Swarthmore's independent campus newspaper since 1881

Tag archive

immigration

Pictures

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

“I want to talk about pictures because I love photography.”

Removed from the Swarthmore bubble, I am in London going over the work Ahmed, a Syrian immigrant, needs to do for his class. He tells me that he needs to present in English, and the strain is evident in his face.

Ahmed arrived nine months ago from Syria with his father. His mother, younger sister, and brother are still in Syria. In slow, stumbling, and accented English he proceeds to give me his presentation:

“I was hanging out with my friends near a checkpoint. We were exploring and having a lot fun, but suddenly an armed soldier pointed to me and told me to come over. He saw my camera. He told me that he was going to break it, that I wasn’t supposed to be taking pictures [even though I hadn’t].”

This made me ask, “Why is an armed soldier afraid of a schoolboy with a camera?”

Ahmed pulls up two photos. One is laden with flowers white at the bottom, fuchsia at the tip, vibrantly blooming from the ground. Another is a photo of a brown, gnarled, lone leaf in the middle of melting snow.

“Where do you think I took these? Which one is from Damascus and which one is from London?” he asks.

I don’t tell him, but he sees through my assumptions.

“The outside world probably thinks that this [the winter photo] is of Damascus and this [the spring photo] is of London.”

I nod.

“But this photo, the one with spring, is one from Damascus. It was taken minutes before a bombing. And this photo, the one with winter, is from London. This is the first photo I took in London.”

I ask him, “The ugly photo is from London?”

He shakes his head and says, “Not ugly. Just sad.” He then proceeds to answer my initial question.

“So why is the armed solider afraid of a schoolboy with a camera? It is because pictures have the power to change the narrative; it is because pictures have the power to capture a truth, no matter how sad or how beautiful.”

I wish to share this story with those in the U.S. who are the brightest, most driven, yet most removed from the current status of migrants. I hope this reaches Swarthmore (and beyond) so that we do not become desensitized to the exclusion of others and so we will remove ourselves from our bubble when we can to be dismantled in order to rebuild ourselves.

Why us “snowflakes” won’t stop marching

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Walking down the streets of Center City, I am surrounded by hundreds of equally passionate individuals, all gathered to reach a common goal. All of us are marching through the streets, careless of anyone who may be against our protest. We are too empowered by our chants and energy to care. Instead, we are all united by a purpose, which is to stand by the values of which the United States was founded upon

As we make our way from City Hall toward Old City, our protest gains momentum. Everyone in the crowd begins to chant at the top of their lungs. A couple of Swatties are sprinkled across the crowd and we smile at one another as we make eye contact. We switch off between shouting “when our country is under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!” and “no hate, no fear! Refugees are welcome here!” As we chant, people walking on the streets begin to join in and people in shops begin to run outside to witness our movement. Observing its growth, I could not be more proud to be a member of this march. Clearly, our movement is achieving exactly what it is meant to achieve, which is to share our voice and make clear America’s true values.

Of course, in parts of Philadelphia and across the United States, many are not as empowered by our movement. Rather, they find the action immature and wish that we would accept the president instead of continuing to complain. Especially as the movement continues throughout the country and spreads on social media, people view the challenging of Trump’s presidency as a movement driven by “millennial snowflakes” who are crying because they didn’t get what they wanted. While I acknowledge that this view exists, this couldn’t be further from the truth about why we continue to organize. Although many see us protesters as whining and unrealistic about our goals for the country, this is not why we march against the very real dangers of Trump, his cabinet, and his executive orders. Yet, because people see us whining, it is more important than ever that we make clear our true purpose of organizing rather than accepting the misconception that we are simply “liberal college students who don’t know what we are talking about.”

Rather, marching down the streets of Philadelphia, we are not whining, but chanting our love for refugees, our values, and our nation. Many of us are reminded of what it means to be “one nation, united” as our fellow protesters proudly wave signs with messages like “make America great for all, including immigrants and refugees” and “a staircase is more likely to kill Americans than a Muslim.” One petite woman is holding a sign that reads “Scary Sudanese immigrant” with an arrow pointing down at herself, indicating that the stereotypes Trump’s executive orders were founded upon are false. A caucasian six year old child is standing next to her mother and baby sister, leading the crowd in a chant of “black lives matter.” This young girl is already aware of what it means to be an American and serves as an inspiration that one is never too young to exercise their freedom of speech to fight for their beliefs.

