Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Final Post: In Support of the DREAM Act

The undocumented students movement works to provide minors brought to the country illegally a chance to earn and use their education in the United States. Most affected youths have completed their high school education, and many even complete college before confronting the harsh reality of their situation: they cannot find legal employment and live in fear of deportation.

I support reform that would allow undocumented students who prove they intend to contribute to society a chance to gain lawful residency in the United States. Providing a pathway for these students to earn citizenship not only corrects a grave injustice in our legal system — the punishment of minors who have no culpability for being brought here — it makes good economic sense by ensuring an educated and ambitious segment of the population is not barred from employment.

In fact, such reform has been repeatedly introduced in Congress. Known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act), this legislation would grant provisional residency to undocumented minors who complete two years of higher education or complete at least two years of military service. These individuals could then pursue permanent residency through traditional immigration channels.

Since its initial introduction in 2001, however, the DREAM Act has failed to gather the required votes from Congress. Its failure can be attributed to a variety of political factors, including the notion that it ought to be included in comprehensive immigration reform in order to bolster the overall attractiveness of CIR. Unfortunately, the Act’s delay has extended too long, and undocumented students cannot accept the continued hold placed on their lives to satisfy politics.

While the DREAM Act has not been reintroduced to the Senate since 2007, debate over its passage continues. Opponents urge alternative measures and raise policy concerns —both long- and short-term. Many opponents of the DREAM Act and Comprehensive Immigration Reform call for increased deportation, fence building along the U.S.-Mexico boarder, and laws that “get tough” on undocumented immigrants. Such measures have proven popular in several states, buttressed by conservative concerns over use of limited state resources on undocumented immigrants and anti-immigrant sentiment, leading to the enactment of stringent laws and enforcement in Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina.

While appealing in its straightforward approach to tougher law enforcement, Act supporters believe the “get tough” approach may not be as straightforward as many lawmakers and voters believe. Efforts to tighten enforcement and border security do little to address the economic and social issues that drive immigration — such as high wage earning disparity and family separation — the implementation of an extensive deportation policy presents several prohibitive problems.

In addition, deportation of all undocumented immigrants is a practical impossibility. The Department of Homeland Security estimated that 10.8 million undocumented immigrants resided within the United States as of January 2009. Many policy analysts doubt the federal government has sufficient resources or personnel to deport even a significant portion of this population.

Second, little evidence supports the claim that deportation deters new undocumented immigrants from entering. Many immigrants belong to mixed-citizenship families containing lawful citizens and undocumented immigrants. These families will be inclined to reunite even after the deportation of a family member. Further, deportation removes undocumented minors from the only community they know. Rather than making a new life in a country they know little to nothing about, many undocumented immigrants will choose to remain in or return to the United States, continuing to live in the country without education, earning power, or potential for contribution.

Many oppose the DREAM Act because they believe its provision of residency amounts to a policy of amnesty, rewarding immigrants for breaking the law and encouraging further illegal immigration. To counter such concerns, Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), co-author of the act, maintains that the Act would not reward unlawful behavior because eligible minors should not be held responsible for their illegal entry. The responsibility for breaking the law belongs to their parents. In addition to lack of culpability, the DREAM Act seeks to grant citizenship to only motivated, hardworking immigrants — those willing to contribute and become lawful members of American society.

However, the most significant argument against the DREAM Act is the premise that its provisions would stretch limited educational and state resources, burdening already tenuous budgets and leaching off benefits meant for citizens. This argument relies primarily on an appeal to fairness, contending that taxpayers should not be required to subsidize the education of illegal immigrants and that their inclusion abuses tax-funded public benefits.

While this argument has garnered extensive public support from its appeal to fiscal conservation and fairness, it relies on several misconceptions regarding undocumented immigrants. The first misconception springs from the belief that undocumented students do not pay taxes. In fact, all undocumented immigrants pay sales taxes on any items they buy, and studies indicate that a majority pay federal income taxes. To find employment, many undocumented workers obtain fake work papers and Social Security Numbers. They then pay income taxes through their fraudulent Social Security numbers, at times paying more than lawful citizens because their status makes them unable to obtain a tax refund. In 2004, Social Security reported that approximately 10% of the Social Security surplus came from undocumented workers, whose money was collected and stored in “earning suspense file[s]” designed to organize money contributed from incorrect or fictitious Social Security numbers. Some analysts believe undocumented immigrants actually subsidize the overall Social Security system by contributing money for benefits they then can never reclaim.

