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Gimmicks and Games

By Andy Urban, PhD candidate in History at the University of Minnesota. IHRC Affiliated Faculty

As the November election approaches, immigration remains a key topic of debate. It can be a bit disconcerting how decisions and policy changes that will potentially affect millions of humans, seem to be implemented with an immediacy that belies months of inaction. There is nothing quite like the fear of losing office to get politicians to act; unfortunately, campaign politics do not always display the type of nuance that would best serve such important decisions.

The New York Times describes Congress’s recent bill to allow for $1.2 billion to be allocated to the Department of Homeland Security, which will use the money to build a 700-mile fence and a “so-called virtual fence made up of cameras and sensors? along the United States-Mexico border (Lawmakers Agree to Spend $1.2 Billion on Tightening Border). Absent from this article, and perhaps from Congressional discussions on the border, is whether the fence will be more effective in preventing immigrants from entering the country, or will it simply make crossings more dangerous. Robert Frost’s poetic statement that “good fences make good neighbors,? has often been misinterpreted. A deeper reading of the poem reveals that “good fences? allow neighbors to avoid confronting the issues that they mutually must address.

Locally, Governor Tim Pawlenty and other Republicans in Minnesota have alleged that undocumented immigrants are illegally voting in elections, and have proposed measures to require voters to show picture identification when voting (State Republicans turn spotlight on immigrants). According to Pawlenty, 32 non-citizen immigrants have registered to vote in elections since 2004 and 11 have actually voted. The DFL has accused Pawlenty of using this as an election-year “gimmick,? and point out that 32 voters represent 0.00103 percent of registered voters in the state. One might add that the Republican Party’s recent involvement in various incidents of disenfranchisement in national elections hardly makes it the moral stalwart when it comes to fair democratic processes.

Also of local interest, the Homeland Securtiy Department recently declared Liberia to be stabilized, meaning that Liberians living in the United States will lose their temporary protected status as refugees. The Twin Cities have one of the largest Liberian populations in the country, and many seem to think that the designation of Liberia as being “stable? is a bit premature (Many Liberians to lose their status to stay in the U.S.). The capital, Monrovia, is still without electricity or running water and displays many of the lasting effects of the Civil War that killed more then 250,000 people in that country. An interesting article in the Liberian Times takes a more historical look at the significance of the return of Liberians living abroad. The article notes how the intial colonizers of Liberia, freed African slaves from the United States, were at odds culturally and otherwise with the native inhabitants. The article speculates whether Liberian emigres returning with greater capital, education, and experience might be greeted with similar hostility (Liberia: Back to Africa).

From the “sick to the stomach? department, an Indiana University editorial rightly denounces conservative student groups at Michigan State and the University of Michigan that have created a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day,? where students hold a contest to see who can capture a student pretending to be an “illegal? immigrant quickest ('Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day' ). Yuck. To end on a positive note, there are people out there doing more creative and positive things in regards to immigration. A recent exhibit that opened in Arizona displays photos taken along the border. Artists with the “Border Film Project? distributed 600 disposable cameras to would-be immigrants in Northern Mexico, as well as to Minutemen border “volunteers? in Arizona (Arizona photo show snaps immigration in the raw). The resulting photos literally show two sides of the issue, and the stark desert terrain that separates them. The exhibit will be on display in Phoenix until late-January at which point it will be travelling nationally. Let’s hope it makes it to Minnesota.

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Andy Urban is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Minnesota, and a member of the IHRC Advisory Council. His research focuses on Irish and Chinese domestic servants in the late-nineteenth century United States.
Contact Information: urba0090@umn.edu

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