Although many people may disagree with our marches and our protests, this movement is much bigger than Swatties “crying about Hillary Clinton losing the election” or anger that Bernie Sanders did not win the nominee. It is more than us millennial snowflakes upset because we didn’t get what we wanted. This movement is much bigger than a simple dislike for Donald Trump as president. Rather, the purpose of our protests, marches, and opposition are people of all ages, ethnicities, and even some differing political beliefs joining together to make it clear that the United States is a country that stands up for basic human rights and all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or origin. As we Swatties join the movement, we need to make it clear that we are a country that believes in serving as a role model and opening our doors when people’s lives are being threatened, rather than shutting people out. Perhaps most importantly, we need to remember that this movement is a call to action and a reminder to people around the world that, even with a leader that refuses to stand by our freedom and commitment to fundamental rights, Americans will not remain silent and will continue to fight for our people, our humanity, and our values.

As the march concludes, the energy and momentum created by the crowd still resides in the air. My face is red from the cold, but I don’t care, nor does anyone else around me. We all smile at one another as we prepare to return to our daily lives, midterms, or ordinary jobs until the next protest ahead of us.

One thing is certain. We will continue to march for our country, our refugees and immigrants, and for others suffering around the world. We will continue to march because this movement is bigger than us or a tantrum against Trump. Our protest is about love for our nation, love for our people, and we need to remember that, as Swatties, we can not stop joining the protests until that love is restored.

Recent executive actions create campus uncertainties

in Around Campus/News by

 

After President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive orders halted travel to and from seven Muslim-majority countries, members of the campus community responded. President Valerie Smith and administrative deans reasserted the college’s vow to protect all students and faculty by standing in firm opposition to the anti-immigration and anti-Muslim policies. International and Muslim students affected by the orders have sought advice from administration, and have had to alter plans and make new ones in response to the travel restrictions.

Muslim Students Association board member Yusuf Qaddura ’20 had planned on returning to his home in Lebanon over the summer. But following the orders, Qaddura realized this might not be possible. He said that with the heightened risk of traveling to the Middle East on a nonimmigrant visa, he will likely have to stay in the United States.

“I’m okay with not going back to my home country,” he expressed. “I’ll get used to it … even if it comes to not going back in the next three years.”

With the question of whether he will be able to go home at the end of the semester looming over him, Qaddura has had to apply to summer internships and jobs late in the application season.

“I’m now stressed because I have all sorts of applications over my head,” he expressed.

The anti-immigration orders, according to the New York Times, affect people who are currently in the U.S. on temporary visas and would normally be able to travel back home and re-enter the country. The order entails a 90-day suspension of immigrant and nonimmigrant admission from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen into the U.S. Although a federal judge in Seattle ruled to suspend the orders on Jan. 31, President Trump has since appealed the decision, according to reports by CNN. This means an uncertain future for students like Qaddura.

“We’re concerned about whether the ban is going to be extended after three months, or if it’s going to be extended into more countries,” Qaddura said.

In an official statement emailed to staff and students on Jan. 30, President Valerie Smith affirmed the college’s commitment to ensuring the safety of all members of the community in times of increased threat. She outlined a series of measures the college has taken, led by the Office of International Student Services, to reach out to affected students and faculty.

International students services director Jennifer Marks-Gold summarized these measures over email. According to Marks-Gold, OISS has investigated student lists to determine if any students are in the banned countries. At this time, there are no incoming or enrolled students either residing or studying abroad in the seven countries.

“OISS has and will continue to advise and support students about staying safe,” Marks-Gold stated.

She also affirmed that OISS will work to provide housing for students who cannot go home over breaks and during the summer as one initiative to support students affected by the ban.

“While [these students] are barred from travel, we encourage them to keep in contact with their family and friends back home and if we can help them do that in anyway, our office will provide these services,” Marks-Gold continued.

Qaddura hopes that the administration will do more to assist the unique situations of international students in the coming months.

“From what I’ve heard, I’m just being treated like any other student trying to get housing this summer,” he said.

Marks-Gold reasserted the college’s pledge to be a sanctuary for all members of the community.

She affirmed that the college will not disclose the immigration status of students and faculty members.