Perhaps the most egregious argument against reforming immigration policy is the claim that now is not the right time. Political pressures and the controversial nature of immigration policy make both Democratic and Republican lawmakers extremely wary of supporting the DREAM Act. Their reluctance pass reform stems from a fear of alienating constituents and public interest groups that hold strong views on the nature of immigration reform. Further, the controversial nature of immigration reform polarizes lawmakers, making it hard to establish a clear consensus.

This response, however, is unacceptable to advocates and students waiting for the Act. They refuse to see the unfavorable political climate a justification for delaying reform because, for them, time is limited. Should the Act be delayed too long, many who are currently eligible will loose the opportunities and benefits promised by the Act. While lawmakers debate the timing of reform, undocumented immigrants face withering possibilities and darkening futures.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Assignment 6: "Corporatized" & Contemporary Protest

What many have called the “corporatization” of today’s protest ethos reflects the growing number of instances in which social movements take on the trappings of more institutional events, such as a rock concert benefit or a corporate charity fundraiser. Often, this characterization caries a negative connotation accompanied by sentiments that today’s youth do not protest properly or in accordance with traditional, more disruptive methods. Certainly, corporate sponsored events or organizations lack the anti-establishment atmosphere espoused by the movements of the 60’s and 70’s, but are critics justified in the observation that these efforts tend to be less effective than grassroots movements?

The question of effectiveness is tough to pin down. However, a brief analysis of the differences in structure between the two types of movement may shed light on their ultimate product. Grassroots movements tend to organize around social networks and attract passionate participants. They tend to make a difference through disruption of social processes and institutional goals — at the very least a thorn in the system and at most a force capable of destroying it altogether.

Conversely, corporate movements work more within the bounds of institutional processes. By their very nature, these movements leverage existing structures and avenues for change in their efforts. For example, a benefit concert works to raise money that it will then send through traditional channels to remedy a problem.

This difference impacts the effectiveness of a movement. Of course, the ideal approach remains circumstantial. But clearly, corporate movements cannot hope to remedy systemic problems because they must work within the existing social structure. Thus, corporate movements are limited in the scope of change they can hope to achieve.

This limitation, however, provides a tradeoff for movement participants. In exchange for a more restrictive set of limitations, corporate movements have more resources available at their disposal, leveraging the power of existing communications networks and monetary resources to address a problem. It also makes the movement less dangerous to the existing power structure and social system — adventageous or prohibitive depending on the specific goals of the movement.

Therefore, the question of whether a corporate movement remains effective depends on context and the problems being addressed. Certainly, the grievances at issue during the civil rights movement fall outside the scope of institutional remedies because, in most cases, the system legitimized and perpetuated the problems. However — and many environmentalists will disagree — environmental issues may be better suited for a movement protesting through institutional channels.

The major objection to corporate protest movements is its adherence to the existing power structure. Within the movement, chains of command follow the traditional hierarchy of the corporate world, with decisions made at the top of the later with little input from the bottom. (Note that more innovative corporate structures, i.e. Google, have emerged to change this, but my generalization still largely holds true.) Even in cases of nonprofit corporations or entities created for the purpose of solving a social issue, the desire to preserve the corporation — and therefore the problem — inherently restricts the pace and spoke of change. Conventional wisdom suggests that major corporations designed to solve a specific problem will instead perpetuate the problem as a result of the desire to maintain the institutional status quo. As the structural sociologists Hequembourg and Arditi unceremoniously summed up: people need to eat. Ultimately, everyday necessities — a paycheck and a stable job — override the goals of substantial change.

In this respect, traditional extra-intuitional movements have a leg up. They can combat the system directly, undermining its central tenets and core assumptions in innovative ways. For example, the emergence of the non-violent movement that precipitated country-wide sit-ins did much to disrupt social function in a previously unemployed way. Protest innovation — in method or group structure — can foster increased movement effectiveness in ways unavailable to corporate movements.

