Peter Schrag and Tyche Hendricks on Immigration

Peter Schrag, author of Not Fit for Our Society, and Tyche Hendricks, author of The Wind Doesn’t Need a Passport, were guests on KQED’s Forum yesterday. They discussed immigration with fellow guest Bill Ong Hing and host Michael Krasny.

Describing her experiences traveling in the US-Mexico borderlands, Hendricks found that the border is a bi-national region rather than a dividing line, and problems like drug violence and illegal immigration are also bi-national. “[I]t really behooves us to understand this region where we come together”, she said.

Schrag looked at the history of immigration debate in America, and noted that while the definitions of legal and illegal immigration have changed over time, the debate itself is not much different than it was 100 years ago.


Perspectives on the Border

Arizona’s new immigration law, which allows police to stop people they suspect to be in the US illegally and requires immigrants to carry documentation with them, has stirred up controversy and widespread protest. It’s an issue with a long history, as Kelly Lytle Hernández shows in her book Migra!: in which she chronicles the history of the US Border Patrol. Other UC Press authors have given their views on the US-Mexico border in recent weeks.

Tyche Hendricks. Photo: Katy Raddatz

“The best way to understand the border, I believe, is to listen to the people who live there,” writes Tyche Hendricks in The Wind Doesn’t Need a Passport. Rather than a dividing line, Hendricks describes the US-Mexico borderlands as a region with a bi-national culture. “Up close…the border is much more than a hurdle for undocumented immigrants and a stage for Minutemen. It is mountain, desert, ranchland, river, sprawling cities, and remote villages”, she writes in the book.

In an interview on the Berkeleyside blog, Hendricks said that while people living close to the border on either side are on the front lines of problems like drug smuggling and illegal immigration, many are working together to address these issues. In the region, she found “a remarkable spirit of neighborliness in twin border towns, a shared history and many, many families with cross-border ties”.

Tomás Jiménez

Tomás Jiménez, who writes in Replenished Ethnicity about Mexican Americans, ethnic identity, and assimilation, argued in the LA Times for immigration reform that would include citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the US. In a Drucker Apps conversation about immigration, Jiménez said: “Perhaps the most important aspect of immigration reform…has to do with legalizing people who have been here for some time, people who have proven that they are productive members of US society, and have greater potential to be productive members of American society if we could only unshackle them from the ball and chain that is their legal status.”

Peter Schrag. Photo: Patricia Ternahan

In the Wall Street Journal, Peter Schrag, author of Not Fit for Our Society, recalled the nature of Americans’ feelings toward newcomers over the centuries. The history of both legal and illegal immigration in America has been characterized by ambivalence, he said, with anti-immigrant sentiment flaring and waning with economic trends and other factors. “Arizona’s new law…is only the latest chapter in centuries of intermittent efforts to slow immigration, or stop it altogether”, he wrote.