Federation for American Immigration Reform

More from this show

A discussion with Ira Mehlman, Media Director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. FAIR is a public interest organization made up of citizens who believe it’s necessary to reform our nation’s current immigration system and policies.

>> Jose Cardenas:
Good evening. I'm Jose Cardenas. Welcome to "Horizonte." A documentary offers a look at the impact of immigration on Arizona's border. We'll have a discussion on the film's portrayal on the political sides of the issue. And a leader of a national immigration reform group talks to us about what should be done about immigration. All those stories coming up next on "Horizonte."

>> Announcer:
Funding for "Horizonte" is provided by SRP. SRP's business is water and power, but our dedication to the community doesn't stop there.

>> Jose Cardenas:
Last Sunday, the Arizona Humanities Council hosted a public screening of the 2006 award winning documentary "Crossing Arizona" at the Phoenix Art Museum. The film gives an inside look into different sides of the debate between border security and immigration enforcement. We'll talk to two A.S.U. professors about the documentary in a moment, but first a look at some of the film.

>> Ray Ybarra:
When I was a little kid, we used to come here to my grandfather's house, just one block from the border. My brothers would play a little game where they would run through the fence in Mexico, at that time it was just a little chain link fence, see how far they could get before running back and have the border patrol come over and shue us away. Now when I come back home there is a giant steel fence here. You can see a huge difference from what it was like when we were growing up here. There wasn't helicopters flying over us every night, there wasn't these gigantic stadium lights that make it look like you're in a war zone.

>> Ray Borane:
Over the years, especially over the past six years, they were initially overrunning the community in large, large numbers, coming through the main part of town. They were no more than a nuisance, as far as I was concerned. The majority of this community are very sympathetic towards them. And so they tolerated the nuisance of the people running up and down the streets and the border patrol chasing them and all of the things affiliated with that activity. I was more frustrated and disappointed in the way the American government was handling the situation. They pushed the whole problem here. I felt it was done by design. So that's when I began writing the President, Doris Meisner, Janet Reno, anybody that would listen. I was simply trying to bring attention to the issue and hopefully they would address it in a different way. They used a military strategy, and they pushed them further and further out into the desert and that is when all of the dying started.

>> Jose Cardenas:
Joining me now is A.S.U. professor Paul Espinosa from the Department of Transborder Chicana-Chicano and Latina-Latino studies. He moderated the discussion after the movie last weekend. Also here is A.S.U. professor Brian Gratton from the Department of History. He was a panelist. Thanks for joining us on "Horizonte." Dr. Espinosa, would you give us a thumbnail overview of the movie? We got a sense of it from the clip, but the movie was an hour plus long?

>> Paul Espinosa:
Yes, it is 75 minutes long. It is a mosaic of the different voices that are around what is happening at the border, particularly in Arizona. I think the film tries to capture why Arizona is ground zero in terms of immigration today. It points out that staring in the mid 90s, enforcement policies in San Diego and Texas, essentially closing the border in those areas, and created a funnel-like effect that started pushing more and more people through the Arizona desert, and the desert is a dangerous place for migrants. It has created - the film was basically done in 2004 and 2005, and at that time there were about 4,500 people a day crossing through the Arizona desert, and this has created a lot of different problems and issues that have to be addressed. The film tries to let us hear from some of the voices, the people who have been directly affected by it, migrants themselves, as well as people at the border, ranchers, and other people involved with the immigration issue. I think it does capture a lot of the different kinds of voices that are part of this issue today.

>> Jose Cardenas:
Professor Gratton, your overall thoughts about the film.

>> Brian Gratton:
It's a very attractive film. It is aesthetically pleasing, particularly for someone from Arizona because you see our beautiful state. It has a variety of viewpoints. The two main ones are of person who are inclined to open borders, and the minute men, whose campaigns peaked during this period. And in this that sense, though the film is valuable and helps us understand the positions of these groups, I don't think it reflects particularly well the position of the American people about the border and what ought to be done about the border.