The corporate movement ethos also has an effect on today’s movement participants. The use of traditional communications channels and marketing circumvents the social networking inherent in most traditional movements. This missing element makes movement participants less likely to be personally connected, and therefore, less likely to remain committed to a movement’s cause. Analyses have confirmed that peer participation plays a pivotal role in ensuring members show up to rallies and movement events. Without that connection, the group cohesion of a corporate movement varies widely and must depend on alternative factors, such as individual incentives, to spur members to action.

The concerns of critics, therefore, are valid in so far as they highlight the inherent limitations of corporate movements and their relation to creating social change. In many ways, these criticisms are borrowed from broad criticism applicable to our entire social/political system.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Assignment 5: The Media

The message a social movement relays to the public has traditionally dealt with a filtering — and often distorting — gate keeper: the press. When news media latches onto a social movement, the effects present a double-edged sword for that movement, lending much needed legitimacy and public attention to the movement but at the price of simplification and misrepresentation. This effect is what prompted social movements writer Todd Gitlin to remark: “The observer changed the position of the observed.”

These endemic problems with media coverage can be traced to intrinsic characteristics of the press as an intuition. The media’s traditional business model operates like many other business beholden to consumer interests and motivations. It seeks stories people find interesting, engaging, and consumable. However, these pressures take a toll on the product news media produces as well as the coverage it can afford to provide. The media gravitates toward easily explainable, emotional stories — characteristics not all social movements fulfill. In addition, the media’s attention tends to wax and wane with new developments in a movement. For example, a new movement or an event will attract the media’s attention, while continuing messages and efforts tend to fatigue outlets and diminish coverage.

On the other end, the message a movement conveys through the media is subjected to certain alterations vis-à-vis simplification and reframing for the purpose of mass dissemination. With the exception of niche publications, most media outlets — particularly mainstream media — markets to a broad audience. Accordingly, messages must often be tailored for the lowest common denominator and constructed in ways that resonate with the greatest number of people. For a social movement, this “repackaging” of their message can be detrimental to overall effectiveness.

In addition, media may outright misrepresent aspects of a movement. For instance, the news tends to report most heavily on stories that provide striking visuals or situations of high drama. In the realm of social movements, this often means gravitation toward the more radical groups and away form the larger, more-moderate groups. Disproportionate reporting can misrepresent the members of a social movement by only focusing on a vocal minority to the exclusion of the greater organization. This also leads to a portrayal of polarization on issues that may, in fact, enjoy a substantial public consensus. Media may also marginalize movement members, characterizing them as deviant or atypical and thus providing unwarranted or inaccurate context to the message group members put forward.

Another phenomenon involves a reliance on established authority figures and institutions. News media seek an air of credibility above all. Accordingly, the media relies on comment and context from established and credible sources. However, this can also lead to a propagation of status-quo sentiment that hampers a new social movement.

Many modern social movements have grappled with media portrayal, and nearly all current movements must handle press exposure carefully to preserve their message. The anti-war movement during Vietnam faced considerable challenges from media portraying dissenters as marginalized. As a result, movement organizers found it difficult to accurately convey their numbers and rationale for dissention. They also contended with a media heavily entrenched in government sources of information that emphasized patriotism. Mainstream media took much of what the government said for granted until the famous Walter Cronkite broadcast on the state of the war in Vietnam, prompting Lyndon Johnson to remark: “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost America.”

On the other hand, some social movements have received great benefit from acceptance by the media. The gay rights movement and the LGBTQ movement have found substantial support from Hollywood and entertainment media, as well as tempered acceptance in news media. As members of the media themselves, many movement members took advantage of their public position to advance the movement’s message and, through professional connections, generate acceptance in the media world for their grievances and cause.