“We do not have to release information unless a warrant/subpoena is issued. We will continue to protect our students at all times,” Marks-Gold stated.

Colleges and universities across the country have come out with similar statements, reassuring campus members that they will refuse to disclose such information. The University of Michigan, for example, made headlines on Jan. 28 when it announced its intention to maintain the privacy of this information.

On the evening of Thursday, Feb. 2, students and faculty packed into the Intercultural Center for a panel discussion for Swatties affected by the anti-immigration orders. The panel was one initiative of the college to support members of the community affected by the orders.

The panel, composed of Muslim student advisor Umar Abdul Rahman, associate professor of sociology Lee Smithey, and Philadelphia area immigration attorney John Vandenberg, addressed a number of issues on a spectrum from technical to personal, covering topics such as H-1B sponsorship and the impact of the orders on the Muslim community.

Vandenberg urged international students to contact OISS with concerns, and remarked on the climate of unease surrounding their situations.

“I can’t tell you not to be anxious … If I were in the shoes of international students, I’d think, ‘why now?’,” he said.

At the discussion, Vandenberg briefed attendees on the ban and the subsequent judicial decision to block it. He also overviewed the process of obtaining an H-1B visa for non-immigrant students hoping to work in the United States. He explained that immigration law changes faster than any other area of law, so he predicts that there will likely be changes to the H-1B program during the Trump administration. He urged international students to speak with Marks-Gold to ensure that they apply for employment authorization and visas on time.

“It’s kind of a brave new world we’re living in now,” Vandenberg said, acknowledging the partisan overtones of the ban, which have stemmed from a major shift in the political agenda under a new administration.

Smithey expressed a similar view.

“We really don’t know where we’re at in this moment on the technical side of things and on political, racial, and ethnic fronts,” he remarked.

Even so, Smithey urged students to protest. He cited a statistic from Dr. Erica Chenoweth and Dr. Maria J. Stephan’s book, “Why Civil Resistance” Works that claims only three and a half percent of a population engaged in nonviolent civil resistance is required to overthrow a regime, a figure equivalent to 11 million Americans. In his opinion, one important route to opposing the executive orders is through large-scale peaceful protest.

“This is a mobilization and organization problem,” Smithey said, arguing that an authoritarian administration can be reined in through strategic nonviolent resistance.

Rahman elaborated on the new administration’s treatment of Muslims and immigrants.

“What’s really troublesome is the rhetoric,” he observed, referring to President Trump’s comments about Islam.

Rahman spoke on the parallels between Muslim oppression and other forms of oppression throughout American history, encouraging attendees to read Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

“There can be some discriminatory policies…equal protection doesn’t apply to immigrants,” Rahman noted, arguing that the nature of immigration policy in the U.S. has allowed for implicit discrimination against Muslims in this most recent policy.

Vandenberg echoed this sentiment.

“I do feel comfortable calling it a Muslim ban,” he said with regards to the executive order.

Qaddura believes the ban is a symptom of a broader misconception of Islam.

“These terrorists groups are not representing the true essence of the Islamic religion,” he stated, noting the widespread misunderstanding of the Islamic practice of jihad. “The Islamic religion tries to spread peace and love.”

Qaddura has found a space through the Muslim Students Association to gather with others in this tumultuous time.

“MSA is like a home for Muslim students on campus … we speak with each other, calm each other emotionally,” he said.

Smithey noted the psychological function of large protests and gatherings for building confidence and mitigating anxiety through collective action.

“Figuring out ways to manage our fear is going to be immensely important,” he stressed.

For many, the difficulty of returning home will come at too great a risk. In an official statement, Smith advised community members from the seven designated countries to suspend plans for international travel. Marks-Gold advised students from these countries who are traveling within the U.S. to bring all identification papers with them. Vandenberg recommended that international students and students enrolled under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program speak to an experienced immigration attorney before traveling abroad. He also urged caution to DACA students with plans to study abroad due to the risk of Advance Parole being suspended while they are spending a semester in a study abroad program. Advance Parole permits those without a valid immigrant visa to re-enter the country after travelling abroad.

“DACA students know that any day it could be over. These students are highly motivated, and they know the risk,” Vandenberg said of the work ethic of DACA students amidst an uncertain future for the program.

