Immigration



José Cárdenas:
Good evening, I'm José Cárdenas. Welcome to "Horizonte." Recent criminal crackdowns by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in the Valley bring out protesters on both sides of the immigration issue. The issue of immigration has been around for decades -- but it seems to be reaching new levels of emotion and anger. What's feeding it? Plus, United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez talks about the treatment of migrant workers, the legacy of civil rights leader César Chavez and more. All this coming up next on "Horizonte."

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José Cárdenas:
As the debate for an immigration reform policy continues, some say people are igniting the issue -- by the economics, politics, emotions, and opinions surrounding immigration. Joining me to talk about how immigration has evolved as a hot button issue is Assistant Professor William Simmons from ASU West's Social and Behavioral Sciences Department.

José Cárdenas:
Professor Simmons, thanks for joining us on "Horizonte."

William Simmons:
Good to be here. Thank you.

José Cárdenas:
How are things different, if they are, in the current debate compared to decades past.

William Simmons:
Well, you're right. I mean, the immigration debate, especially in the last few weeks, has really gotten quite fierce with a lot of cliché's thrown back and forth. And the immigration debate has changed from 10, 15 years ago. However, the immigration debate now kind of mirrors the debates that we had about immigration in the 19th and early 20th century in this country.

José Cárdenas:
How so?

William Simmons:
Well, the fierceness of the debates especially. We had, for example in Pittsburgh they elected a mayor who was in prison for starting a anti-catholic rally.

José Cárdenas:
This is back in the 19th century?

William Simmons:
Back in the 1840s, yes. So you have this history in the United States of anti-immigration feeling but you also have a history of the rise and fall of immigration rights groups. And so we look a little bit more like the 1840s and 50s or the 1890s than we do the 1990s today.

José Cárdenas:
Well, what's changed then in the last decade or two to make this look more virulent as it did back in the 19th century than it was just two decades ago?

William Simmons:
Well, I think 9/11 plays a role. 9/11 leads to that -- the immigration debate can be framed in the mirror of security. And once it's that, once it's in the veneer of security it becomes a national debate. It becomes something that Congress is going to take on. It allows some cover for some of the more extreme views to be brought into the debate. But also the media has changed a lot in the last six, seven years as well.

José Cárdenas:
In what way?

William Simmons:
Well, the media, I mean, has become -- we now have so many outlets. We have outlets that cater to extremism on both sides. And so you have blogs, you have radio disc jockeys who have become quite extreme. And when you have this diffusion of viewpoints it allows people in the mainstream media, in the supposedly mainstream media, to go further to the extremes themselves and oftentimes the moderate views drop out.

José Cárdenas:
And they go further to the extremes in the guise of reporting what the extreme views are?

William Simmons:
Exactly. So you see things in the mainstream media by Lou Dobbs and Keith Oberman for example that were probably a little more extreme than were said in the mainstream media 10 or 15 years ago.

José Cárdenas:
What about the impact of the current economic situation? Has that made things worse in terms of the nature of the discourse?

William Simmons:
Exactly. I mean, the rise of nativism or anti-immigrant feeling usually tracks economic downturns. And in the last year or so we've seen an economic downturn in the United States and in Arizona. And it's not surprising that the immigration debates have heated up in the same time.

José Cárdenas:
Now, what about the economic conditions in other parts of the world? How do they impact the discussion?

William Simmons:
You know, it's very interesting that when you look in the 1840s and 50s or 1890s, usually the waves of immigration that would come to the United States were from economic downturns in these areas. The U.S. economy often, at those times, were able to absorb large numbers of immigrants. And my fear now, with the globalized economy, is that as the U.S. economy goes down or suffers some setbacks, the economic conditions around the world will suffer some setbacks as well. And so you might get waves of immigrants coming at the same time that the American economy can't absorb these immigrants as well. And so you're going to get rising immigration feelings and maybe a change in the immigration policies. But you're still going to get large waves of immigrants coming because of the economic conditions in their home countries.

