Pomona College 2010 Graduation

On Sunday, May 16, 2010, Pomona College will celebrate the One Hundred and Seventeenth Commencement ceremony in the College’s history as we graduate the Class of 2010. This year’s commencement speaker will be Janet Napolitano, head of the Department of Homeland Security, the primary federal official responsible for the US immigration system.

As members of the faculty of the College, and as members of the Department of Chicano/Latino Studies, my colleagues and I are honored to participate in a ceremony that celebrates the achievements of the graduating seniors. But we would not be doing our job as members of an institution of higher education–or as people of conscience who have dedicated their lives to advancing understanding for the betterment of our society and world–if we let this moment pass without recognizing the opportunity for learning it provides.

That is why we composed the following, which is being distributed as I write these words:


“They only are loyal to this college who departing bear their added riches in trust for mankind.”
James A. Blaisdell, President of Pomona College (1910-1927)

As we celebrate the Pomona College class of 2010, we wear white stoles as a symbolic statement in support of immigrants’ fundamental human rights. As people of conscience, we call for 1) an immediate end to the current practice of raids, detentions, and deportations that divide families and violate rights, 2) meaningful legislation which enables real immigration reform, and 3) a fair path to citizenship.


Before 1965, immigration to the US was regulated solely on the basis of “racial fitness.” Northern European migration was easy while migration from Asia, Africa, and Latin America was limited or banned. Still, workers were “imported” from the Third World to do a host of undesirable jobs.

Approximately 14% of the current US population is foreign-born. (US Census Bureau) “Unauthorized” migrants are individuals who either reside or work in the US without authorization. They comprise less than 4% of the US population, but more than 5.4% of the US workforce. (US Dept. of Labor)

17% of US construction workers are unauthorized migrants. 25% of the people who pick your food are unauthorized migrants. (Passel 2009)


According to the Government Accounting Office, on average, ONE person dies everyday while trying to cross the US-Mexico border.

The US does NOT imprison most unauthorized immigrants for criminal violations, because being an unauthorized immigrant is not a criminal offense but a civil violation.

More than 350,000 immigrants are detained by the US each year, including asylum seekers, survivors of torture and human trafficking, lawful permanent residents and the parents of U.S. citizen children. (US Dept. of Homeland Security)

Immigrants can be detained for months (even years) without any form of judicial review of their status. More than 80% percent can not obtain legal representation. (Human Rights Watch)

Detainees often do not get timely treatment for their medical needs. 74 people have died while in immigration detention over the past five years. Detention facilities standards are not legally binding. With little oversight for abuse or neglect, many US practices violate international standards. (Amnesty International)


The average cost of detaining an immigrant is $95 per person/per day, but alternatives cost as little as $12. Despite the proven effectiveness of these less restrictive alternatives, the US chooses imprisonment. (Amnesty International)

Congress should pass legislation ensuring detention be used as a measure of last resort. When it is used, all detained persons should have access to individualized hearings on their detention.

Reporting requirements should be fair, non-invasive, and not difficult to comply with, especially for families with children and those of limited financial means.

The US government should ensure the adoption of enforceable human rights detention standards in all detention facilities. There should be effective independent oversight to ensure compliance with detention standards and accountability for any violations.

Compiled by the Intercollegiate Department of Chicano~Latino Studies at the Claremont Colleges.

Border Blow Back

The Immigration Policy Center recently published the findings of their current study of illegal immigration at the border.


On the heels of the Department of Homeland Security’s release of figures showing “apprehensions of undocumented immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border are at their lowest level since 1973,” the IPC findings suggest the scope of the impact the current economic depression is having on immigration.

Most powerfully, they document a “reduced circularity in migration,” that is, a reduction in the return migration of unauthorized immigrants already in the US.  They explain this phenomenon as an “unintended consequence” to present-day border enforcement tactics and strategies.

You can read the full IPC “Fact Check”–“Keeping Migrants Here: The Unintended Consequences of U.S. Border Enforcement”–by clicking here.


The “Border Beat” (June 10, 2009)

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?  I’ve been meaning to call, but, well, you know, things got busy.  But I’m back.  You got the time?  Nice.  Well then, let’s get our nice clothes on, and our fancy shoes, because baby, THE BORDER BEAT IS BACK!!

• “State of Shame” (NY Times)
For those who thought agricultural workers faced deplorable conditions only in the West or South, this Times editorial teaches us about the ways the lack of legal protections for ag workers is exploited for, in this case, feeding ducks until they die.