The undocumented students movement has received positive, but somewhat marginalized media attention since it was brought to public attention at the turn of the century. Undocumented students provide news media with engaging and morally relevant stories — a win in any editor’s budget lineup. However, their position as legally vulnerable individuals makes many editors and writers hesitant to use students’ names or likenesses and, as a result, chills much of the coverage they might receive. Of course, many undocumented students have chosen to “come out” to the media recently, but these few do not yet provide the push needed for a realization of the issue’s scope. Instead, media coverage tends to cycle as immigration reform bills, such as the DREAM Act, continue to bounce around in Congress.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Assignment 4: Figureheads and Icons

The power and effectiveness of a social movement relies, in part, on the figurehead that movement chooses to champion its cause. These figureheads embody the movement: they symbolize the collective struggles, animus, and hope of a movement’s members. Moreover, these figures often do not emerge spontaneously. A movement’s leaders carefully select an individual that can both strengthen the movement and avoid damaging it with any undesirable characteristics.

Such was the case in the civil rights movement’s selection of the Montgomery Bus Boycott figurehead, Rosa Parks. In fact, dozens of women had chosen to resist Montgomery’s bus segregation policy before Parks’ famous case; however, none of these made the history books. The answer to why movement leader declined to pick one of Parks’ predecessors probably lies in a combination of timing and individual characteristics. According to Paul Hendrickson’s “The Ladies Before Rosa,” (first published in the Washington Post on April 12, 1998) the others simply came “too early “ in the movement’s development or just “weren’t ‘right.’” These women came from the lower-middle class and tended to be out-spoken about their support for civil rights. For one reason or another, movement leaders didn’t think they were appropriate to lead the burgeoning bus boycott. In the case of one such women, Claudette Colvin, her low social status made her an unsuitable figurehead. Had she spearheaded the boycott, her status might have detracted from the impetus for change or provided opponent with emotional recourse. However, Parks exhibited the “face” movement leaders wanted to put forward — soft-spoken, dignified, ladylike, and strong-willed. These qualities, they strategized, would do much to rally others through empathy and outrage.

By carefully selecting a figurehead, civil rights leaders ensured a public reaction favorable to their cause, and indeed, this strategy has been employed elsewhere in social movements. However, the characteristics a figurehead displays seem to vary from movement to movement in accordance with the message that movement seeks to promote. The women’s movement has seen many icons, but all tend to display similar sentiments and ideals. Jane Fonda, for a more contemporary example, used her position as a prominent feminist actress to promote feminist causes. She displayed many typically feminist characteristics — activist, outspoken, independent and sexually secure. In addition, Fonda espoused feminist ideals, including the harmful nature of patriarchy, an early anti-male attitude, and the importance of women’s liberation.

Fonda’s case, however, opposes the Parks example. Fonda became a feminist icon in large part because of her social position as an actress. Undoubtedly, the leaders and organizers of the feminist movement gained much benefit from her public support; however, her prominent public position allowed her to remain in the spotlight and probably afforded her much greater autonomy from the movement.

Contemporary movement figureheads tend to earn publicity through means other than activism in the movement itself, as in the case of Fonda’s acting. These “stars” tend to adopt causes and raise awareness through public outlets afforded them by their social position. However, in some cases, figureheads can emerge as champions for the movement they support, such as Rosa Parks or Cesar Chavez. Movement leaders may select these figureheads based on some aspect of the movement they represent or something that happened to them that provides opportune empathy for the cause. Of course, movement organizers themselves may also become icons, brought to prominence by their actions in promoting their cause.

Choosing a figurehead for an existing movement requires a balancing of the symbolic importance that person represents and the potential characteristics or behaviors that may harm the movement. The women’s rights movement, for example, suffered greatly from the failure of the ERA in the 70s due to a backlash from movement opposition that supported more traditional gender roles and family values. As a result — and as a factor of synthesis and reframing — the movement gradually rescinded its more radical features. However, contemporary proponents of women’s rights benefit from a much wider acceptance of the “equal pay for equal work” sub-movement. A contemporary spokeswoman — and it should be a women — to champion that cause would ideally suffer from an event (such as a traumatic or unjust work experience that typifies a endemic problem) that focuses attention on the injustice of a practice. While this event might not be necessary for a person’s place as a figurehead, it will help to propel her to prominence. Such a figurehead should not have existing popularity in order to minimize feelings of pretention or “fakeness” that come from an existing star’s adoption of a cause. The physical/demographic characteristics of the spokesperson should also, ideally, represent an empathetic yet righteous sensibility, straddling the line between radical and moderate women. In the case of social feminism, the figurehead might come from a particular minority group or social class that suffers from wide-spread injustice. This figurehead would give a body to the collective consciousness of the women’s rights movement, reflecting its followers own feelings and beliefs.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Assignment 3: Issue Framing Analysis

