Immigrants: Much More Than an Abstract Number

This post is part of our series on Latin America: Migrant Journeys in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles and podcasts.

This is the first part of an interview with Mexican journalist Eileen Truax.

Mexican journalist and author of Huffington Post Voces Eileen Truax [es] recently released her book ‘Dreamers: The Fight of a Generation for its American Dream’. Migrant Journeys talked to Truax, who offered her insights on the immigration bill that the U.S. Senate recently passed, and explained why “the DREAMers” –more than 65,000 youth brought to the U.S. as children by their migrant parents, and who remain classified as “undocumented”–offer a perfect example of some of the contributions of immigrants to the United States.

Robert Valencia: Tells us more about your book Dreamers. What made you write this book?

Photo courtesy of Editorial Océano

Photo courtesy of Editorial Océano

Eileen Truax: Because I’m an immigrant myself, I was born in Mexico City and have lived nine years in Los Angeles, where I worked for La Opinión, America’s most influential newspaper in Spanish. During my time at this newspaper I covered immigration issues, and I found compelling and moving stories, some of them related to successes, or very dramatic. In this process I learned of this pattern, especially the presence of children of immigrants, or the so-called DREAMers. In reality it wasn’t the focus of attention for those covering the news, but the DREAMers were always there. I considered that it was necessary to take a second glimpse of particular stories from these youth who have features that set them apart from the rest of the immigrants. I believe this is how we’ll pave the way for a more humane immigration system. They’re Americans, save for a document.

RV: Many times we hear the anti-immigrant rhetoric on the media. Why do you think this is?

ET: For too long, I thought it was a lack of sensitivity, but in recent years I have found that it’s the lack of an approach to this problem. We tend to talk about immigration as a whole, like a generic thing that suddenly becomes abstract: 11 million people. But what’s the singularity about this? What’s the human aspect of this? We can’t give a soul to an abstract entity. For this reason, we must tell the stories of at least one immigrant. Let’s forget about the 11 million figure, let’s talk about the person who arrived in the U.S. with no documents and no knowledge of English. How does he or she manage to survive the first day if that person doesn’t know anybody, doesn’t have a place to sleep nor has a work permit? If it’s a family, how do their kids who don’t speak English manage to go to school? This way we can see a chain of stories and the challenges these people face, as well as the efforts to conquer the “little Everests” they face every day. When a person can understand the immigrant drama, sensitivity flourishes. Lest we forget we are talking about human beings who, in the end, are the beneficiaries of an immigration reform.

RV: Janet Napolitano stepped down as Secretary of Homeland Security. During her tenure we saw important measures for the DREAMers such as deferred action, a two-year program that allows them to be eligible for work authorization. How does her resignation affect the pro-immigrant movement?

ET: We must consider two things. The first is that the level of impact will depend on who replaces Napolitano, and what continuity will be given to the Administration’s policies or whether we’ll see a change of direction.  It will also depend on the vision the team will have. My second observation is that, though Napolitano was very vocal in several themes, we witnessed the largest number of deportations in America’s recent history, that is, 400,000 deportations per year is no small number. We’re talking about hits or misses in this administration. President Barack Obama has sided with the DREAMer movement and with the immigrant movement in general, but he’s the chief of this administration that has conducted these massive deportations. We have to wait and see who will take over and whether we’ll see a change of direction in current policies.

RV: Ann Coulter, a prominent figure of the U.S. conservative movement, said that by legalizing 11 million people the future of the Republican Party will be jeopardized, implying that the beneficiaries will vote in favor of Democrats as a sign of gratitude for passing the bill. Do you think it’s prudent to pigeonhole a Latino community who clearly is not monolithic in their political preferences? What do you think about this?

Eileen Truax, photo courtesy of René Miranda

Eileen Truax, photo courtesy of René Miranda

ET: It’s perverse to talk about an immigration reform while fixing attention to the political parties. What we need to understand is the need of a fair immigration reform seen from the human rights and criminal justice perspective, not just as partisan booty or capital gain for a particular party. If we don’t change our perspective we can’t do justice. The theme of immigration must be based on respect toward human rights. If we use these 11 million people as political prize we’re not doing the right thing as a country or as society, and lawmakers are not being compliant with their duties. Immigration reform must seek to give political certainty to 11 million people who are already here and who contribute to our society, and we as a society must protect those who live in it. Comments like this steer away the reform’s objective. Besides, this concern is premature and opportunistic because it will take 13 years for a person, once the bill is approved, to become a citizen.

RV: We have seen opposition of this bill in the House of Representatives at the helm of Rep. John Boehner (R-OH). Can we talk about optimism given the possibility that the reform will die down on the House floor?

ET: At this very moment we can’t have any certitude, not even the very same congressmen know exactly what the perspectives are with respect to the advancement of the bill in the next couple of months. I believe it will be after the August recess that some positions toward this bill will be defined when legislators go back to their respective localities. I hope these communities remind legislators the reason they’ve been put in Capitol Hill and that we have the right to tell them the position they must adopt regarding this matter. I would not talk about optimism because the perspective is vague. What I do believe, however, is that we’re at a juncture where everybody has to do something. Despite the things we don’t like about this reform and its peculiarities, the fact that we have an immigration reform bill is an opportunity nobody should miss. It’s the duty of activists and organizations to close ranks and become one front, while it’s the duty of journalists to seek different angles of the story, reminding congressmen and society that this goes beyond the militarization at the border. Let’s not forget who in reality will benefit and the characteristics of each group: There are sections of the bill that talk about farmers, another one talks about the DREAMers, etc., and we perhaps may forget to tell these stories. There are many particular things in the 1000-page-long bill, so we can’t focus the immigration debate just on border security.


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    • kerr

      Sit back while watching television and you will see that America IS part of the whole world and not the world leader. That mean responsible policies that will affect individuals of the global nation. if not, shut down the airports, put up the tall fence around AMERICA, no flights allowed to land that comes from outside of USA. Stay in good old USA and live the DREAM. Do the outside world really care…NO. What they care about is a nation participating in the global revolution for change. Do the outside really care if America put up a fence, NO. The USA is about what Obama is talking about. Turn it down and start living like North Korea…..weapons and hot air don’t scare the world anymore. Concrete humane policies are what the world is about…..Stop dreaming about who is leaders in the world and start participating in the world. Then, embrace the peace. Stop pretending that change will only happen when America want to. Change has already come to America. All Americans must now live it, as the saying goes, PUT UP or SHUT UP. The world demands respect and CHANGE behaviour by the nationalistic speakers in the good old USA…CHANGE HAS COME TO AMERICA, now, make it better because the change is not going anywhere…The world is not scared of weapons anymore. They are scared that some stupid person continue to talk about, ME, MYSELF, and I. which will encourage the global stand-off. Nationalism is DEAD. Embrace the world with the education we have developed and watch it grow peacefully, with global love.. Look at IRAN, NORTH KOREA, CHINA….See what positive and negative change could do.

  • […] Lastly, one thing we can also draw from the movie is that no society, as perfect as it intends to be, can turn a blind eye on its inhabitants and their needs –and approaching the case of immigration is the first step towards understanding human stories. […]

  • […] Na kraju, postoji još jedna stvar koju takođe možemo zaključiti iz filma, a to je da nijedno društvo, koliko god savršeno namerava da bude, ne može zažmiriti na njegove stanovnike i njihove potrebe –a rešavanje slučaja doseljavanja je prvi korak ka razumevanju ljudskih priča. […]

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