>> Jose Cardenas:
In what way is it deficient in that regard?

>> Brian Gratton:
I think most of the perk people while not as militant as the minutemen, are very opposed to the idea of open borders, and opposed to the flood of undocumented immigrants who have arrived. They're unlikely to support deportation, which was obvious in the treatment of the minutemen, their opposition to allowing large numbers of illegal immigrants is very clearly stated not only in voting, but opinion surveys. In this sense the film didn't address that growing or at least very high opposition on the part of the American people.

>> Jose Cardenas:
Dr. Espinosa, you have done a number of documentaries, some focusing on border issues, immigration. How would you assess how well this film dealt with that subject?

>> Paul Espinosa:
I think the film does a good job of dealing with the subject. I think that essentially in the kind of news footage that we usually get about this issue, we don't get a chance to get into any kind of depth with the different people involved in the topic. I think what this film does do is allows us to meet some of the people who are players in the larger drama that immigration is all about, and get to know them and get to know what their perspectives are in more depth. That is something that the film does do very well. The film does a pretty good job of giving us a balanced view of hearing from different -- not necessarily the extremes -- I would differ a little differently than Professor Gratton on that perspective. We have a variety of viewpoints. Our current policy is really not serving anybody well, and again that there really needs to be -- we need to have some kind of a new policy to address the problem, because what we're doing is not working.

>> Jose Cardenas:
Now, you talk about the depth. The clip we saw had a few seconds of Mayor Douglas, and he sounds rather anti-immigrant, and I think he is known as being fairly open minded on the subject, do they get into that? Do you get a fuller picture of where people living on the border really are on the subject?

>> Paul Espinosa:
Yes, we get a chance to meet a number of different people. A number of ranchers who live right on the border, whose land many migrants are coming through, and are upset by the kind of damage done to their lands. We meet some of the people who live on the border who feel compelled to address the issue in a more humanitarian way. We meet people, a man who essentially takes water out to water stations and is very concerned with, you know, basically people dying out on the desert for lack of water, not just him, but the Humane Borders group does a similar kind of thing. We do get a chance to meet some of these people, and I guess in a sense understand what their motivations are. Also understand the complexity of the issue, that it is kinds of an issue that is sort of -- it can't be solved. It is not a black and white issue. It has grown up over a long period of time. And it's a challenging political issue in terms of how to solve it.

>> Jose Cardenas:
Professor Espinosa has talked about this as something growing up over a long periods of time. You are working on your own analysis of the last 400 years of immigration into the United States. What are the similarities and dissimilarities in what we have seen in the past and what we are seeing today?

>> Brian Gratton:
I would say, since 1750 when Benjamin Franklin condemned the Germans that had moved into Philadelphia, the American people have been suspicious of immigration as positive about it. My findings suggest that there has often about a lot of reluctance on the American people to accept immigrants. They have reacted most forcefully when there are very large numbers of immigrants and when those immigrants are of a different origin. The first great reaction was in the 1850s, against Irish and German Catholics. A new group. A lot of them came suddenly. The reaction was politically extreme much the same happen in the earliest 20th century. Southern and eastern Europe, Italians, Poles, Jews, the reaction to the very great flood was also quite pointed, so pointed it led to the restriction of immigrants in the 1920s which persisted until 1965. What we see today, the third reaction. The third time the American people have become politically attuned and placed immigration at a very high level in terms of importance to them. The similarities are again a great volume of immigrants. Secondly immigrants from a different sector, they're not Poles, Irish, German, Italians, they're Latinos and Asians. The dissimilarities are, I think, three. First, never has so many one group been so large a portion of the population as Mexicans are of this immigration population. Secondly, never has any immigrant group been as geographically concentrated, in this case in the southwest. Third, we have not in the past had an undocumented immigration problem like we do today.

