North San Diego County Ready for Dialogue on Immigration

The co-authors of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers have been facilitating dialogues on immigration at various places around the country since the book’s publication by Monthly Review Press in July 2007.  Below is a report on one of these dialogues, by co-author Jane Guskin.  Guskin will be on the panel “The Battle for Immigrant Rights: From Dialogue to Action” at Left Forum 2008. — Ed.

At the invitation of local activists I had the privilege of visiting North San Diego County, California, in early November 2007 and leading dialogue sessions in San Marcos, Vista, and Escondido about immigration.

This complex and controversial subject is a hot issue in San Diego County, and the discussions were well-attended and passionate.  At each dialogue we addressed important questions: Is the new wave of immigration really new?  Why do so many Mexicans come here?  Why don’t immigrants “follow the rules?”  Do immigrants have constitutional rights?  Do they learn English?  Do they pay taxes?  Strain public services?  Take our jobs?  Bring disease?

At California State San Marcos, the debate turned to the topic of the 27,000 people jailed in immigration detention on any given day, at a taxpayer expense of $1 billion a year.  We also talked about how racial profiling is used against non-white immigrants.

At the Unitarian Church in Vista, we discussed the terrible human cost of border enforcement and deportation.  I learned about María Guadalupe Beltrán, a mother of four young children — and a neighbor and friend to several of the people in the room — who lost her life in one of the fires that had hit southern California in October.  Lacking immigration status, she had taken a risk by going to Mexico to bury her father, and got caught by the flames as she tried to cross back over the border to get to her Vista home.

At the public library in Escondido, we focused on the challenges of defending labor rights in the current climate, and building solidarity among low-wage workers, both immigrants and non-immigrants.

At all three dialogues, we talked about how this country’s institutionalized racism makes it hard for immigrants to fully integrate.  We discussed the economic forces that drive people to come here, and the importance of supporting labor struggles at home and abroad.  We touched on how immigration raids push wages down, because the fear of deportation weakens organizing, and wages only go up when workers can organize to demand fair pay.

Given how loudly the voices of the San Diego Minutemen are reflected in the local media, I was surprised none of them attended these discussions.  The events were open, free and public, announced in advance in the North County Times and elsewhere.  I would have welcomed the opportunity to talk about immigration with people who have a very different viewpoint from my own.  But they didn’t show up.

Maybe the people who love to hate immigrants don’t want to have a dialogue about immigration?  A real dialogue means reflecting, listening to the facts, and sharing responses.  Could it be that the Minutemen have no rational arguments or solid facts to back up their anti-immigrant rhetoric?  That their brash claims don’t stand up to deeper scrutiny?

While I didn’t meet any Minutemen during my visit to North County, I did meet many local residents who are eager to question the status quo on immigration and seek out sensible solutions to community problems.  Clearly, this dialogue will continue.

Jane Guskin is a co-editor 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.

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