Peter Schrag Honored at Berkeley Public Library Authors Dinner

Peter Schrag at BPLF Authors Dinner, Copyright 2011 Richard Friedman. All Rights Reserved.

UC Press author Peter Schrag was among the honorees at the Berkeley Public Library Foundation’s 9th Annual Authors Dinner. Also on the guest list were Burton Richter, Joyce Carol Oates, Dave Eggers, Yiyun Li, Markos Moulitsas, Raj Patel, Tobias Wolff, and Jaron Lanier. The dinner, which is the major fundraising event for the BPLF, raised $110,000 in support of branch infrastructure, according to the Chronicle’s Catherine Bigelow.

Authors dinner photo
BPLF Authors Dinner, Copyright 2011 Richard Friedman. All Rights Reserved

Schrag’s book Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America is a timely history of the political movements that have sought to restrict immigration to the United States. Covering the earliest days of the Republic to current events, Schrag sets the modern immigration controversy within the context of three centuries of debate over the same questions about who exactly is fit for citizenship. UC Press will release the paperback edition in July 2011.

Peter Schrag on the History of Immigration

Just before Arizona’s immigration law SB 1070 went into effect at the end of July, a federal judge temporarily blocked certain of the most controversial sections. In the wake of the ruling, Peter Schrag, author of Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America, gave his point of view on immigration on the Washington Post’s Political Bookworm blog.

Schrag finds that with every wave of immigration in America, there has been a corresponding rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, with nearly every immigrant group faced with opposition at one time or another. With relation to the Arizona law, he finds that current strategies have not stopped people from crossing the US-Mexico border illegally. He proposes some alternative ways to prevent illegal immigration, like increased enforcement of labor laws and economic development in Mexico. Read Peter Schrag’s full Political Bookworm op-ed.

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.

A Call to Action for California

Following the low voter turnout for California’s June 8 primary election, Mark Paul, co-author of California Crackup, wrote, “The real story of the Tuesday elections, it seems to me, is that voters have given up on believing in democracy under California’s current electoral system.” In the California Progress Report last Friday, Peter Schrag, author of Not Fit for Our Society and California, called Paul’s commentary “[t]he most trenchant analysis of this month’s primary election results”.

Voters feel alienated, says Paul, because of the state’s ailing system of government, which he and co-author Joe Mathews describe as three separate, conflicting systems that impede progress while California’s problems keep building. As Paul and Mathews discuss in this California Crackup book trailer, the state’s problems—failing schools, overburdened prisons, water crises, and ever-deepening debts—are huge, but not insurmountable. They propose clear, concrete ideas for how to address these problems, and to restore voters’ confidence and bring them back to the polls.

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.

The History of the Immigration Debate: New Podcast with Peter Schrag

In this podcast, Peter Schrag, author of Not Fit for Our Society, talks to Chris Gondek about the history of immigration and nativism in America.

He finds that nativist attitudes have persisted in America for centuries, with the same arguments that were once used against European and Chinese immigrants now being used to argue for restricting immigration from Mexico and Latin America. Schrag addresses intersections between nativism and racism throughout history, and explores the concept of “the other” in American society, then and now.

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