Immigration was the topic of discussion at the 2013 Roger Tatarian Journalism Symposium. The event took place at Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union on Wednesday.
The event was cosponsored by the Department of Mass Communications and Journalism, as well as the Fresno State ASI Readership Program.
Titled “Immigration: Now and the Future,” the symposium featured keynote speaker Fernanda Santos, the New York Times bureau chief in Phoenix.
Santos, a native of Brazil and a naturalized U.S. citizen, has covered many topics on the immigration front.
Her talk addressed the issues facing the immigrant community as well as the current immigration bill, being considered in Congress.
However, Santos’ specifically focused on the Latino immigrant community.
“When people think about immigrants in the United States — you know if you close your eyes — you don’t see an Asian face; you don’t see an Irish face in front of you; you see a brown face, because that has come to define ‘immigrant’ in this country,” she said.
Santos spoke of the importance of Latino voters in the November 2012 presidential election. By 2016, she said, the Latino voting bloc in the United States will account for 38 percent of voters.
Santos said that while many Latinos vote alongside Democratic Party ideals, many Hispanics in states like Colorado and New Mexico supported the Romney campaign. Many of these people, she said, are members of families that did not necessarily immigrate into the United States, rather they were absorbed via land annexations of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Still, her notation of this pointed to her larger argument that Hispanic people have always been apart of American society. That is, the United States and Mexico have shared a common economic bond for many years, even before the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994
She cited an experience in which small business owners on the Arizona/Mexico border were facing rapid declines in profit. The area, Santos said, was once a very profitable copper mining area, but since the mine closed several decades ago, the merchants in town rely on business from across the border.
“They all said they had been very successful up until the securing of the border became so intense,” Santos said.
Asked by an audience member if the United States’ history of immigrant discrimination would stop, Santos replied by talking about mankind’s innate sense of prejudice, citing the fact that many descendants of persecuted Irish immigrants are now the very people who frown upon immigration from Mexico and Central America.
“I think for that to change, we would have to change human nature,” Santos said.
After Santos spoke, a panel discussion took place.
The panelists included Chicano Latin American studies professor Annabella España-Najera, president of the Nisei Farmers League Manuel Cunha Jr. and moderator Juan Esparza Loera, editor of Vida en el Valle newspaper.
Talking for an hour, the panelists discussed the visa program and the need for reform.
Espana-Najera spoke of the new sectors addressed by the current immigration reform bill. She said beneficiaries of the DREAM Act are critical to helping pass this bill, as it encompasses more than agricultural guest workers.
The current bill, according to España-Najera, will create visas based both on merit and on familial ties.
“If you create a visa program that people can access easily, instead of having to pay someone to cross them illegally, in an unsafe way, in which a lot of people are dying,” España-Najera said. “Instead you pay for a visa, I think that’s an option most people would take.”
She also spoke of border security as a piece of the legislation that may affect the bill’s passage, since there are so many perspectives on the issue of enforcing, measuring and funding border security.
Cunha spoke mainly on behalf of the agricultural industry.
A supporter of immigration reform, Cunha has been involved in the process for many years. In 1999/2000, he worked with California senator Diane Feinstein to create legislation that benefitted both workers and farmers.
Cunha’s perspective comes from many years of working with agriculture. He gave the audience an anecdote regarding farm labor.
In the 1990s, when there was a shortage of immigrant labor, the Nisei Farm League worked with local welfare-to-work programs in order to provide recipients with jobs.
Of the 503 positions opened to these American citizens, three were filled. However, one person did quit after a half-day, another could not find the job location, while another never showed up for work.
It has been proven time after time, Cunha said, that American citizens do not want to do the difficult work offered by the agricultural sector in positions requiring pruning, picking and the myriad of other laborious tasks.
Right now, Cunha said, he and others in agriculture want to make sure the family members of guest workers are protected. That is, those who have traveled to this country with a guest worker have the option to work legally in the United States or at least, live here legally.
The panel discussed immigration’s effects on the high-tech and service industries, yet the overwhelming focus was on its influence — positive and negative — on agriculture.
Fresno State student Bradley Miranda, who is majoring in agricultural education, spoke of Santos’ speech as timely and accurate.
“The keynote speaker was spot-on. Americans just don’t want to do the hard labor that it takes to be able to feed not only this country but the world.”