Through reporting on undocumented students in the Phoenix area over the past year, I have worked closely with the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, an organization that combines documented and undocumented students toward the promotion of the DREAM Act and other pro-student legislation. The group, while not entirely political, takes politics as a central focus of its efforts, lobbying for improvements to the situation undocumented students face.

As a case study for the undocumented students movement as a whole, the Arizona Dream Act Coalition (ADAC) typifies the practice of issue framing within a social movement.

The specific framing strategies ADAC employs appear to serve a dual role: provide a moral and emotional symbol, and counteract the negative stereotypes attached to undocumented immigrants. Unsurprisingly, the undocumented students movement has chosen the symbolic frame of the youth academic for its primary “face.” Throughout the nation, organizations like the ADAC primarily recruit and mobilize college-aged students. Thus, the symbol of a student resonates with the social group the ADAC seeks. Around the core symbol, the movement employs various thematic images designed to invoke a collegiate feel — books, classes, raised hands. Further, many of the movement’s supporters overlap with the larger immigration reform movement, and thus, tend to be from a Latino/a background. This cultural focus bleeds over into the framing of the undocumented student movement by appearing in blended Spanish rhetoric and Hispanic cultural symbols.

The moral nature of the symbol comes from the implicit argument it represents. Undocumented students seek immigration reform, like the DREAM Act, that will allow them to remain in the country legally and enable them to utilize their education toward personal and communal betterment. The symbol of the academic reinforces this moral argument by illustrating the commitment undocumented students have to educational accomplishment and social contribution. Typically, students are depicted in the cap and gown of graduation, which symbolizes a fulfilled commitment and academic achievement. Also in this depiction is the inherent suggestion that students will move on to better the community though employment or otherwise using their knowledge in the community. Accordingly, this framing makes the implicit argument for allowing students who have earned social value (a good education) and should therefore be allowed to remain in the country.

While no prominent “face” for the organization has emerged in the form of a national spokesperson or activist — understandably, since identification can mean deportation for these students — the movement has gained some semblance of a face in the video postings of movement members on www.dreamactivist.org. Dream Activist, a hybrid social-network/political-activism organization, coordinates the national movement for undocumented students, providing weekly teleconferences and disseminating quasi-testimonials from group member via YouTube. — an imprecise yet strong “face” for the movement. In addition, several local stories involving students who were deported represent the movement’s struggle and are commonly distributed as fliers and literature.

Beyond its resonation with the college demographic, the youth academic frame provides a powerful counterexample to dispel — or at least combat — the negative stereotypes society holds for the undocumented immigrant. The common face of undocumented immigration tends to be the uneducated, unskilled laborer. In contrast, nearly all undocumented students, by the nature of their issue, have completed high school and most have completed at least some college. Many have even used private scholarships and support groups to graduate from college — a highly educated group. By leveraging the stories of such “dreamers” who fight restrictive laws to complete their education, the movement has constructed a very positive image of the undocumented student, highlighting a commitment to education, perseverance, and social contribution. In fact, movement members urge fellow undocumented students to complete their education and remain socially active in an effort to foster more success stories, supporting their fellow members socially and financially. In this way, the movement seeks to dispel harmful stereotypes and promote the cognitive image of a socially valuable student.

Within the ADAC, incentives such as scholarships and social support reinforce individual inclination to join the movement. As part of its activities, the ADAC raises funds for the students’ benefit, supplying members with scholarship money and an emergency legal aid fund. Members also benefit from expert speakers, such as immigration lawyers and activists who explain the rights undocumented students retain in the United States and help members prepare for legal situations such as incarceration or deportation. In addition, the group provides social support for members through communal activities and peer groups. The ADAC, for example, maintains a group of about 50 active members, all of whom participate in group social activities and informal events on a regular basis. Against the oppressive emotions of loneliness and nonconformity — particularly as young adults — the group’s social support can make a big difference for struggling undocumented students and provides heavy incentive to join.

