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José Fernando López Headshot

Immigration And Integration

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A couple of months ago I interviewed Henry Cisneros, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development during Bill Clinton's administration between 1993 and 1997. Cisneros, together with Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, leads an informal group that seeks the establishment of a constructive dialogue between the Latin and the Jewish communities of United States, better known by the name of Bridges and Pathways. In the middle of our conversation, Cisneros mentioned various issues in which Latinos should follow the example set by the Jewish community, including the education of children and family unity, something sacred for them. But the issue he most emphasizes is the one related to the fast integration to American life by the Jews that reach American soil. This is something that is not happening with the Latinos.
According to Cisneros, "in the past there were institutions that welcomed the immigrants: political organizations that sought voters; churches that wanted parishioners, unions that sought workers. Today this does not happen and everyday it's more difficult to integrate". That is why he is designing a program to integrate Latinos to the community. The program could last from 10 to 15 years, in which the immigrants take upon themselves the responsibility to learn English, become a citizen, help their children with their education, send them to college, establish a personal financial plan that includes savings for the future and become the owner of a home. "The objective- he says- is that the immigrants start to integrate, step by step, to life in this country, without forgetting their heritage, remembering their countries and maintaining them in their hearts. So that they can, in practical terms, dedicate themselves to life in this country, so that we may advance as a community and contribute to the progress of the United States."

I make emphasis on this issue because the issue of integration has become the cornerstone of the debate about the immigration law, and will be brought forward regularly during the next few months by the vociferous chorus leaders of the xenophobia that fires right wing movements like the Tea Party. Endorsed upon pseudoscientific papers, as those by Samuel Huntington, todays xenophobics blame all the country's problems- from unemployment to the proliferation of catastrophic diseases- on immigrants, be them legal or not, that live in parallel worlds and build their own habitat, undermining the concept of "nationality", on which they state is the base of the greatness of the American nation.

Huntington compared what he called the "americano dream" with the traditional "American Dream" and stated that "the 'americano dream' does not exist." That there is only one "American Dream", created by an Anglo-protestant society. The Mexican-Americans will share this dream and that society only if they dream in English". An extremist position, of course. But of extremists is what the Tea Party is made of. And it's necessary to have an answer for that. A program as Cisneros'- or something similar- that can be shown as a contribution to a country everyday more united, an integration that respects inherited heritage, but that privileges shared values. One that promotes bilingualism, but that understands the need of a common language. That values multiculturalism, but that accepts the existence of some principles that have contributed to the making of a nation.

Barack Obama obtained the endorsement of a great part of the Latin community thanks to his promise of approving, in less than a year, a comprehensive immigration law. That promise- due to thousands of reasons- was never fulfilled. And deportations have increased dramatically during his administration. But if he wishes to get the Hispanic votes again, he will have to be more convincing in his proposals, not only in the immigration issue, but about the future of close to twelve million illegal immigrants residing in the country. A comprehensive program that is verifiable, as that proposed by Cisneros, could contribute plenty in this matter. And it would take away the arguments exposed by the xenophobics that today proliferate in the country.