• “How an immigration raid changed a town” (Christian Science Monitor)
The CSM provides this sad update on the town of Potsville, Iowa. About a year ago, Potsville found itself in the national headlines as ICE agents raided the town’s primary employer, their largest raid to date. Agriprocessors, once the largest kosher meat plant in the nation, is now bankrupt; the town has been abandoned by most of the immigrant workers rounded up on that day; and the future is very uncertain. You could say they got what they deserved, but you’d be wrong, trapped in your own limited visions of what is “right” and “wrong.” The question blowing in this breeze is, why?

• “Bill Proposes Immigration Rights for Gay Couples” (NY Times)
It’s called the Uniting American Families Act. It allows gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their long-term partners for a green card, the same way the law allows this for married, straight couples. It is fair, sane, and long-overdue. Now let’s hope it doesn’t get scuttled by reactionary homophobes who are calling it everything from an attack on “traditional” marriage to a continuing dismantling of our borders.

• “GOP risks losing Latino vote for decades” (SF Chronicle)
Ruben Navarrette is, perhaps, the most read Latino journalist in the U.S. His column is syndicated in papers across the nation. He is a paragon of neutrality and moderation, while consistently representing a “Hispanic voice.” I don’t often agree with him to the letter, but I can appreciate where he is coming from. Here, he opines on the tricky game Republicans are playing in trying to smear Sotomayor. The long-term consequence, says Navarrette, may be the loss of the Latino vote for the foreseeable future. You know what? He’s right.

• “US vows crackdown on illegal immigrant worker abuse” (Reuters)
While in Mexico City, John Morton–the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)–vowed to enforce the U.S. laws “responsibly, humanely and thoughtfully.” What does that mean? Well, one element, says Morton, is cracking down on employers who “abuse” illegal immigrants. “I intend to try to identify and prosecute those people much more vigorously than in the past,” he said. His elaboration of the nature of employers’ abusing practices (as distinct from their mere employment of them) is a welcome sign for those of us working for a more humane immigration policy.

• “Boy Scouts make big push to get Latinos to join” (Chicago Tribune)
[(Ding-dong!) What’s that? Somebody’s at the door? Finally! Looks like we have a social call!! (Ding-dong!) We just might have a date tonight! Yes! Somebody wants us. Hello? Who? Awww. It’s just the Boy Scouts.] Well, the Boy Scouts are trying to double the number of Latinos earning badges for canoeing. . . and all that other stuff, too. Seems they’re having some problems, though. Some are wondering if the problem is a lack of cultural familiarity, some fear and mistrust. As a former Boy Scout, let me suggest it is more a case of not wanting your child to look like he’s joined a youth paramilitary troop.

• “UFW Alums Battle Over Labor’s Future” (Beyond Chron)
There is an ugly fight happening out West in the labor movement. It is pitting some UFW legends against each other (again) and perhaps tearing apart some organizations that once had a tremendous amount of potential.

What you gonna do, Mr. Obama?

The recently released report from the Migration Policy Institute, “DHS and Immigration: Taking Stock and Correcting Course” [downloadable here], got written up in today’s NY Times.  The report outlines the current problems and abuses in the Department of Homeand Security’s immigration efforts and offer a list of policy recommendations for the current administration.

Detailing such inefficiencies as the $4 million per mile “border fence,” as well as the fear inspiring ICE raids, the report  advocates for a more humane immigration policy, one rooted in greater sensibilities regarding how unauthorized migrations work and can be curtailed.  In both its fundamental assumptions and its prescriptions for change, the report is a veritable testament to moderate and balanced policy formation (neo-liberal doctrine, for those interested).


The report–like the government’s policies–is problematic at various points.  An assumption of  human rights as a foundational principle would have produced a report far more damning of the federal government.  It would also challenge our misguided belief that immigration is some kind of labor pressure valve we can turn on and off at will to suit our needs.  Many of the recommendations offered by the repor hinge on the use of the E-Verify system, or at least an statistically-improved version of electronic verification.  Anybody who works in the government knows such fantasies of a flawles system are just that, fantasies.  At the same time, as this report and a growing number of people of conscience recognize, any verification system is only as strong, useful and just as it inaccuracies.

Irrespective of this one report, it is clear that the time has come for the Obama administration to start the process of amending DHS’s current proactice.  more importantly, it is time to institutionalize (as best that can be done) a fair and just immigration policy whose practices meet the standards of international human rights.