José Cárdenas:
You know, how much of this is a reaction to economic conditions improving in other countries to the detriment of the United States? For example, in the last few days there have been articles in the newspaper about the aviation industry in Arizona and elsewhere in the United States moving to Mexico, which you would think would be to Mexico's benefit, which might reduce immigration coming here. But it seems just to inflame concerns about the impact NAFTA, for example, may have had on this country.

William Simmons:
I think NAFTA and other free trade agreements and globalization itself has been a mixed bag, right? I mean, so there's going to be certain industries that are going to be helped by NAFTA. But of course the large waves of immigration in the late 90s, especially from Mexico, can be traced to something like NAFTA where you have free trade of goods. But you have a couple things. You don't have free trade or free migration. People are not allowed to move across borders. But also when the subsidies were not changed in the United States, all of a sudden the farmers in Pueblo, for example, might have to be competing with farmers in Iowa with all their equipment, with all their chemicals and all their other benefits. And so those farms are going to be displaced. And the logical place for them to come at that point would be to come up to the United States.

José Cárdenas:
Now, looking at this from an historical perspective, how much does a current situation where you've got local jurisdictions, cities, towns, counties, taking steps that they view as enforcement of immigration laws, federal immigration laws, how does that compare to times past?

William Simmons:
Historically local officials have gotten involved in immigration debates. They have gotten involved in these issues. But they've never had -- they've never had the legal power to do that, right? The reforms during the Clinton administration allowed the Congress to delegate or to download some of the responsibilities for immigration enforcement down to the local communities. And that's why you see some of the actions by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and others here in Arizona is they have been given that authority by Congress to -- to take on the role of semi-immigration agents.

José Cárdenas:
Now, you've talked about how the media has inflamed the discussion in part by reporting on the most sensationalistic aspects of this whole debate. Are there ways though that the media could bring the tenor of this discussion back to more reasonable levels?

William Simmons:
Yeah. I think we have -- the media is going to respond to what it has to sell papers to get advertising space, et cetera. And so the media is going to look for conflict. The media is going to focus on key players, mayors and sheriffs and governors, et cetera. The media is going to go for the headlines. One of the things I think the media could do is to try to humanize these issues. The media has not - both, I think, the English language media and sometimes the Spanish language media have not tried to put a human face on immigration. They focus more on conflict, they focus more on the vitriol in the streets, the anger in the streets, and they haven't focused on the people who are being affected day-to-day.

José Cárdenas:
You made some allusions to the current debate that's going on between Sheriff Arpaio and Mayor Gordon. How could the media, though, have handled that differently in a way that's consistent with what you just said about putting a human face on this?

William Simmons:
I think Sheriff Arpaio claims that he's responding to a letter by 10 business owners. And I think business -- small business owners have every right to be concerned when some things get in the way of their business. But I think if the small business administration would step in and hold a debate or hold a discussion amongst small business owners. Because many small business owners here in the Valley and throughout Arizona rely on undocumented immigrants. And that's something that they need to do to compete. And at the same time, there's business owners here in the Valley or down by the border who are adversely affected by that. And I think we should have a discussion among the small business owners and have a discussion of what kind of reforms they could do to solve some of the problems that some owners are facing but without taking away the work force for the others.

José Cárdenas:
Now, Dr. Simmons, one way in which the current discussion certainly differs from the 19th century is the fact you have individuals who now have access to the Internet, to their blogs, to make their views known to million of people, literally. How does that impact the discussion?

William Simmons:
I think we can see it not only the blogs but with things like youtube. I mean, Mayor Gordon's speech from a few days ago is being played on youtube and it is being shown around the world. And it gives a certain perspective on Phoenix, it gives a certain perspective on Arizona.

José Cárdenas:
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

William Simmons:
I think anytime you can put something out there that will add to the discourse I think that's good. But unfortunately, the responses to something like that or through blogs or just through the e-mail responses often times they're unchecked. And the loudest voice will often win. And I think when the loudest voice wins, the moderate voices really do get drowned out.

