Rethinking immigration reform

At a think-tank retreat in Santa Fe in March, journalists, academics, documentary film producers and non-profit community advocates discussed how the U.S.-Mexico border is defined by one issue: immigration.

The fact is that only 19 percent of border residents are foreign-born, while it’s 11 percent for the rest of the nation. The Annie E. Casey Foundation hosted the retreat, calling it "Beyond the Wall: Reframing 25 Years of Stereotypes," trying to find out how we got so narrow in our thinking about arguably the most dynamic border in the world.

Since those discussions, it has dawned on me that a reckoning approaches about whether we conceive ourselves as living in a small world or the real one.

The fact is water, drought, commerce, energy, minerals, irrigation farming, and economic and urban development are of paramount concerns affecting border residents in the modern Southwest.

But to follow the public discourse, real life has to stop dead in its tracks to allow the fear factor about "border security" take over our thinking.

Last summer, for example, I witnessed Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, excoriate a bank president at a public hearing because he described Laredo as a pleasant community. The statement flew in the face of the cowering community the hearings wanted to portray because of crime issues across the border. The "facts," it seemed, needed to be made to fit the image.

During the Santa Fe meeting, I asked University of Texas journalism professor Mercedes Lynn de Uriarte why she thought immigration has become a virtual template over anything Latino-related. She said it’s because we write so much about it. Imagery, repeated enough, has a way of making notions into beliefs, and sometimes bigger than life.

At the meeting, a lesson learned by the National Immigration Forum was put forward. Advocates, it seems, need to present arguments and solutions in a framework that unites communities along shared values and interests.

Furthermore, it is prudent to concentrate on the undecided 80 percent, if there are that many, instead of wasting time trying to convince the 20 percent with their minds already made up pro or con.

That’s why, now that 78 percent of the general population already approves of some kind of path to legalization and citizenship for undocumented immigrants, this is a good time for Congress to act.

That’s also why the message that Juan Hernandez brought to a business group in Houston in late April felt like a pebble in my shoe. Hernandez, U.S.-born and educated, held a Mexican Cabinet post under President Vicente Fox expressly to improve relations between the home country and Mexicans living abroad. He is now promoting immigration reform as a private citizen.

He told me that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had mentioned to him she received thousands of e-mails from Minutemen opposing immigration reform. Latinos need to respond with millions of messages to Congress, he concluded.

Weren’t last spring’s demonstrations by the millions and the fall elections and the 78 percent who want some form of legalization already persuasive enough? After all, the Minutemen and their ilk lost decisively on this matter.

Apparently not. Congress has to be persuaded all over again.

Given that almost all congressional members are perpetually campaigning, do they want the rest of us to get involved in marathon public-sentiment campaigns to do what jillions of research reports, think tanks, experts and common sense suggest? Is this about a pacifier or about public policy?

Just pass the immigration reform (already a year late) and let’s get on with other important work. Otherwise, petitioning government has become just a marketing gimmick. Public fatigue with the issue will further erode confidence in this government to get anything meaningful done.

We have to bring a semblance of reality back into perspective before more surreal images take over all of our thinking.

–JOSE de la ISLA

(Jose de la Isla is the author of "The Rise of Hispanic Political Power." Reach him at joseisla3(at) )


  1. Sandy Price

    We are facing a wave of crime in the illegals crossing our borders. This allowing people to enter America with criminal records and health problems is a new problem. America has always required that before anyone enters to live, work or be educated in America they must be cleared of a criminal record in their home countries. They must also pass a medical clearance.

    Millions of people from all nations were welcomed in America because we are a nation of immigrants. We are not a nation of fools!

    Every possible contract between Mexico and North America has been made into treaties such as NAFTA and CAFTA and yet Mexico and Central America have done nothing about creating jobs in their own countries.

    It is obvious to me that President Bush is interested in using the power of the White House to remove the borders from Canada to the tip of Argentina. Most of us have been aware of the One World Order from the Neoconservatives and this is apparently step one.

    His North American Union is his tool and with the millions of people living south of the border, he will continue to pass this plan and few people will complain.

    I have seen nothing put forth by other Republican or Democratic candidates who believe this is a problem. No, there will be no opposition to the plan and America will take a terrible hit as far as our security goes.

    We might as well dissolve Homeland Security, Voting regulations, Immigration laws and I would bet the store that we will lose our right to be armed.

    America will have the financial responsiblility for the One World Order and our army will end up being a police force to protect Americans from their sins. This is a combination of a dictatorship run as a Theocracy.

    Americans have had freedoms bred out of their desires in a combination of their schools and churches and a big daddy developed to keep us all from having to be responsible for the destruction of the U.S. Constitution.

    We don’t deserve anything more than what we demand. The majority of Americans have no idea what they are doing.

    We may have to take back our freedoms ONE STATE AT A TIME! It will become a civil war but it will be a fight for freedoms from the One World Order of the neoconservatives.

    How can we get the American voters to know what their candidates actually stand for? Where are our standards?

  2. Doubtom

    There is no better example of the efficacy of propaganda than this issue of “immigration reform”.

    The entire country it seems, has bought into this need for “Comprehensive Immigration Reform”.

    There is no need for reforming our immigration program PERIOD! There is nothing wrong with our program!
    We have a well established program and it is working very well as the unending stream of immigrants can attest. No other nation has such a busy program of immigration.

    What we DO have is a failure in the enforcement of the laws governing our borders and this is intentional. It is an entirely separate issue and has nothing whatsoever to do with immigration.
    In order to correct any problem we must first accurately frame the problem and get rid of the propaganda.
    Now as to the problem of the many illegals and what to do about them, it is very clear to anyone except the bureaucrats who allowed them to enter. The bureaucrats are serving the interests of the corporations who benefit from the cheap labor and are not going to undertake the action required to set matters straight which is to deport them.
    If its a tough job, well, tough shit! You shouldn’t have allowed it to happen in the first place. You don’t allow an invasion of millions of aliens and then sit back and wring your hands claiming that NOW its too big a job to handle.

    Do the job you’re getting paid for or seek other employment!

  3. Joe Lawrence

    Let’s settle this for once and all; simply give Texas back to Mexico, and move the fences to the new western, northern and eastern borders of the USA. One caveat, though, is that they have to take George W. Bush….and keep him.

    Joe Lawrence

  4. Drew

    One of the biggest problems is that anti-immigrant groups have been so much more vocal on the issue. Their loses last year from Arizona to Wisconsin clearly show that the American people reject their brand of “reform.” They’ve been able to push it aside and say that last year was just a Democratic year. What we must do then is make sure that they keep losing and make sure Congress understands that we support reform. You can write your Congressperson & Senators and support pro-immigration candidates at .