Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 4
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Immigration gets personal

When “Devil’s Highway” author Luis Alberto Urrea spoke last week, he announced that the question he was most asked but least able to answer was what should be done about the current immigration debacle. If he had the answer, Urrea said, he would be the president of the United States and Mexico, too.

Immigration policy remains not only a cosmic issue affecting our entire globe but also a personal and emotional issue that affects the Walla Walla community.

The actual number of unauthorized migrants in the United States is highly disputed. The U.S. Census Bureau puts the current estimate at around nine million, whereas Bear Stearns research group, based on an extensive 2005 survey, says there could be as many as 20 million unauthorized migrants within U.S. borders.

Meanwhile, President Bush’s proposed immigration reform bill, which aimed to create a path to citizenship for some of the 12 million unauthorized migrants and to tighten border security, remains stagnant and further attempts to rectify the flawed immigration policy likely won’t be resumed until after the 2008 elections.

“As Americans that scares us that our government can’t give us a policy or a solution to something that’s affecting us really closely,” said junior Becky Avila, who participated in the Whitman U.S.-Mexico border trip last spring.

While immigration is often associated with hope for a better life, it has also become a topic steeped in fear.
“I think one of the biggest issues that immigration brings on an abstract level is fear because the concerns that it raises are valid: Do we have enough resources? Are criminals being let in?” said Avila.

And fears are only growing. According to a Pew Hispanic Center study between 2000 and 2006, the percentage of those polled who feel that immigrants are a burden because they take jobs and housing rose from 38 percent to 52 percent. At the same time, those who believe immigrants “strengthen the U.S. with their hard work and talents” shrank from 50 percent to 41 percent.

Over the course of just 15 months (ending in May 2006), the number of respondents who felt that “the growing number of newcomers from other countries threaten traditional American customs and values” grew from 40 percent to 48 percent. During the same time period, those who believe newcomers “strengthen American society” dropped from 50 percent to 45 percent.

Fear is also a part of everyday life for those living in the United States without documentation.
A June 6, 2007, article in the Seattle Times took a personal look at the daily fears of unauthorized migrants. Gabriella, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who now lives in Auburn, Wash., expressed her worries that every day when she heads to work, she might not return to her children if she is caught by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The ICE is feared not simply as the enforcers of deportations but also for their often brash surprise raids on homes and businesses in their search for “illegal aliens” and “immigration fugitives” as unauthorized migrants are referred to by the ICE Web site.

“What happens a lot of time,” said senior Johanna Allen, who has been largely involved with various local immigrant issues and also participated in the U.S.-Mexico border trip two years ago, “is [the ICE] will come at like 5 a.m. and [the alleged illegal immigrants] are sleepy; they get up and answer the door, but they don’t know they don’t have to answer the door…. [Also], sometimes people just don’t come home to their families and no one knows what’s happened to them.”

In the past several months, local raids and deportations have made immigration an even more pertinent topic of debate.

Fifty-one foreign nationals were arrested at two Auburn, Wash., warehouses on Feb. 14. Agents believed that the workers, who were mostly from Mexico, entered the country illegally with fraudulent documents and/or were working illegally. One suspect pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 11 months in prison while the other 50 workers were charged with lesser violations.

On Feb. 28, agents arrested four workers at Macrina Bakery in Seattle who lacked documentation, despite the fact that they had originally only come looking for a Honduran woman who had defied her deportation order.

While the vast majority of immigrants, both legal and illegal, come from Latin America, lack of documentation and deportation are issues faced by people of all national origins. In one of the most recently publicized local issues, Lucy Bottomley, a graduate of Walla Walla High School, was threatened with deportation to England, where she was born, after it was revealed that she did not have any legal documentation. Bottomley, 23, in a highly-publicized plea to ICE officials, barely managed to get an extension on her stay in the U.S. in order to finish out her time at Washington State University.

Despite the broad and often abstract nature of the immigration debate, both Avila and Allen recognize that personal involvement is crucial to understanding the issue and realizing tangible change.

“A lot of the language and the terms that are used like ‘undocumented worker’ and ‘illegal alien’ are vague and dehumanizing: it’s easy to forget that these are hungry people coming to our country,” said Avila.
Allen emphasized the role of students in shaping immigration policy.

“[Students are] capable of determining what our own communities are like, and as citizens and a well-educated group, we have the ability to incite change and demand that people are included and their dignity is recognized. So whether that’s in interactions with one person and just forming a relationship that is based in support and advocacy or whether it’s working with Beef Northwest workers [whose efforts to unionize are being squashed] it’s still valuable. Our advocacy starts with relationships and including people in our sense of community.”

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