Interview with Jane Guskin - the writer of the book "The Politics Of Immigration" talks about love, struggle and understanding
- Escrito por Redação
Millions of immigrants all over the world still suffer from prejudice and lack of understanding of people who themselves have had some kind immigration history in their genealogy. As it happened to Jane - the arrow of love might tight you to an immigrant suddenly, and then it's garantee you will be among the ones who suffer the must - are you prepared?
But why after so many centuries we are still struggling ? Aren't we all immigrants some how? Aren't we such hard workers and people with a good heart just trying to provide a better life for our families? ...
Time has come for us to go beyond our "common sense" affirmations and questions to initiate a serious debate based on facts, real numbers and real cases. As immigrants, relatives of immigratants but mainly HUMANS we should learn how to protect our rights and the good American Constitution which has been the only hope for many people much before us. In this interview you will find a powerful "life and work experience pill" - Jane Guskin is prescribing us a new path. Please check also our NEWS/HOME section where you can read more about Jane's and David Wilson's book.
1) How did you become so involved in and passionate about immigration issues? What's your "immigration story"?
Jane Guskin - My mother is an immigrant from England, and my father’s father came here from Lithuania, but my own education in immigration came after I met my husband, who is Colombian. He was undocumented when we met. We decided to get married--I was terrified at the thought that this person who I loved could be deported away from me at any moment. I also got to see close up the terrible experiences of someone who is out of status here: separation from family, inability to travel, fear of arrest, fear of looking for a new job and getting asked for documents, etc. (And that was when things were easier for undocumented people here. Now it’s much worse.)
The process to get my husband his permanent residency took about six years. We were lucky that we had great legal help from Safe Horizon in Queens, where we live, and that we applied when 245(i) still existed--the clause of immigration law that allows someone who entered the US illegally to adjust their status without leaving the country. Still, it was quite an experience. The INS lost my husband’s files twice and we had to submit them all over again. They denied his work permit without giving a reason. Years went by and they wouldn’t give us an interview. When we finally got the interview (thanks to pressure from our lawyers), the INS told us that my husband had a prior deportation case from when he first entered the US (12 years earlier) that had to be reopened and fought again. With Safe Horizon’s help, we were able to get his deportation case dismissed and he finally got his permanent residency. When he applied for citizenship three years later they gave us a hard time again, but now he is a US citizen.
While we were fighting to get his residency, I kept telling myself that as soon as this is over I want to do activism for the rights of all immigrants. What they put us through made me so angry at the system, I felt I had to do something. In the end, I couldn’t wait for our ordeal to be over--in the fall of 1997, while we were still fighting my husband’s case, I got involved in the founding of Coalition for the Human Rights of Immigrants (CHRI). Workplace raids were common at the time in the midtown Manhattan garment district, and garment workers were joining with other activists--immigrants and non-immigrants--to protest the raids and build solidarity. That’s how CHRI formed, and how I got involved in immigrant rights activism.
2) How did Weekly News Update on the Americas and Immigration News Briefs start?
Jane Guskin - I had visited Nicaragua in 1988 and 1989, and had worked on a news bulletin while living in California and volunteering with a solidarity group there. In February 1990, after moving to New York City, I began volunteering at the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York just as an important election was about to take place in Nicaragua. David Wilson was also volunteering at the Nicaragua Solidarity Network so that’s where we met and became good friends. We started Weekly News Update on the Americas as a Nicaragua election update, then quickly expanded it to cover other news from throughout the region. It has been published every week as a volunteer project since February 1990, although in the past year while we were working on the book we did finally skip a few weeks here and there. From the beginning we also included immigration news occasionally in the Update, and then while I was volunteering at CHRI in 1998, I decided it was time to separate out the immigration news into its own newsletter. So Immigration News Briefs started as a monthly, then stopped for a while in 2001, then restarted as a weekly in late 2001. (It’s still a weekly publication but I have skipped a bunch of weeks in the past year while I was working on the book or away traveling.)
3) What's your reading of the recent fiasco of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform initiative? What's next? Is there something we, the immigrants, should do?