>> Jose Cardenas:
You don't mention the Chinese Expulsion Acts and --

>> Brian Gratton:
I didn't mention it not because it wasn't an important reaction, but it was a relatively small population group that was excluded. It was interesting because it had an exclusion that affected the west coast. It was a response to a political problem in the west coast. The major proponents to immigration, employers, often certain politicians generally are in support of the democratic party, has been supportive of immigrants, able to resist any restriction of other immigrants until the 1920's.

>> Jose Cardenas:
Dr. Espinosa, we talked about the screening that took place at the art museum. What was the audience's reaction to the documentary?

>> Paul Espinosa:
My impression was that the audience responded very favorably to the film. I think one of the things you mentioned at the beginning that the Arizona Humanities Council, which I am a member of, wanted to have the screening because they believe that immigration is a topic that we really have to have more discussion around. It is something that affects our community in a very big way. Unfortunately we're not really getting as much of a dialogue around the issue as we need to. We need to hear shrill voices on the extremes, but we're not getting a chance to hear from the main stream as well as talk it out among ourselves. My impression was that the audience was very attentive, very interested, a vigorous discussion afterwards with a number of panelists, including Dr. Gratton, and the audience stayed for the entire session. My impression is they came away more informed than before the screening.

>> Jose Cardenas:
Dr. Gratton, You said, you didn't think the film quite captured where the American people are as group on this issue, listening to the comments of the audience, what is your sense of how the film perhaps measured up to what their views are on the subject?

>> Brian Gratton:
It is interesting. Whenever there are discussions about immigration on the campus of Arizona State University, it tends to be a very high level of tolerance for high levels of immigration. As you move off the campus, further and further away from the campus, you begin to pick up much less acceptance of it. In this audience, I would say the majority, wouldn't you say, Paul, relatively supportive of tolerance towards immigration, but there were certainly members of the audience asking questions as to why America should have to accept so many people, why should undocumented immigrants come ahead of those who follow the procedure?

>> Jose Cardenas:
How much of that is because of lack of information? You have what seem to be, at least the studies I have seen, myths about the level of crime associated with undocumented immigration. Myths about the degree of assimilation, about the economic drain, at worst it is a wash and most likely a positive. You have a lot of people basing their judgments on things that may not be true.

>> Brian Gratton:
Well, I believe there is a lot of rational justification for opposition immigration. There always has been. In the working class, you should be opposed to very heavy levels of immigration. Well, if employers are bringing workers in to keep wage rates down, it is fairly clear that is the case. The recent defeat of the 2002 senate bill, the service worker union tended to be supportive of immigrants. The major unions behind the scenes, my reading of the analysis, they were resistant to a guest worker program. There are rational reasons. The economic contribution as you say is primarily a wash, but it is very debatable, low skill, low human capital immigrants are a positive effects on an economy like ours. On the whole, immigration has a mildly positive effect on our economy. But nearly all of that is carried by what we call high human capital immigrants.

>> Jose Cardenas:
Paul, I can see you want to respond. We're out of time. We will have you both back on to discuss this further. Thanks for joining us.

>> Brian Gratton/Paul Espinosa:
Thank you.

>>
Last week on "Horizonte," you saw an interview with author and political commentator Linda Chavez talking about her views on illegal immigration. She was part of a discussion at an A.S.U. conference on "Immigration and the Public Sector" in September. Also on the same panel was Ira Mehlman. Mehlman is media director with the "Federation for American Immigration Reform," known as "FAIR." Larry Lemmons talked to Mehlman about his group's position on the issue.

>> Larry Lemmons:
Mr. Mehlman, what is the Federation for American Immigration Reform?

>> Ira Mehlman:
FAIR is a national organization, and really the purpose of the group is to give a voice to the American public in terms of immigration policy. When we debate and think of immigration policy, we think of it either in terms of the immigrants themselves, in which case it is wonderful, no one comes here legally or illegally unless it is in their interest to be here, or in terms of businesses interests and obviously businesses always want a supply of labor. The law of supply and demand, if you have more workers, the price of labor, like any other commodity will go down. There is another interest group. That's the rest of the American public. They have a big stake in our immigration policy, unlike any other public policy, it should serve the interests of the American people and the nation.

