On May 26, Tides was pleased to host our first Tides Learning Community event, Harvest Of Empire: Community Briefing on Immigration, in conjunction with Atlantic Philanthropies, Demos, Ford Foundation, and Open Society Foundations. The event was held at the Demos office in New York City and gathered a packed audience from diverse backgrounds in philanthropy, advocacy, journalism, and others. Panelists included Eduardo López of EVS Communications, Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change, Anthony Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Maya Wiley of the Center for Social Inclusion; the panel was moderated by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Vargas. This inaugural Tides Learning Community program highlighted Justice—one of Tides’ four primary issue areas for 2011.
Taking its title from Juan Gonzalez’s recent book, as well as an upcoming companion documentary directed by Eduardo Lopez & Wendy Thompson-Marquez, the event focused on immigration to the U.S. through the lenses of global trade, racism, and political strategy on both the Right and the Left. The book and film seek to reframe conversations around immigration through the historical narrative of U.S. foreign policies and interventions, particularly free trade agreements and military activities, and how these circumstances stimulated periods of immigration to the U.S. Though different regions and countries have a unique set of historical circumstances, as López, the film’s producer, noted, “Every wave of Latino immigration was very much tied to our own country’s involvement in Latin America.” However, as Tides CEO Melissa Bradley and several of the panelists highlighted throughout the event, the current national debates far too often rely on one-sided arguments that demonize immigrants, rather than considering both the moral and economic imperatives of reaching just solutions.
Much of the conversation centered around the country’s shifting demographics and the subsequent identity crisis it has yielded, particularly for white Americans. As panelists described, potentially open and productive questions of “what being an American citizen feels, looks, and sounds like” have given way to inflammatory rhetoric like “they’re taking our jobs” and “they’re sucking our resources,” which have been fueled by the Right. Targeting immigrants indeed reflects a carefully constructed strategic direction on the Right, which includes efforts such as Arizona’s aggressive anti-immigrant SB1070 and coordinated copycat laws, as well as efforts to create barriers to voting and shift the definitions of citizenship. As Barghava indicated, in response to these fears, conservatives are “ writ[ing] the rules in such a way that the effective political majority mirrors the old demographic majority, not the new one.” The imperative for those wishing to support immigrants’ rights, then, is to understand these demographic insecurities and proactively shift the conversation.
Much of the discussion also centered around President Obama, both for his immigration policy as well as his symbolic status as the son of an immigrant and the country’s first black and multiracial president. Many of the panelists discussed feeling betrayed by Obama’s inaction on the issue, however as Wiley noted, in many communities of color, this is not because he has failed to “solve” the problems, but that he has failed to shift the national rhetoric to a more civil and solutions-oriented conversation. Other panelists expressed concern that more people have been deported by this administration than in any other, with Bhargava pointing out that frequent raids on jobs and schools leave many immigrants “liv[ing] in fear everyday about whether Mom or Dad is going to come home.”
Panelists also discussed LGBTQ equality, another primary issue area for Tides, with regards to immigration and the State Department’s decision to halt deportations of people in bi-national relationships as it awaits clarity around the status of the Defense of Marriage Act. As Romero noted, this represents a small victory, though he doesn’t expect it to result in granting same-sex partners immigration benefits soon, but more important are the coalitions that have been built between immigrant and LGBT communities, particularly at the leadership level and among people who are part of both communities.
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Listen to excerpts from the program: