A journalist specializing in immigration politics spoke about the treatment of immigrants in the United States and the importance of immigration rhetoric in the 2016 presidential election Wednesday at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center.
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy, spoke with Pilar Marrero, a journalist for La Opinion, the largest Spanish-speaking newspaper in the United States. The event, “A Conversation with Pilar Marrero: Toxic Immigration Rhetoric and America’s Future,” was hosted by the USC Judith and John Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise at the Price School.
Marrero is the author of Killing the American Dream, published in 2012, which archives the last 25 years of immigration policy and the struggles surrounding it in the United States. She has a long history of speaking on social and political issues that deal with the Latino community. She is also covering the 2016 presidential campaign for ImpreMedia, a major Spanish-speaking media outlet.
At Wednesday’s event, Marrero spoke about the political climate around immigration in America and the different approaches each presidential candidate has toward the issue. A recent Gallup poll showed that two-thirds of the Americans oppose the immigration plans advocated by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, which involves building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and deporting illegal immigrants. The poll also found that 84 percent of Americans favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States, a plan that is backed by the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“This opinion about immigration among the American public changes depending on the moment and the economic conditions,” Marrero said. “In terms of the national Gallup measures, you find that opinions on immigration changed right after 9/11. It started changing slowly until today, when most of the Americans see immigration as positive.”
According to Marrero, politicians are usually out of step with what majority of the population wants, which is why immigration faces gridlock in Congress despite the apparent national consensus.
“The last time there was an effort to pass immigration reform, it passed in the Senate and it was stopped and never voted on in the House,” Marrero said. “The reason is because House members are elected in small districts, as opposed to the Senators, who are elected state-wise. The politics in small districts are very different from states like California.”
Marrero said that the elites of both major political parties have been disconnected from their base for a while, which has led to anger among voters who are dissatisfied for economic and social reasons, along with racial issues.
“If you look back in our history, right after the Great Depression, working-class whites along with Mexican agricultural workers were suffering,” Marrero said. “But Mexicans and immigrants were the scapegoats, and close to a million were deported.”
Marrero related this historical pattern of behavior to the way that politicians approach current immigrants. According to Marrero, stricter immigration laws enacted after 9/11 affected regular immigrants more than those suspected of being terrorists. At airports, non-citizen workers were fired and different laws were filed targeting immigrants.
“Men from several Middle Eastern countries had to register, and a lot of laws were passed that in reality affected the larger population of immigrants,” Marrero said. “There were really not a lot of terrorists caught at the time.”
Marrero said that the problem lies in the fact that the emphasis is on enforcement of current immigration policies and not on reform.
“I think this is a history that continues to go around, and we are seeing it coming back, year after year,” Marrero said. “We are a country that idealizes its immigrant past, but we don’t want to really deal with our immigrants.”