>> Larry Lemmons:
Why do you suppose this issue has grown more acute as the years have progressed…I mean we've had illegal immigration for countless years -- why is it now that it has become so widespread?

>>Ira Mehlman:
It is a question of sheer numbers. As long as the numbers of illegal immigrants was relatively small, most people in this country didn't notice. Back in 1986, we had an amnesty for the illegal alien population at the time, about three million people got amnesty. Here we are 20 years later, and the estimates are 12, 15, 20 million people in the country illegally. The numbers have grown geometrically. It is having an effect on every aspect of life in the United States. When you have large scale illegal immigration, it affects everybody in every way. It affects workers, taxpayers, kids in school, affects access to health care. Just about every aspect of life that Americans are concerned about are touched in some way by mass illegal immigration, and the American public is saying, look, we need to have a voice in this. This policy needs to be regulated so that it serves the interests of the American people and serves the interests of the nation.

>> Larry Lemmons:
What does FAIR want to do about illegal immigration?

>> Ira Mehlman:
What FAIR would like to see happen is that we begin to enforce laws against illegal immigration. During the recent debate on immigration policy, President Bush kept offering these false choices - either we have to legalize the people here or we have to round them up and deport them. That is sheer nonsense. What you have to do is start enforcing laws in a way that sends a question. Don't come to the United States illegally. You're not going to benefit. You are not going to get a job here. You will not get access to benefits or services except for emergency ones. People who are already here find they have difficulty getting jobs, services and benefits. Not everyone will leave at once. Over time people get the message. They'll decide, look, it is not in our interest to stay here. Illegal immigrants are rational people. They came because they believed there was something better waiting for them here. If they find there isn't something better waiting, they will give up and go home.

>> Larry Lemmons:
Self-deportation?

>> Ira Mehlman:
Exactly. Self-deportation. I know this is going to be aired not on the day we are talking but in the September 27th edition of U.S.A. Today, illegal aliens packing up and going home because they can't find jobs, because they're not getting the same access to benefits. Local police departments are now cooperating with federal immigration authority. They've decide that, look there is no point in sticking around a country where it is not my culture, not my language, not my home. I can't even achieve what it is I came here to achieve.

>> Larry Lemmons:
Conversely, I think also in the news, there was a story about a town in New Jersey that had enacted a number of strict illegal immigration laws. Many people left. Now there are actually economic hardships in that town.

>> Ira Mehlman:
There is going to be a period of adjustment. There has been hardship as a result of people coming into the economy illegally, there may be short-term hardship. What happens is the economy stabilizes itself. Employers start to offer better wages, better working conditions. Americans begin to take jobs that they used to do. It is not true that illegal aliens are doing jobs that Americans won't do. They are doing jobs Americans used to do, only the illegal aliens are working for lower wages and under more adverse working conditions. It shouldn't be our objective as a nation to see how cheaply we can get people to work. The basis of this country, the backbone has been its middle class. If we want to preserve the middle class, we have to do something to preserve it. If we allow the middle class to be undermined by mass illegal immigration we're going to pay a big price for it down the line.

>> Larry Lemmons:
What do you think about some of the other strategies? The wall on the border, employer sanctions --

>> Ira Mehlman:
In order to deal with illegal immigration effectively, you have to have a combination of strategies. No one thing is going to work. The fence is necessary. We need it not just for dealing with illegal immigration, but because we have national security issues at stake here also. You need the physical impediments at the border. Wall, more border patrol. But you also need a reason for people not to come across that wall in the first place. If you erect the wall and you say look, if you get past that wall you're home free. Eventually people succeed in getting across. You have to make it more difficult for people to get here and eliminate the reason why they would want to come across that wall in the first place. It has to be a combination of things. No one strategy alone is going to work.

>> Larry Lemmons:
What do you think is the source of so much of the anger that is in -- I don't think it is in the whole movement at large, but certainly there are pockets, very, very angry about illegal immigration. What do you think is the source of that?