Rahman described reading an email from a local mosque that warned any Muslim person who is not a U.S. citizen, including those who are legal permanent residents, against traveling under the current orders. This applies to Muslim non-citizens who are not from the seven banned countries as well.

“It’s really something unprecedented,” he expressed.

Smithey share a similar outlook.

“We’re two weeks in, and it’s going to be a long road,” he said.

Smith concluded her email statement with an affirmation of the values of social justice and diversity core to Swarthmore.

“As a nation and as a campus community, we are in unchartered waters with the new administration,” Smith wrote. “The stakes have never been higher, and our commitment to these values has never been more resolute.”

The future remains uncertain for international and Muslim students and for faculty affected by the ban. Yet the campus community is undivided in its commitment to upholding social justice and protecting each member of the community as the country heads into turbulent waters.

Give me your tired … but don’t actually

in Columns/Opinions by

Almost two decades ago, my father stepped off a plane from India, with only a small suitcase and roughly one hundred dollars in his wallet. In tow were my mother and my then two year old brother, entering a world unbeknownst to them. For the Singh family, America was a land of hope and promise, a country that offered boundless opportunity, and democratic freedom without the corruption that plagued India’s regime. For the Singh family, America was their new home.

In the wake of 9/11, I remember travelling with my family, and seeing my Sikh father who dons a turban be pulled aside and searched extensively, with his head being patted down. I was confused as to why he was being looked at differently, confused as to why it was that he caught the security guard’s attention. It didn’t take long for me to realize that to others, it was clear that we weren’t from here; we were different. Even though we weren’t from a Middle Eastern nation, or of the Islamic faith, in the eyes of others, we were not American.

In times of terror and fear, it is natural to have a heightened sense of alarm, and take extra preventative measures in the hopes of avoiding future tragedy. However, it is equally important to offer support and kindness to our fellow humans, irrespective of where they come from, especially in their time of need. Governors of the 27 and counting states who have closed their borders to Syrian refugees, I am looking right at you as I assert this.

In December of 1938, American college students were polled and asked if Jewish refugees from Central Europe should be given a safe haven in the United States. 68.8 percent of respondents said no. As we look back at history, we often shame governments and nations who didn’t open their arms wholeheartedly to those that were persecuted in the Holocaust; one can only wonder what the next generation will look back and say about us as we turn our backs on those that need our help the most.

Unlike the college students of the 1930s, our generation seems to be far more humanitarian and socially conscientious, with plenty of my fellow Swatties having changed their profile picture in an effort to demonstrate solidarity and support for Paris. While this is a great first step, remember that Syrian refugees are still displaced, and our obligation as concerned citizens ought not to stop there. It is especially pathetic to see that while so many governors have quickly closed their doors, France itself has offered to take in 30,000 Syrians, despite the heinous act of terror that occurred in Paris less than a week ago, resulting in the loss of 136 lives. If you hail from a state with a governor who has not yet offered a safe haven for these refugees or has explicitly denied accepting refugees, it is your responsibility as a constituent to reach out to them via email or a phone call and express your condemnation of their actions. We should be proud to attend college in a state with a governor who has already expressed care and concern for humanity by committing to opening our borders to Syrian refugees, and Governor Wolf should be held as an example for governors nationwide.

First and foremost, we must remember that ultimately these refugees have been persecuted, and our primary concern ought to be their immediate safety and protection. Several think tanks and policy institutes argue that terrorists are least likely to opt for refugee resettlement as their method of entering a new nation, as they have to undergo very thorough background checks and a comprehensive security database comparison to ensure that they are not predisposed to engage in an act of terror.

Immigrants and refugees are often looked at in the same light, as posing a possible threat to national security. They are no more likely to commit a crime or participate in organized terrorism than anyone else; in fact as The Economist reports, since 9/11, of the 750,000 refugees that have entered the United States, none have been arrested on domestic terrorism charges, while three having been arrested on some terrorist charge. The frequency of domestic terror attacks caused by right wing extremists is almost three times as high as those caused by Islamic militants, according to The New York Times.

The Statue of Liberty stands proudly on Liberty Island, acting as a symbol of the American Dream, the beacon of hope for those searching economic possibility or religious freedom or political asylum. For Lady Liberty, and America at large, to turn our back on Syrian refugees is not only morally wrong, but also un-American.