Jane Guskin - Over the past 10 years, I have seen a lot of legislation come and go. In the end, hardly anything positive has come out of any of it, and the situation for immigrants has just gotten worse. Right now, the climate around immigration reform is VERY polarized. I think this is the wrong moment for legislation--anything that comes out of Congress right now would be very negative.
Immigrants proved in the spring of 2006 that they can mobilize in great numbers to demand solutions; what is missing now is a real dialogue on immigration, where we can work to convince people to support legalization, family reunification, workplace rights and other positive measures. We need to show the harm that enforcement brings, and the benefits of a true integration that welcomes immigrants and doesn’t force them to give up their culture.
Even within immigrant communities there are many people who want to slam the door on those who came after them, or who condemn others for being out of status. We need to reach into our own communities--and beyond--to create true dialogue. David and I are organizing and facilitating dialogue sessions around the book, but we can’t be everywhere, so we hope people will use the book as a tool and take the initiative to organize dialogues themselves.
Another thing people can do is post reader comments on newspaper websites. When articles run about immigration issues, the comments are usually heavily anti-immigrant. To get some different perspectives in there would be really helpful, because people expressing anti-immigrant views would start to see they are really in the minority, and those with pro-immigrant views would feel more confident to express them instead of getting discouraged or overwhelmed.
4) Why did you and David Wilson decide to write "The Politics of Immigration"?
Jane Guskin - The idea for the book came from the publisher, Monthly Review Press. The folks at Monthly Review told us they wanted to publish a sort of question-and-answer book about immigration, and they asked David and me if we would write it. I had done lots of leaflets in the past and had been wanting to do something more comprehensive, something that would give people the information they need to respond to anti-immigrant arguments (though I had thought of doing maybe a website instead of a book), but I had never managed to make time for it. So we said yes, because we thought it was a good idea.
I thought we weren’t the best people to write it, because we aren’t famous or important and we aren’t immigrants. But they asked who else might be able to write it, and I couldn’t think of anyone. I know lots of brilliant immigrants who would be capable of doing it, but they are all very, very busy doing other important work and none of them could have taken the time to do it. David and I are accustomed to doing a lot of research and writing. And we knew that if we told them we would do it, we would have to do it. So that’s how it happened. It was a huge amount of work and took longer than it was supposed to, but we did finally get it done.
5) What are some of the main myths and misconceptions regarding immigrants that feed anti immigrants sentiments in some American people?
Jane Guskin - In the dialogue sessions we have done so far, the arguments about immigrants and immigration seem to fall into a few broad categories:
Culture and assimilation: There are too many people from one region, they are too different from us, they don’t want to learn English, they can’t assimilate the way previous generations did...
In fact, new immigrants are assimilating in much the same way previous generations did. (Although as a recent New York Times magazine article pointed out, it can be hard to fully assimilate into a country that is trying to deport you.) But most of these cultural questions are just based on fear of the “other,” so maybe we can ask people exactly what they are afraid of? And doesn’t that fear create a climate that makes it harder for true integration to happen?
Economic impact: They take our jobs, they push down wages...
We don’t agree with the often-expressed claim that there is no economic impact because immigrants only take jobs “Americans won’t do.” (In fact, David and I have both at some point in our lives worked at jobs that people like us allegedly won’t do.) Instead we focus on solutions to the global root causes of migration and the problems caused by more enforcement.
Many people migrate at least in part because the economies in their countries have been hurt by trade pacts and “structural adjustment” policies pushed through by international institutions and corporations with the support of the US government. So shouldn’t we be actively supporting grassroots movements around the world that are fighting for better wages, better services, and direct people’s control of resources? (In Brazil the Landless Rural Workers Movement, MST, is a great example of how people can organize themselves to build sustainable economies and a better future for their children in their own country.)
Also, the“illegal” status of so many workers does push down wages for everyone here. So a logical solution would be to let people work here legally, so they could more easily defend their workplace rights and demand fair wages and better treatment.
Crime and illegality: Immigrants are breaking the law by being out of status, “illegal” immigrants are committing lots of crimes...