José Cárdenas:
Should we take any comfort from the fact that in the recent primaries both on the Republican and Democratic side that the candidates who are most anti-immigrant, for lack of a better word, seemed to do rather poorly?

William Simmons:
Yeah. I think you have to remember last year's in the congressional debates on immigration reform, many people -- there was an apparent groundswell of anti-immigrant feeling which seemed to check the comprehensive immigration bill. However, if that was a groundswell we didn't see it in the primaries, especially in the Republican primaries where you would have expected Duncan Hunter and Tom Tenkredo to do really well. In fact they only got one or two or three percent of the vote in most of the primaries and two of the more moderates, Huckabee and Senator John McCain, moderates on immigration issues, ending up being one-two in the primaries. I think that bodes well for next year. Whoever will be elected president and however Congress comes out, I think that there's going to be a window of opportunity for a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

José Cárdenas:
Which would include perhaps the Dream Act which would deal with the problem of students who are here, undocumented status, being denied in-state tuition which is one of the subjects that I understand is going to be taken up at the conference that you are sponsoring called "Education, Justice and the Border." Tell us about that.

William Simmons:
"Education, Justice and the Border" is an event we're doing next Monday and Tuesday at the West campus of ASU. This is our fifth border justice event. These events are put together by faculty members, students, community members, staff at the campus, alumni. And we all work together in a very collaborative effort to put together these events that include many different ways of expressing views on immigration. We have a film showing by the up and coming filmmaker Alex Rivera. We have two plays going on, two different major public art exhibits, we have music, we have dance and we also have 25 speakers who are going to be on our panels discussing various issues from Proposition 300 to the Dream Act to English language learning to affirmative action.

José Cárdenas:
The Ward-Connolly Initiative that's being discussed right now. And not all of these people are in-state. Rivera, as you mentioned, is going to be here. I understand he's got some great credentials, Sun Dance Fellow, as well as a Rockefeller Fellow?

William Simmons:
Exactly. He's just been called a major force in American cinema. He won I think American Documentary Magazine called him "The Future of American Cinema." So we're so pleased to have him. He just won a major award at the Sun Dance Film Festival. And his films have been seen on PBS and elsewhere. But they take a slightly quirky look at the border issues. I mean, not to take away from the seriousness of it but to maybe create a space for dialogue to kind of show that there is a little bit of humor in some of the border issues out there.

José Cárdenas:
Dr. Simmons, we've got about 40 seconds left. Tell me a little bit about this new masters program that you're doing out at ASU.

William Simmons:
I'm director of a new masters program which is completely interdisciplinary and community embedded. It is a masters in social justice and human rights. We are starting with our first class in the fall of 2008. And it's going to be very much a problem-based curriculum. And completely unique to the world, we believe.

José Cárdenas:
Well, it sounds like a program we're going to want to talk about on this show. Hopefully in the not too distant future. Dr. Simmons, thanks for joining us on "Horizonte."

William Simmons:
Thank you, José.

José Cárdenas:
The border justice series "Education, Justice, and the Border" will be Monday and Tuesday, April 7th and 8th on the ASU West campus at 47th Avenue and Thunderbird in Phoenix. All events are open to the public.

José Cárdenas:
The seventh annual César Chavez luncheon was held in Phoenix to remember the life of the civil rights leader. Current United Farm Workers President, Arturo Rodriguez, attended the event. Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez had the opportunity to talk to Arturo Rodriguez about the impact César Chavez had on farm workers today.

Arturo Rodriguez:
César Chavez, our founder of the organization, believed in improving the standard of life for farm workers, ensuring that they had the respect and dignity that they deserve as human beings and the ones that provide food to the nation and throughout the world. And so we pride ourselves in continuing that work and ensuring that that happens, whether it be through legislative arenas or through working hard to ensure that workers are represented in a decent way, in a way that ensures that they're protected and they have legal rights like anyone else.

Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez:
How is the United Farm Workers Union different than the mainstream labor unions?

Arturo Rodriguez:
Well, you know, we are part of a movement. And we pride ourselves in being part of the movement. We're part of the farm worker movement that César organized and initiated in the early days. A sister organization that we work very closely with is the National Farm Workers Service Center. The president of that organization is Paul Chavez, one of César's sons. And they look at doing work in education, working with poor people, working with young students in difficult areas of education. And secondly, they work on radio stations and they have a network of radio stations -- that is always talking to the community about the issues that are important to them. And thirdly, they develop affordable housing. And so the National Farm Workers Service Center, although we're not one in the same organization, we certainly complement one other in the work that we do. Because César had a strong belief that you need to deal with the issues that confront workers in the fields, and that's very important. But simultaneously, they're only there 8 or 9 or 10 hours a day. And their family is in their community. So you have to deal with those issues. Because of that he founded the National Farm Workers Service Center and Paul Chavez continues that work today. And in addition to that, there's a whole other array of organizations that focus on community organizing. That deal with issues around training of workers and that we have a medical plan and a pension plan for farm workers. The Juan de la Cruise Pension Plan and Robert F. Kennedy Medical Plan. So all those are areas that are important to ensure that we deal with all different aspects of a worker's life.

Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez:
What are the conditions of migrant workers today?

Arturo Rodriguez:
You know, still there is a tremendous amount of exploitation that takes place and abuse of workers. First of all they're looked at as second-class citizens. The large majority of workers in agriculture today are all of Latino descent. The majority of those being of Mexican descent, have migrated from Mexico to work in the fields. Most people look at them as people that are second-class citizens as opposed to looking at them and saying, "Hey, they have skills. They have competencies that we don't have." Because very few people that live in the United States actually go into work in agriculture today. So as a result we are trying to constantly lift that status up and to ensure that everybody recognizes the contribution they make to our society. Without them we would not have fruits and vegetables in our stores and at our tables. And be the best-fed nation in the whole entire world. And it's largely because of the fruits of labor of farm workers throughout the country. And so we try to definitely deal with this issue of status. Secondly, I mean, the conditions and most workers are still paid minimum wage or below minimum wage and oftentimes, often in many cases the working conditions are extremely difficult. They have to work in the extreme heat or the extreme cold. Work a lot of hours. They start at sunup and oftentimes again they're working until 4:00 or 5:00 or 6:00 in the afternoon every day. The benefits, there are no medical benefits for the workers or their families. There's no pension benefits, retirement benefits. They don't get paid vacations and paid holidays. Things of that nature that so many of us take for granted today. And yet a farm worker doesn't have that. So we again pride ourselves on those collective bargaining agreements that we have with employers and those employers that we can work with that understand the needs and understand that they have -- they have to treat those workers with the same kind of respect that anybody else would expect if they worked in those jobs.

Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez:
What are your thoughts about current immigration reform?

Arturo Rodriguez:
We have worked closely with the agricultural industry now, with all the various organizations throughout the AG industry now for the last nine years, trying to craft legislation that deals with the issues confronting agriculture in this country, to ensure the viability of agriculture. Because we never want to rely and become dependent upon foreign agriculture, foreign produce. And secondly, that we also deal with the work force that's here already in the United States working in agriculture, that they have a protected legal status so that they will not continue to be abused and exploited and taken advantage of.

Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez:
What kind of climate has the issue of immigration created for migrant workers today in terms of organizing and participating in unions like the United Farm Workers Union.