As compared to other contemporary social movements, the framing employed by the undocumented students movement uses similar moral and emotional arguments to advance the movement’s goals and recruit new members. For example, the environmentalist movement uses readily available cognitive symbols like flowers, trees, and leaves to evoke an appreciation for nature. In this appreciation lies a moral argument for protecting the environment based on a feeling of inherent importance and value in its preservation. Another example of moral/emotional imagery is the pro-life movement. By historically displaying graphic images of unborn fetuses, pro-lifers appeal to base emotions and morals, hoping to stir individuals to action. While similar in method, however, the pro-life movement’s framing tends to wax more radical than the undocumented student movement, which keeps to a more logical moral argument (weighing costs/benefits for the nation and the potential social gain of keeping these students in the country).

Perhaps as a result of its emphasis on students and young, educated activists, the undocumented students movement tends to exclude less educated or older immigrants from the heart of its operations. However, this exclusion is hardly universal or unbreakable; support groups of concerned adults, educators, and policymakers have formed around the movement (see: CADENA in the Phoenix area). Broader-issue groups, such as those working toward comprehensive immigration reform, also tend to incorporate student groups into their activities as well as support them financially. Student movement members, however, must maintain an uneasy relation with larger immigration reform groups, for much of the undocumented student movement’s rhetoric relies on the assumption that minors and students hold a special moral place apart from illegal immigrants more generally. In this way, their framing limits inclusion in the greater immigration debate.

Already, however, undocumented students have moved to downplay this distinction and promote greater inclusion. Instead of pointing to other immigrants as a differential of moral worth, they point to lawful citizens as an equal in worth, claiming that they bring just was much social benefit to their communities. This reframing allows for a more inclusive stance toward other immigrants of different educational and age levels.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Assignment 2: Civil Disobedience vs. Radical Militancy

All social movements seek some end, the desired goal around which individuals coalesce into an organized movement. However, the means a movement employs to reach that end can vary widely, from politically sanctioned activism to militant extremism. While many factors influence the approach organizers choose to employ, the approach itself can greatly affect a movement’s success, leaving a question of which strategy is more valid: civil disobedience or more radical, militant protests?

In the history of modern social movements, such fundamentally different methods can be clearly identified in the influential yet diametrically opposed approaches to the African American civil rights movement championed by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. The two men both set out to empower African Americans suffering from the unequal, and often cruel, American legal system. Yet, they held radically different philosophical outlooks on protest and argued for very divergent solutions.

King sought racial integration and equality achieved through non-violent demonstrations and protests he thought would illustrate the moral imperative for integration. By calling public attention to the inequities African Americans faced socially and economically, he made the argument for racial equality — sure that society would change when forced to acknowledge the injustices it created. King drew heavily from Christianity to establish the movement’s moral basis, citing biblical teachings and stories to substantiate his claims for equality; however, he also used secular justifications such as the U.S. Constitution. At its core, King’s philosophy of civil disobedience hinged on effective alternatives to violence — means he believed would prove even more effective than radical alternatives.

Malcolm, on the other hand, did not share such an assumption. He advocated racial separatism and the establishment of autonomous African colonies in the United States, a “separate Black state” (Carson 14), and espoused a militant philosophy that would fight to protect its rights. Malcolm also blended religious and secular thought in his movement’s moral justification. As a member of the Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, Malcolm was exposed to religious teachings and strong Black role models. He too invoked the nation’s founding fathers; however, he and his peers tended toward more radical passages like the Declaration of Independence’s proclamation of a people’s right to throw off oppressive governments.