In fact, it’s not a crime to be present in the US without permission. And as someone helpfully pointed out at our first dialogue session, only actions can be illegal, not people. Why is someone who once crossed the border without permission more “illegal” than someone who once drove faster than the speed limit? As for immigrants committing crimes, virtually every study ever done on the subject has shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than non-immigrants. (In fact, the more assimilated into US culture each generation gets, the more likely they are to commit crimes–reminding us that assimilation is not always a positive thing.)
6) Are you planning a Spanish (or Portuguese) translation of your book?
Jane Guskin - Monthly Review Press told us from the start that they hope to put out a Spanish edition of the book. But first we have to sell enough copies of the English edition and see if there is a really a demand for a Spanish edition. Of course we would love to see it translated into many languages, not just Spanish. But that can only happen if the book sells a lot of copies, so we’ll have to see how things go. What’s important to us is that the book be useful to people. We want to really encourage people to use it as a tool for expanding dialogue on immigration.
For details about the book, a list of resources for immigrants rights, links to our blog and myspace sites, and other features, see our website The Politics of Immigration
The Politics Of Immigration: An Excerpt by Jane Guskin and David L. Wilson
Select questions and answers from the book, "Politics of Immigration".
Do immigrants take our jobs? (p. 67)
This is one of the few immigration questions that most economists can agree on. In 1994 the conservative Alexis de Tocqueville Institution concluded that the "evidence suggests that immigrants create at least as many jobs as they take, and that their presence should not be feared by U.S. workers." Twelve years later the liberal Pew Hispanic Center came to a similar conclusion based on a study of employment trends in the 1990s and the early 2000s.
Immigrants take jobs, but they also buy goods and services, creating more jobs. In fact, immigrants probably generate more jobs than many older residents: immigrants are younger and more likely to have children at home, so they spend much more of their income on goods like clothes and food, which involve labor-intensive production. Older and richer people are much more likely to put their money into luxuries and speculative investments, which generate relatively few jobs.
Do remittances drain the economy? (p. 67)
Immigrants in the United States tend to send large amounts of the money they make to relatives back home. Latin American immigrants sent an estimated $28 billion home in these remittances in 2002. Mexico received $9.92 billion, mostly from the United States, in 2001; the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Colombia each got between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. These payments are a huge part of the economies of poorer countries-remittances made up 24.2 percent of Haiti's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2001, for example.
Big as they are, these payments aren't big enough to have a major impact on the total U.S. economy, and most go to countries like Mexico which are tightly linked to the United States economically-so that a lot of the money comes back in purchases of U.S. goods and services.
U.S. politicians and corporations generally don't complain about the remittances. In 2002, immigrants paid about $4 billion in fees for sending remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean; most of this went to U.S. banks or to U.S. corporations like Western Union. Washington, for its part, uses the remittances as a hidden form of foreign aid for friendly governments-letting Central American immigrants, for example, stay in the United States to help bolster pro-U.S. governments in the region with the dollars they send home.
Who benefits from low wages for immigrants? (p. 70)
A new wave of immigration has coincided with a stagnation of real wages for most U.S. workers. After rising 81 percent from 1947 to 1973, real wages fell 3 percent from 1973 to 1980 and have barely moved upward since then. This was despite dramatic increases in worker productivity-16.6 percent from 2000 to 2005, for example. At the same time, the country's richest 1 percent were benefiting from equally dramatic increases in their real income-by 135 percent between 1980 and 2004.
There are a number of factors behind the wage stagnation, including Congress's failure to raise the minimum wage after 1996, and government policies that reduce the ability of unions to organize. But certainly a large part of the explanation is the major shift in the U.S. economy that has resulted in many jobs going to low-paid, vulnerable workers: undocumented immigrants, people thrown out of the welfare system by the 1996 welfare law, and the several million workers employed in assembly plants in Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean producing goods for U.S. firms to sell in the United States.
All of these workers are being forced into what labor organizers call "the race to the bottom"-they must accept wretched wages and working conditions, or they will lose their jobs to other workers who are willing to accept even less. And as wages stagnate or decline, the wealthiest individuals and corporations profit.
Are "guest worker" programs a solution? (p. 109)
The debate over immigration "reform" in the United States has included a lot of talk about expanding temporary worker or "guest worker" programs. These programs allow people to come here for temporary or seasonal jobs, and require them to go home when the job is done.
