How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Q&A: UCSD immigration expert Wayne Cornelius on why the Dream Act went down

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Participants in a vigil and rally for the Dream Act in downtown Los Angeles earlier this month

The defeat in the Senate last Saturday of the Dream Act, which would have granted conditional legal status to qualifying undocumented college students, graduates and military hopefuls who arrived here before age 16, was just the most recent action on a proposal that has been circulating for nearly a decade. And each time it has come up for a vote, UC San Diego's Wayne Cornelius has followed it, as he has every other federal immigration proposal that has come and gone since then.

Cornelius is one of the nation's leading scholars on immigration and U.S.-Mexico border issues, a political scientist and director emeritus of UCSD's Center for Comparative Immigration Studies. He is now associate director of the university's Center of Expertise on Migration and Health.

After years of observing the politics of immigration, Cornelius has his own take on why the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act failed this time around, in spite of unprecedented student activism and a streamlining of the bill that allowed it to clear the House. He shares his opinion on the Obama administration's strategy of pushing tough enforcement as a means to win support for broader immigration reform, a strategy he believes is doomed to fail.

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A haunting tribute to 'Los 72'

A screen shot from the website, 72migrantes.com. Photo by Lenin Nolly Araujo

Via a post on Facebook the other day, I came across this moving tribute and "virtual altar" dedicated to the 72 U.S.-bound migrants who were massacred last August in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, just a stone's throw from the Texas border.

The Central and South American victims had endured a long, arduous and dangerous trek to come so close to their destination. They were kidnapped, and ultimately killed, by drug cartel soldiers.

The website is in Spanish, with essays contributed by numerous writers in honor of each victim, including the unidentified. The photos and music are haunting enough to transcend language.

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Quote of the moment: A Latino first-time voter on offensive campaign ads

“That was the final straw. She was depicting me as a gang member. I served seven years in the Marine Corps.”

- Gilberto Ramirez, a Reno concrete worker and first-time voter quoted in the Las Vegas Sun regarding defeated Senate candidate Sharron Angle's campaign ads


The Sun and various other news outlets have reported on just how critically decisive the Latino vote was in the re-election of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid captured the support of 90 percent of Nevada's Latino voters, who turned out in record numbers - some, like recently-naturalized citizen Ramirez, incensed by a series of much-criticized campaign ads from Reid's Republican opponent Sharron Angle.

Perhaps the Angle ad that drew the most ire was one called "The Wave," in which images of young Latino-looking men appeared with a voiceover that began: “Waves of illegal aliens streaming across our border, joining violent gangs, forcing families to live in fear...”

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'They Keep Coming' in a 'Wave'

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLIzzs2HHgY

One of the striking things about "The Wave," the latest and perhaps most controversial of the immigration-related ads produced by the campaign of Nevada's Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle, is how similar it is in its tone to what is perhaps the granddaddy of the illegal-human-tide campaign ad genre, a television spot from former governor Pete Wilson's 1994 re-election campaign known as "They Keep Coming."

The ad starts with a video image from the early 1990s (one that was repeated for years on television as synonymous with illegal immigration) of people running north into the United States from Mexico, along the southbound lanes of the San Ysidro border crossing. Rushing the southbound lanes was a maneuver that some smugglers encouraged for a period back then, as was telling border crossers to run across Interstate 5 to avoid border security, a tactic that led many to their death on the highway.

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The border in Boyle Heights

Seeing the new play "Detained in the Desert" this weekend in at the Casa 0101 Theater in Boyle Heights was a bit like being transported back to my recent previous life as a reporter covering the U.S.-Mexico border: The water bottles in the desert, the immigrant detainees in jumpsuits, the immigration officials and the dark desert roads, along which unspoken tragedies have unfolded. There is even a character based on the leader of a San Diego volunteer group that sets up water stations in the desert for migrants.

Overall, I liked it. Written by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Josefina Lopez, "Detained in the Desert" revolves around two central characters, one of them a young Mexican-American U.S. citizen traveling through Arizona who, upon refusing to show an officer her nonexistent "green card," winds up at an immigrant detention center. The other is an anti-immigrant talk-radio host named Lou.

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