Despite these differences, some commentators have suggested the approaches of King and Malcolm X need not be mutually exclusive (see Clayborne Carson’s “The Unfinished Dialogue of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X”). In fact, they might have complemented each other had the two men reconciled their views, helping to attain the movement’s broader goals: the establishment of strong, Black-controlled institutions in African American communities and a commitment to equal rights within the country’s political system. Evidence from their correspondences even suggests the men were working toward reconciliation. In a conversation with Coretta Scott King just before his assassination, Malcolm reportedly expressed his belief that the militant movement might serve as a means to strengthen support for King’s non-violent movement: “if the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King.” His statement points the movement’s incorporation of non-violent and militant aspects.

The ultimate assassination of both men ensures we will never know whether true reconciliation would have emerged, but these observations provide a strong basis for evaluating the merit of radically different yet complementary approaches in other social movements.

For example, analysts of the gay liberation movement commonly cite the Stonewall Riots as an essential catalyst — effectively uniting individuals across the country in a single movement. People organized around the emotions Stonewall represented, catapulting the issue to prominence and providing organizers the necessary membership and recognition to enable civil disobedience. In this respect, violent protests seems to complement the movement’s current, non-violent demonstrations, earning it the social and political legitimacy necessary to progress in the public consciousness.

So, if we accept that it is sometimes required, what conditions legitimize the use of violence and contribute to its success? Undoubtedly, such questions cannot be answered by any hard-and-fast rule; however, it may help to point out several factors that may have led to its use or threatened use. In the case of Stonewall, violence resulted from an unanticipated crisis, the police raid of the Stonewall Inn. The stonewallers faced two choices: submit to the police peacefully in the vein of Dr. King’s arrest in Birmingham or actively resist arrest in the likeness of Malcolm X.

History shows that they chose Malcolm’s approach, and as a result, largely succeeded in promoting their cause. However, the success of the event ultimately resulted from the work of movement organizers who seized upon the emotions and momentum the event created. Accordingly, it is not violent protest alone, but its use as a source of constructive power for a movement’s benefit that may legitimize its use.

Arguments over the validity of civil disobedience versus radical protests tend to rely heavily on circumstances. However, analysis of successful social movements illustrates that both means can contribute to a movement’s goal. Thus, as Carson suggests, it seems the debate between the philosophies of Dr. King and Malcolm X can find ground for reconciliation as pragmatically applied to social movements.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Assignment 1: Movement Chronology

While largely co-opted by the larger issue of comprehensive immigration reform, the movement surrounding undocumented students represents a distinct movement toward allowing undocumented individuals brought into the country as minors and brought up in the educational system access to citizenship or temporary resident status. Its chronology encompasses the last 20-to-30 years and can be broken roughly into four major stages or events.

Origins: Nafta’s Failure

The movement’s incipient stage shares the same impetus as the larger immigration movement, beginning with the escalation of undocumented immigrants crossing into the United States in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.

For decades the phenomenon of illegal immigration grew in the Southwest, becoming a prominent issue. U.S. lawmakers came to understand that the impetus behind this immigration came primarily from the dearth of competitive, well-paying jobs in Mexico, and suggested Nafta’s passage would help to remedy the situation by opening trade, investment, and thus economic growth, to the country.

However, Nafta failed in this respect — actually exacerbating the problem by eliminating Mexican protective tariffs and concentrating the country’s industry on cheap manufacturing for import to the United States. Wages plummeted, and even more immigrants sought entry to the United States.

(see: “Nafta Should Have Stopped Illegal Immigration, Right?” — New York Times)

Tightening the Border: Once You’re In, You’re In

Initial immigrants to the United States tended to be men, coming seasonally to the United States to earn money before returning to their families in Mexico. However, as lawmakers increased enforcement on the border, making it harder for immigrants to pass safely through, the men eventually lost the opportunity to return home.

As a result, women began immigrating in large numbers to reunite with their husbands, bringing their children with them. This phenomenon predicated the undocumented student movement by spawning the issue’s essential problem: minors brought illegally into the country absent volition or strict culpability before the law.

Now, more than 20 years later, those minors are reaching young adulthood, finally able to organize and populate a movement for their legitimacy.

The Right to Primary Education: Plyler v. Doe

Decided in 1982, the Supreme Court ruling of Plyler v. Doe is of primary importance to undocumented students. It forbids states from denying children “who were not ‘legally admitted’ into the United States” access to primary and secondary education, ultimately ruling that, by way of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, all persons residing within the jurisdiction of the United States have a right to access primary and secondary education.

The case specifically addressed a Texas statute barring undocumented students equal access to primary and secondary public schools. Before 1975, Texas used fairly standard statutory language to provide children with access to a state education. However, in 1975, Texas amended the law to qualify the language “all students” as meaning only citizens or legally admitted aliens — removing the right to free access for undocumented children. Two years later, the Board of Trustees of Tyler Independent School District implemented a policy requiring undocumented students to pay tuition — approximately $1,000 annually.

A group of Mexican children unable to prove their citizenship filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas to challenge the statute’s constitutionality. Their complaint hinged on Fourteenth Amendment protection — equal protection under the law — which the district court held applicable to all persons within United States jurisdiction, regardless of citizenship status.

Ultimately brought before the Supreme Court, Plyler ruled the Texas statute unconstitutional based on its significant cost to undocumented children. It found the state’s interest in resource protection and fiscal savings insufficient to justify denying children access to public education.

Plyler inhibits states from passing legislation that denies illegal immigrants access to free public education. However, the ruling applies only to education through the twelfth grade. The Court’s decision to use an intermediate level of scrutiny limits the ruling’s expansion to postsecondary education — an expansion some argue is warranted by the decreasing value of a high school-only education in a modern economy.

The DREAM Act’s History

Despite its small place in the larger immigration reform debate, the movement surrounding undocumented students has not gone unrecognized. Proposed legislation know as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, would allow these students to earn and use their education as legal residents. If passed into law, the Act would grant temporary residency, allowing easier access to higher education and a pathway to permanent residency upon completion of an undergraduate degree or term of service in the military.

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) first introduced the DREAM Act in 2001. He described the bill by saying: “While I do not advocate granting unchecked amnesty to illegal immigrants, I am, however in favor of providing … children who did not make the decision to enter the United States illegally the opportunity to earn the privilege of remaining here legally.” Hatch said the bill was part of his larger effort to create a “fair, compassionate and lawful way to deal with the illegal immigrants already this country.” The Act was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee and placed on the Senate legislative calendar for the 107th Congress, but never received a floor vote, meeting with “little initial support or attention.”

In 2003, Hatch reintroduced the Act to the 108th Congress but again made little progress. Some believe the bill’s second failure can be attributed to its introduction on the cusp of an election year. Facing a tight election year, President Bush and other lawmakers may have decided to postpone taking a decisive stance on such a controversial issue. Furthermore, despite bipartisan support, the bill’s reintroduction was criticized as an attempt by Republicans to pander to the Latino vote.

Concerns also emerged over the Act’s impact on “limited state resources,” with several lawmakers claiming “each slot an illegal immigrant takes at a state college or university … is one less spot for American students.” Again, disagreement of the Act stalled its progress and it never received a vote.

In 2005, the Act was introduced for a third time by both Senators Hatch and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and by the next year, it had made its way as an amendment into the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (CIRA). As part of the larger bill, the Senate passed the DREAM Act with a 62-36 vote. However, perhaps as a result of the CIRA’s complexity or continuing political controversy, its progress halted soon after, stalling until the bill was terminated at the end of the 109th congressional session.

Faced with the failure of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, the DREAM Act’s sponsors took a more fragmented approach to reform. Senator Durbin authored a new version of the DREAM Act as a stand-alone bill, introducing it to the Senate on March 6, 2007. Several provisions of the Act also appeared in a defense bill in September 2007; however, the provisions were removed due to concerns that their inclusion in an unrelated defense bill was inappropriate.

On October 24, 2007, the DREAM Act failed to meet the required two-thirds majority to pass on a procedural vote. With 52 votes, the bill came just eight votes short of the required 60 to pass in the Senate.

The Act’s failure to pass can be attributed to a variety of political pressures. Immigration’s current status as a hotly debated issue makes lawmakers hesitant to enact legislation that may offend their electorate. In addition, differing opinions on how to implement reform and whether it should be passed as a stand-alone bill or included in more comprehensive reform have made reaching a consensus within Congress difficult.