>> Ira Mehlman:
Well, when people's lives are affected by a particular problem, and they see that the government is refusing to do anything -- it is not that they can't do anything, but they refused for many years to actually even do anything to enforce immigration laws, they get angry. Frankly they should be angry at the people in Washington D.C. those are the people against whom they should direct their anger. We may feel that people who broke our immigration laws need to pay some price for it, they are doing what is logical. They are doing what most people would do in a similar situation. The people responsible for the problem are in Washington D.C.., if you want to be angry at somebody, be angry at those folks. They created the problem. They have turned a blind eye. They have pandered to special interest. They have pandered to cheap labor. They are the ones who created the problem, and really undermined a lot of people's sense of security in this country.

>> Larry Lemmons:
You mention that the senate bill was incomprehensible. A lot of anger went behind talk radio -- a lot of people were angry. Some people would say that talk radio perhaps promoted the anger. So, here was a bill, whether perfect or not, but it was brought down. Is it possible for any bill to make any sort of concessions towards illegal immigration given that kinds of environment?

>> Ira Mehlman:
I think first of all you have to remember one of the reasons that the American public didn't trust congress to do this was because they have made the promises before. They have been made and broken repeatedly. The public fundamentally rejected the premise of the immigration reform. It started with the idea in order to get concessions, more promises, we first have to cut a deal with the people who broke the law. We have to award the people here with amnesty. -- I think the American public said no. We don't have to make bargains with the people who broke our laws to get another set of promises that you are probably going to break to enforce our laws. That was one of the primary reasons why talk radio was able to galvanize public opinion in this way. To their credit, a lot of people in Washington were upset that they rained on their parade. They have been complaining about talk radio, restoring the fairness doctrine, but for the most part, the talk radio personalities directed the people's anger at the folks in Washington and I think that is the responsible thing for them.

>> Larry Lemmons:
Napolitano signed the Employee Sanction Bill into law -- how do you think Arizona, in your opinion, in your organization's opinion is fairing in the illegal immigration issue?

>> Ira Mehlman:
Arizona has unquestionably been the leader in local action. Beginning with proposition 200 back in 2004. Which passed and the voters in this state said, look, we can't pay endlessly for services for people in the country illegally. We have to do something to protect the interests of the state, protects the interest of the taxpayer. The political leadership in Arizona was a little bit behind the curve, but it seems they are getting on board. Politicians will figure out which way the winds is blowing. Even if they're not committed to it. They understand there are certain issues that you just can't cross the voters on, and clearly in Arizona today, immigration, illegal immigration is one of those issues that they feel strongly about because it hits them right where they live. It affects the quality of their children's education. It affects their payments and taxes have to go to provide all sorts of services. It does affect them every single day. So much of the focus is now being shifted at the local level. It is at the local level where the costs incurred. That is where it is felt. That's where people have to deal with it.

>> Larry Lemmons:
Thanks very much for visiting with "Horizon."

>> Ira Mehlman:
Thanks very much.

>>> Jose Cardenas:
Next week, a discussion with art collector and actor Cheech Marin and Los Angeles journalist Oscar Garza about "Papel Chicano: Works on Paper from the Collection of Cheech Marin" on display here in the valley.

>> Jose Cardenas:
That's "Horizonte" for this Thursday night. Thank you for joining us. Have a good evening.

>> Announcer:
If you have questions or comments about "Horizonte," please write to the addresses on your screen. Your comments may be used on a future edition of "Horizonte." Funding for "Horizonte" is providing by SRP. SRP's business is water and power, but our dedication to the community doesn't stop there. SRP, the leader in water and power.

Brian Gratton: Professor, Department of History, Arizona State University;

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

Three main characters from mystery shows premiering this summer

It’s the Summer of Mystery!

Graphic with the words
airs July 19

Psyche mission

Former President Donald Trump

Republican National Convention: Four nights of coverage

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: