Tuesday, December 24, 2013
December 24, 2013: AmericanStudies Wishes: Reform Now!
[Each of the last couple years, I’ve expressed some holiday-season wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves. I’ve still got plenty on my list, so this year I’ll share five more wishes. Add your own in comments, please! And happy holidays!]
On the change that needs to occur—not for political reasons, but for American ones.
I’ve written before, pretty recently in fact, about the ways in which—despite my earnest desire to keep from connecting my Chinese Exclusion Act book to any one political argument in the present—a more accurate knowledge of the histories of American immigration and immigration law seems clearly to lead to particular positions on those contemporary policy debates. Or, at the very least, I would argue—and indeed do in the book’s most present-minded section, the Conclusion—that many of our most prominent immigration policies, today and for the last few decades, reflect a profound gap between those histories and our understandings of immigration in America. Chief among those (to my mind) misguided present policies are the federal government’s ongoing and even increasing deportation efforts and the equally amplified militarization of the southern border, both of which, whatever arguments might be made for them in the present, are strikingly out of step with the long arc of American immigration and legal history.
Again, I don’t want to use this space to advocate for any one position—as I wrote in that above-linked post, it’s undeniably the case that for much of American history our borders and immigration policies have been entirely open, but of course that isn’t necessarily an argument for any present or future policies—so much as to insist that we need, collectively and socially as well as politically, to rethink both our narratives of immigration and our general approach to the issue. Far too often, not only in informal conversation and debate but at the highest levels of our government, from town halls and state legislatures to Congress and the Supreme Court, immigration policy is framed as a war, as a problem in desperate need of solving, as a broken system in a state of crisis—and while those latter definitions might make sense if we were talking about the millions of immigrant Americans forced to live in horrific and destructive poverty, with no possibility of changing or bettering their situation, we’re most definitely not doing so, unless we’re actively characterizing them as the enemy in the war, the problem that needs redress, the “illegals” who need deportation.
So AmericanStudies Elves, my second wish this year is for immigration reform—not just of our policies, but also and even more fundamentally of our narratives and perspectives. If we start to recognize more accurately and with more complexity the longstanding histories of immigration and law and diversity, and if we start concurrently to think about what are the real current problems (as opposed to those created by the misunderstandings and inaccurate narratives and false perspectives on our history and community), we’ll be doing more than just setting the stage for policy reform. We’ll also be changing, for the better, the ways we talk about one of the most defining American communities and stories, now as well as throughout our past.
Next wish tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on this wish? Wishes you’d share?