McCabe exhibit tells French immigrant stories

in Arts by

Z.L. Zhou / The PhoenixImmigration has exploded in American political discourse, becoming a part of every candidate’s platform and affecting our relations with the outside world. This debate, obviously, cannot be isolated to the United States but rather exists in every country, to a certain extent.

Students in French 057, a course focused on French comics as an exemplar of cultural and social discourse, and French 045, which looks at French-African cinema in both colonial and post-colonial contexts, investigated the way French comics, or Bande dessinée, illustrates the immigrant experience. Although the project was spearheaded by Professor Alexandra Gueydan-Turek in the French department, students in the class did almost all of the curatorial labor and presented their findings last Wednesday in McCabe library as a capstone. Part of the curatorial process was choosing a topic to investigate within the context of French comics — that too, was left up to the students.

“They all came about and said that they want to work on immigration. One reason among many being that this topic is … very salient in today’s society,” Gueydan-Turek said. “But also, students thought that topic would allow us to intersect both ethical questions of human rights, questions of what is considered legal and illegal, and the strength of the graphic novels and French Bande dessinée, which is to give voice to those who have been tangentially put aside and marginalized.”

Intuitively, comics may not seem like the natural or most serious medium to frame a discussion on immigration. However, in addition to their proclivity to liberate marginalized community voices, French Bande dessinée has also experienced a canonization as of late, entering academic circles in France with much greater frequency and becoming a legitimate source of scholarly research. According to Gueydan-Turek, though, Bande dessinée has an intrinsic dualism in that it is also an art form.

“Bande dessinée has been termed ‘the ninth art’ and this terminology is quite important for the Francophone world at large. We aren’t just talking about a medium, we are talking about an art in itself … it has now taken an equal stance as would a book from Victor Hugo or Baudelaire or Zola. So in some sense Bande dessinée is both part of an institutional literature and on top of that it is still a mass media,” Gueydan-Turek said.

Students in French 057 examined immigration using a very flexible definition. There was a large focus on perhaps the most predictable immigration: a south to north entrance from Africa, specifically Algeria, to France — pointing out a struggle with post-colonial trauma and historicity. One student broke out of historical contexts and investigated the sci-fi trope of immigration as an extra-terrestrial invasion of Earth or vice versa. Aileen Eisenberg ’15 chose to look at a west to east migration instead.

“I studied Bandes dessinnées that covered French immigrants in Japan. There is no single history to this type of immigration, for the works I looked at centered around both white, male French immigrants and Franco-Japanese, female immigrants (so their experiences were quite different). The reason I chose this type of immigration is that it is unlike the immigration that occurs between France and its former colonies. I think it is important to consider West-East immigration in the context of globalization” Eisenberg said.

“Imagining Immigration” was a project that was focused on developing French 057 and 045 students’ interest in how Bande dessinée is able to tackle a very serious issue like immigration but also on allowing them to curate a project from beginning to end. The set-up of the space, each individual panel, and all the research that went into them were entirely conducted by the students. According to Professor Gueydan-Turek, the students were highly successful in their efforts to not only analyze the Bande dessinée but also in their professional delivery. Eisenberg found the project highly rewarding.

“This was an assignment unlike any other I’ve ever done at Swat, so it was a great learning process … It would be great if those who see the exhibit can walk away wanting to read more about this art and realize the potential that is has to give voices to a variety of narratives and inspire action” Eisenberg said.

‘Little Failure’ a huge success

in Arts/Campus Journal/Columns by

failurebook1388518442

Near the beginning of Gary Shteyngart’s new memoir, “Little Failure,” Gary shares an emotionally charged moment with his father. “The past is haunting us,” Shteyngart writes. “In Queens, in Manhattan, it is shadowing us, punching us in the stomach. I am small, and my father is big. But the Past – it is the biggest.”

And indeed, the past is the subject, scenery, context and oftentimes the protagonist of this deeply personal book, which feels equal parts memoir and bildungsroman. “Little Failure” tells the story of how Igor, a Soviet Jew born in Leningrad, came to be a kid named Gary in Queens, NY, and how Gary came to be a successful writer. (“But what kind of profession is this, writer,” my mother would ask. “You want to be this?”) The past is the constant source of Gary’s pain and joy, embarrassment and pride, and facing it will finally allow him to grow up.