Arturo Rodriguez:
There is tremendous fear with farm workers today in regards to their immigration status. Oftentimes they're worried when they leave home, is the INS going to come and raid the fields we're working at? Am I going to be able to go home to my children? Oftentimes the spouses that are not working are wondering whether their spouse is going to return home. So it's a real climate of fear. And then they can't get access to driver's license. So consequently, I mean, they're bumming rides off of people. They're having to pay lots of money to what they call "roiteros," people that provide rides to folks. So it's all this kind of exploitation that takes place as a result of them not having legal status in the country. And the pressures that INS put on them day in and day out. So consequently, there is a real state of fear. And it does make it difficult for them to think anything beyond just keeping a job and maintaining a job and taking care of my family and making sure that they have food and I can pay the rent and send my children to school and take care of those basic needs that people have.

Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez:
Are the marches today that have occurred across the country much the same or different than what had been taking place 30, 40 years ago when César Chavez was leading many of them?

Arturo Rodriguez:
You know, it's very interesting. Because certainly we grew up in the 1960s during the time of the Vietnam War and there was protests taking place all across the nation as a result of the war. And oftentimes you saw people, literally thousands of people, marching. And they were done in a very -- for a real purpose in mind. And today, I think those marches that occurred, I think they're similar in many ways but what you saw different this time was that you saw the families of Latinos coming out not by thousands but by tens of thousands across the country. And it was very spontaneous. It wasn't something that was organized and well-planned and where people had put, you know, millions of dollars of resources into something. It was something that came from people's hearts. They were out there saying, "Look, all we want to do is be treated with the respect and dignity that we deserve. We come to this country to do those jobs which nobody else wants to do, whether it's in the service industry, working as hotel maids or cooks or dishwashers or working as janitors or construction industry or working as farm workers. We come here in peace. We come here to provide a service to folks living here in the United States. But simultaneously, so we can raise our own families and search for that American dream and realize it like anybody else."

Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez:
Do you believe that migrant workers have a stronger voice today?

Arturo Rodriguez:
The voice was very strong back then. But I think what people have -- we saw this eruption, you might say, of activism almost overnight take place with immigrant workers here in the country. And I think that was shocking to people. Because they never really looked at it in that particular way. And I think people's voices were heard and listened to. And I believe firmly that we're going to have action as a result of that. And that people are waiting for an opportunity. They're just waiting to understand that there is some hope for them. They want to believe that yes, we can bring about change and how we do it is very important to them.

Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez:
Would you say that the relationship between migrant workers and employers had improved through the years?

Arturo Rodriguez:
Well, certainly. I think it demonstrates to employers that, look, we are here to work. And we work -- I mean, we have a reputation. Farm workers, immigrants, we work hard. We work very hard and we're not afraid of work. So consequently, the employers are really hungry to get access to a work force that's willing to do -- that has the skills to be able to do the work necessary and has the stamina and the determination and the commitment to make it happen. And certainly we echo that all the time with our workers to make sure that we don't lose the kind of status or the kind of power that we need with the employers within the industry. So I think there is a sense of respect there on the part of the employers. And that's why they're willing to work with us in bringing about change for farm workers in this country. We've had the overwhelming major associations within the agricultural industry sit down at the table with us, with Senator Feinstein, Howard Graham and Senator Larry Berman and many others to kind of carve out and to develop something that makes sense for all the parties involved.

Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez:
Where does the United Farmers Workers Union go from now in this new millennium?

Arturo Rodriguez:
You know, we're blessed with a lot of good folks that come to work for the farm worker movement, both young and experienced and so forth. And you know, I think the next generation of leadership will continue to have new ideas and to be creative and to develop new methods in doing things. And we'll continue to make this movement successful in again ensuring that we improve the standard of life of farm workers and other poor people in this country.

José Cárdenas:
Next Thursday on "Horizonte," we will talk to the state senator who helped pass a new law in Arizona requiring insurance companies to cover autism services. That's our show for tonight. I'm José Cárdenas. Have a good evening.

ASU Assistant Professor William Simmons of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences discusses the factors fueling the immigration debate.

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In this segment:

William Simmons:Assistant Professor, Social and Behavioral Sciences Department, ASU West;

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