, so immigrants — Hispanic or otherwise — aren’t necessarily in a big rush to become citizens. But having the option is more than a nicety. You see, undocumented people who live in constant fear of being deported exist in a perpetual hell. And if you don’t care about that, perhaps you will care about the chain reaction of misery that cascades down upon actual citizens.

For example, many Latinos — born and raised in America — haven’t signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, because they worry that doing so could cause family members to be deported. They’re concerned that giving detailed info online will cause the INS to come knocking on their door. That’s not true, of course, but it’s understandable. And that has a very real effect on the ACA’s effectiveness and our health care system in general.

Oh wait, if you hate the president’s executive order, you probably hate Obamacare too.

Well, that explains a few things.

 


Sucking Up All the Oxygen

The biggest story in America right now — not the biggest Latino-themed story, but the most talked-about news item, period — is the humanitarian crisis at the border. As we all know, tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants — many of them children — are massed in overrun detention centers, awaiting their fate.

Meanwhile, whole towns of god-fearin’ Americans are making it clear that they don’t want no stinkin’ illegals in their neighborhood.

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Yes, this is the latest, most impressive imbroglio over immigration. And in the minds of many Americans, all immigrants are undocumented, all undocumented people are Hispanic, and all Hispanics are undocumented immigrants. It’s a nice little A=B=C theorem.

But the funny thing is that there are 11.7 undocumented migrants in the U.S. By comparison, the overall U.S. Hispanic population is 53 million. Although “immigration is the issue most associated with Latinos…it is not necessarily the most interesting issue to Latinos.” One could argue, in fact, that “most Latinos would probably love not to have to deal with it.”

Indeed, Pew Research says that the top issues for Hispanics are education, jobs and the economy, healthcare, the federal government debt, and (in fifth place) immigration. Even among Hispanic immigrants themselves, only one-third say immigration is an extremely important issue to them personally.

The discrepancy between immigration’s status in the media and its actual importance to the Hispanic community has provoked some Hispanic leaders to say that immigration “occupies almost all the Latino policy agenda, sucking up…all the oxygen on Latino issues.”

Latino leaders say that Hispanics “need to strike a better balance” and not allow immigration to stifle “the Latino agenda for the 21st century. We have to get to the point where we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and focus on other things like discrimination, education, and the infrastructures in our communities.”

It’s a fair point. But immigration is not going away as a media hot topic anytime soon. It’s been pointed out that whether “we are talking about health care or voting rights, there are those who keep inserting immigration into the mix, whether it pertains to a particular issue or not – and normally in a detrimental way.”

And let’s not forget that the media “tends to reduce our diversity down to one issue [and] treat us all as perpetual immigrants.” 

But just you wait, someday soon a national Latino leader will be invited to a Sunday morning news program, and he or she will be asked about the deficit or the Israeli-Palestinian problem or guns in schools or whether the president should be impeached for wearing white after Labor Day or whatever.

And nobody will mention immigration. And it will be pretty cool.

 


Yeah, Right

So the United States has resumed its wild, impetuous stab at having a functioning government. After this latest farce, internet sites are alive with comments along the lines of the following:

“We need to kick out every member of Congress and start fresh.”

I know we live in a country where nearly half the citizens people can’t name the vice president, but I find it hard to believe anybody is so ignorant of the political process that he or she thinks voting out all 535 members of Congress is a realistic option.

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We’ll start with the fact that elections are staggered (hence the term “midterm election”). As such, I doubt anybody’s rage is going to last another five years or so, which is how long it would take to excise all the offending congressmen and women. And we’ll add on the stat that while most people hate Congress, they tend to like their own reps, so we will likely see most of these supposedly toxic incumbents return.

This idea is even less practical and more insane than the delusional belief, which I’ve written about before, that we can easily deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.

In the interest of saving time, here are some other political ideas I’ve heard recently that appear just as likely to happen.

“We need to separate into two different countries. Red states and blue states.” (I’m pretty sure we fought a war about this, and the outcome was rather conclusive. We appear to be stuck with one another for the foreseeable future.)

“We need a task force of really smart leaders who will come up with bipartisan solutions to our problems.” (That’s what Congress is supposed to be.)

“We need to mandate IQ tests to make sure people are smart enough to vote.” (Anyone who thinks an IQ test accurately measures political acumen probably doesn’t have a very high IQ.)

“We need to confiscate every gun in America that’s not in the hands of the police or military.” (It amazes me how liberals think that Second Amendment advocates—many of whom are paranoid and all of whom are armed—will somehow go along with this idea.)

“We need to use Jurassic Park-type technology to reanimate the Founding Fathers so they can tell us their original intent regarding the Constitution.” (OK, I made this one up, but wouldn’t that be cool?)


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