Shteyngart’s wildly popular novels, “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook,” “Absurdistan,” and “Super Sad True Love Story” each sampled elements from the author’s experience, but here we see Gary through each stage of boyhood, adolescence, young manhood and adulthood, in excruciating – and somewhat self-indulgent – detail. Shteyngart attacks his own life with his distinctive narrative style, a blend of playful humor, brutal honesty and startlingly profound observations of human life.

Gary, or Igor in Russian, was born in Soviet Leningrad, the only child of determined parents, committed to the survival of their small family. Shteyngart recounts every memory of his difficult early life, from the taste of the food rations his mother waited hours to receive, to the plot of his fantastical first novel, scrawled under the careful watch of a doting grandmother in a tiny, crumbling apartment. Though Igor is but six years old when the family’s passage to America is arranged, his earliest years in the Soviet Union shape his identity in ways that he continues to deal with as an adult. “Every moment I have ever experienced as a child is as important as every moment I am experiencing now, or will experience ever,” Shteyngart writes.

Once in America, the Shteyngart family struggles to gain a foothold in Queens, NY. Baffled by the language and culture around them, they cling tightly to their Russian customs and embrace the Judaism that they could not practice in Leningrad. Igor takes on the name Gary and is enrolled in a Jewish day school, thus beginning his personal quest to fit in with the “native-born” Americans. Shteyngart regales readers with hilarious and slightly redundant tales of the trials and tribulations of hapless young Gary, desperate to be defined by something other than his “Russianness.”

As Gary grows up, and as his family climbs the ladder of middle-class American success, he grows increasingly frustrated with his Russian home and fiercely close-knit family. Gary’s mother and father raise their son with a tough love that is more often rough than affectionate, a way of parenting as foreign as the meals of farmer’s cheese and canned peaches that Gary eats while dreaming of McDonald’s. His family nicknames translate to “little failure,” “weakling” and “snotty,” a reference to his childhood asthma. Gary’s most complicated relationship is with his father, a figure whom he admires, fears, envies, loves and hates.

Shteyngart writes most powerfully on the daily realities of an immigrant family, using the details of his upbringing to shed light the widespread condition of immigrant marginalization. He describes hauntingly the impact that life in the Soviet Union continued to have on his parents in America:

 “My parents don’t spend money, because they live with the idea that disaster is close at hand, that a liver-function test will come back marked with a doctor’s urgent scrawl, that they will be fired from their jobs because their English does not suffice. Seven years in America, and we are still representatives of a shadow society, cowering under a cloud of bad tidings that will never come.”

Gary finally gains tenuous social acceptance through humor, and after attending the highly academic New York high school, Stuyvesant, he veers away from his parents’ plan (a top-ranked university, followed by law school) and attends the artistic Oberlin College. It takes Gary a long time to comprehend the grungy hipster culture of students with wealth and privilege that he only dreams of: “There’s a very popular upperclassman who wears a janitor’s shirt with the name BOB stenciled over his breast. I have also worked as a janitor before coming to Oberlin.”

It also takes Gary time to figure out where his passions lie, how to have a relationship with one of the many women he loves, and how to claim his identity as a Soviet Jew and an immigrant. In between getting stoned and drunk enough to earn the nickname “Scary Gary,” he rediscovers his passion and talent for writing.

The road from college graduate with a manuscript in the works, to published, successful writer is ridden with potholes and ditches, but eventually we come full circle and Gary Shteyngart is an author. The “little failure” finds success in both intellectual and commercial worlds, but still grapples with his past, identity and relationship with his parents. In telling his story, Shteyngart emphasizes the importance of finding peace with oneself and one’s existence, however scarred and warped one may be. The memoir is striking in its meticulous development of one individual by delving into the history and intricacies of a family, of a culture, of a way of life.

During the section about the Oberlin years, Shteyngart makes a comment that speaks to his irreverent, yet poignant style; “People who think literature should be serious – should serve as a blueprint for a rocket that will never take off – are malevolent at best, anti-Semitic at worst.” And while peppered with searing self-deprecating humor, this is fundamentally a serious memoir. Shteyngart lovingly and critically picks apart the past, then reassembles it, piece by piece, until a clear portrait of a man, this author, is rendered.

Bipartisan Group Presents Immigration Overhaul

in Columns/Inside Capitol Hill/Opinions by

On Tuesday, the bipartisan group of Senators known as the “Gang of Eight” released a blueprint for a dramatic overhaul of the way America deals with both legal and illegal immigrants seeking citizenship. Considered long overdue, immigration reform strikes us here at home more than most political issues. At Swarthmore, many of us personally know someone who isn’t a citizen or permanent resident but is seeking to become one. Not to mention, there is general agreement across most ideological stripes that immigration, if done right, is good for the economy, as legal immigrants bring their skills to the American workforce. Legal immigration also increases tax revenue and thereby reduces government deficits.

While most agree that something needs to be done, we all know that’s where the agreement stops in Washington. The Gang of Eight plan, though, includes many elements that both sides have pushed for. These include the Republican goal of increased border security, the Democratic goal of a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, and the common objective of reform of the immigration system for legal immigrants.

The pathway to citizenship is one of the central points of the plan. It involves a thirteen-year waiting period, as well as a requirement that unauthorized immigrants pay a $2000 fine and back taxes before obtaining a green card. In a victory for DREAM-ers, though, the plan provides an expedited, five-year path to citizenship for those who came here illegally as children.

On the legal immigration side, the bill would set up a new, merit-based system for awarding green cards to legal immigrants seeking to become permanent residents. Applicants with higher levels of education, longer times spent in the United States, and family ties would go to the front of the line for green cards.

Many in the business world, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, have been pushing for immigration reform in order to bring high-skilled immigrants into the workforce. The bill includes a victory for them, too, by nearly doubling the number of visas issued annually to high-skilled immigrants. However, the bill also requires employers to verify that their employees have legal status through a photo-matching identification system, to be set up within five years. Businesses will no longer be able to evade social security taxes and healthcare regulations by hiring unauthorized immigrants.

The bill also allocates billions of dollars to the U.S.-Mexico border in order to beef up security. This is arguably the linchpin of the plan – a system that provides a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants cannot function if it does not stem the flow of illegal immigration by effectively sealing the holes in the border. Additionally, without this provision the bill’s chances of passing Congress are close to nil.

The Gang of Eight plan is a compromise plan, but one that should have appeal to both sides. Proponents note that only 14% of immigrants seeking green cards are successful; with the plan, they estimate that number will rise to nearly 50%. Furthermore, there is general recognition that immigration reform will help the economy. Even Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a Tea Party hero, has expressed support for (though has stopped short of endorsing) a pathway to citizenship, arguing that it is important for unauthorized immigrants to work and pay taxes, rather than simply using government resources and not giving back.

Conservatives are divided, though. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), a newly-elected ally of Mr. Paul’s, opposes the plan on the grounds that it grants “amnesty” to those here illegally. The government should not reward lawbreaking, he argues. The country is divided on the pathway to citizenship, but the number of poll respondents in approval goes up when that pathway includes fines and wait times, as the Gang of Eight plan does.

Some oppose the pathway to citizenship on the grounds that a sudden burst of immigration may take away American jobs. There is legitimacy to this argument, particularly at a time when unemployment is so high. There is also resistance on the other side of the aisle. Some liberal Democrats, especially in the House, may resist the bill on the grounds that the pathway to citizenship in the Gang of Eight bill is too rocky.

Who’s in the Gang of Eight? The group includes four Democrats and four Republicans, including former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). McCain represents a border state where immigration is a big issue and tough laws cracking down on illegal immigrants have met federal challenges. A well-respected longtime Senator, McCain’s support is critical for the passage of the bill.

However, all eyes are on Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who has become the Republican Party’s de facto point person on immigration. A Cuban-American, and himself a son of immigrants, Mr. Rubio is also seen as key to improving the Republican Party’s image among Hispanics. Recent electoral history shows that he has the capacity to do so. In the 2010 Senate Election in Florida, Mr. Rubio won the Democratic stronghold of Miami-Dade County, which hosts the largest population of Cuban-Americans in the country. By contrast, the Republican Senate candidate in 2012, Connie Mack, lost the county by a whopping 28 points.

Despite some speculation that Mr. Rubio would not endorse the Gang of Eight plan, the Senator took to the airwaves over the weekend to promote the legislation, which he claimed would be “a net positive for the country, now and in the future.” He also pushed back against the amnesty charge, arguing that the bill was nothing of the kind. “There will be consequences for having violated the law,” he said.