Temporary worker programs do nothing to resolve the status of millions of immigrants who have already established their lives here and want to stay. Such programs also create a sub-class of workers who are effectively unable to defend their rights. Some critics compare these programs to a modern form of slavery, because workers are generally not allowed to change jobs, and have no real way to fight back when they are cheated out of promised wages and faced with substandard living and working conditions.
Cecilio Santillana, a 78-year-old former "guest worker" from Mexico who picked beets, cherries, and cotton, and shoveled manure on farms across the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, told the San Francisco Chronicle why he opposed a temporary worker proposal that was included in an immigration bill the Senate passed in May 2006. "I'm against it, because they may do to the new workers what they did to us," he said. "We suffered a lot."
Employers often claim that temporary worker programs are needed because a shortage of workers is hurting certain industries, especially farming. Labor rights activists disagree. "There are plenty of people who will do the job if you pay them enough," said José Oliva, director of the National Network of Workers Centers for the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. "The pretension that there aren't enough workers here and you have to go and import them is just a way of expanding this slave labor program rather than paying decent wages."
Some employers object to the rules and bureaucracy that come with temporary worker programs. Among other requirements, they must prove they can't find enough citizens or legal residents to fill the available jobs. Sometimes the workers themselves resist the restrictions imposed on them by these programs; they may try to escape and seek unauthorized employment with better pay and conditions.
Stricter enforcement is often used as a tool to weaken resistance to the temporary worker programs. Migrants are forced to choose between the substandard conditions of the temporary worker programs and the risks of working in the United States without legal status, under constant threat of arrest and deportation. Increased workplace enforcement also encourages employers to support temporary worker programs, as a way to avoid the raids while maintaining a captive labor pool they can easily control.
What if we deport all the "illegal" immigrants? (p. 95)
The estimated twelve million out-of-status immigrants living in the United States are an integral part of our country. They are our family members, friends, partners, co-workers, classmates, and neighbors. Efforts to deport them all would rip apart the fabric of our society.
Mass deportations would also be expensive. In 1986, when Congress decided to extend amnesty, or limited legalization, to undocumented immigrants, one of the main reasons Congress members gave was the difficulty of deporting the unauthorized population, then less than half as large as in 2006. Representative Peter Rodino, a New Jersey Democrat, said he supported amnesty because, "In my judgment, we cannot deport these people. We would not, I am sure, provide the money to conduct the raids. It would mean billions of dollars in order to try to deport them...." Opinion polls show the U.S. public deeply split on the question of immigration, so we can guess that at least half the population probably wouldn't support efforts to deport twelve million immigrants, and a good number might actively oppose such a drastic move. That resistance would certainly grow at the sight of federal agents trampling roughshod over families and communities. It's one thing to have a discussion about the pros and cons of immigration, but political views aside, most people don't want to see their friends and neighbors led off in shackles just because of their immigration status.
On September 1, 2006, federal agents began rounding up out-of-status immigrants in Stillmore, Georgia. The community of 1,000 people lost some 120 residents-more than 10 percent of its population-in the raids, and hundreds more fled, turning Stillmore into a ghost town. David Robinson, who operates a trailer park in town, watched helplessly as the agents handcuffed residents and hauled them away. To protest, he bought a U.S. flag and posted it upside down in front of the trailer park. "These people might not have American rights, but they've damn sure got human rights," Robinson said. "There ain't no reason to treat them like animals."
About The Author
Jane Guskin and David L. Wilson are the co-editors of Weekly News Update on the Americas, an English-language bulletin covering grassroots news from Latin America. Guskin also edits Immigration News Briefs.
Guskin produced a widely circulated immigrant rights flier entitled "What's So Wrong About Immigration?" Her essay "The Case for Open Borders" was published in Melting Point or Boiling Point? The Issues of Immigration. Wilson's articles on Latin American issues have appeared in publications including Monthly Review, Extra!, and New York's El Diario-La Prensa. Interested readers who wish to purchase the book can learn more at http://www.monthlyreview.org/politicsofimmigration.htm