Mr. Rubio won some praise from across the aisle for his efforts in the Senate chambers. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), a senior Democrat and member of the Gang of Eight, called him a “tremendous asset.”

The bipartisan makeup of the Gang of Eight, though, is no guarantee of the bill’s success. As was the case with the Democratic budget and gun control legislation, many Democrats facing reelection in 2014 may be leery about supporting the plan. However, the bill has robust, if not stellar, Republican support in the Senate, making its passage there likely. Furthermore, the endorsements of Mr. Rubio, Mr. McCain, and potentially Mr. Paul may bring a majority of the Republican caucus into the yes column.

The House of Representatives is a different story. Given that the ideological inclinations of House members are more extreme, passage in the Senate, even by a wide margin, is no guarantee that the House will follow suit. Ultra-conservative House members may not like the pathway to citizenship, while very liberal ones may find that path too rocky, and choose not to support the package.

There’s also the question of whether the bill will be passed as a whole or in pieces, as some have suggested. In pieces, most of the original provisions will not survive Congress. Republicans all along the ideological spectrum are certain to oppose the pathway to citizenship if not tied to increased border security. Border security is truly the keystone of the plan – both for practical purposes and political ones.

The bill stands a good chance of passage, assuming the Gang of Eight continues to push it and does not fold. Neither party, obviously, will be happy with everything in it, but the reform is comprehensive, and in theory the system it sets up will function by encouraging legal immigration, discouraging illegal, and dealing with the millions of unauthorized immigrants already in the country. We’ll discover the fate of the immigration bill over the next few weeks, but we’ll also rediscover how dysfunctional the current immigration system is.

“What we have in place today, the status quo, is horrible for America,” said Marco Rubio on Sunday. That’s something, at least, the parties can agree on.

Students Create Activist Group to Focus on Immigration Rights

in Around Campus/News by

After Spanish professor Aurora Camacho de Schmidt taught a course titled “Mexican Pennsylvania: the Making of a Transnational Community” last semester, Camacho de Schmidt and several members of the class have decided to create a new student activist group on campus that will focus on immigration rights. Emma Waitzman ‘14, who was a student in the class last fall, will lead the group.

The course, which discussed the disparity between society’s discussion of immigration and sociologists’, historians’ and immigrants’ interpretation of how many Mexican and Central American workers are displaced, led students to take action.

“We have been eager to see immigration law respond to reality, not the proposals based on misperceptions and outright prejudice that come from politicians such as Senator [Marco] Rubio [R-FL],” Camacho de Schmidt said. “We wanted to change the dire conditions under which workers migrate, settle, and start their new life of intense and poorly paid work in the United States.”

Although the future activist group cannot accomplish these goals single-handedly, the group plans to join a network of advocates and activists who are speaking out in favor of immigration reform. Another goal of the organization will be to partner with workers to get a better grasp of their needs.

The group, which will be student-led with faculty assistance on resources, is not Swarthmore’s first collection of students that focused on immigration issues.

“In the past, Swarthmore students did very good work on immigration, studying and also serving as translators for the many documents immigrants must submit to the authorities to regularize their status,” Camacho de Schmidt said. “Swarthmore has had a very active group involved in bringing about passage of the DREAM Act, which would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to go to college in spite of their undocumented status, offering a path to legal residence.”

With the help of Swarthmore College President Rebecca Chopp, the college supports the Dream Act on record. Swarthmore is currently among a national network of colleges and universities who support immigration reform.

To help Swarthmore assimilate into the other immigration activist colleges, Camacho de Schmidt is helping the group plan upcoming meetings, which are open to anyone on campus.

“We are hoping to invite some speakers on immigration to campus, and to participate in activities currently being organized in Philadelphia, a city that has always been very active in solidarity with immigrants through its legal institutions and community centers,” she said.

The first meeting will take place in the Keith Room, Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, on Whittier Place this Friday from 2:25–3:30 p.m.

CORRECTION: An earlier edition of this article overstated Emma Waitzman ’14’s role in the creation of the group.  Many students — not just her — have been deeply moved by immigration issues, and many were instrumental in creating the new organization.

Go to Top