This episode of Citations Needed was recorded live at Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, New York, on October 25, 2019.
Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.
Nima Shirazi: Woo! All right. Hello everyone. Welcome to Citations Needed a podcast on media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Thank you everyone for joining us today. This episode, as you all know because you are here, is coming to you from the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. There’s a wonderful crowd here on hand and it’s great to be here.
Adam: Thank you to the museum, the Johnson Museum, no relation. Um, and thank you to Leah Sweet for having us here today. She’s been a wonderful host and we really, I really enjoyed my first time to Ithaca, so thanks for all the hospitality.
Adam: For those who would like to support us, we have to do a Patreon plug. It’s required.
Nima: Its true.
Adam: Go to Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. So that’s something you can do if you wish.
Nima: Indeed. Later on the show we’ll be joined by sociologist and author Shannon Gleeson, Associate Professor of Labor Relations, Law & History here at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Her books include Precarious Claims: The Promise and Failure of Workplace Protections in the United States, The Nation and Its Peoples: Citizens, Denizens, Migrants, and Conflicting Commitments: The Politics of Enforcing Immigrant Worker Rights in San Jose and Houston.
Adam: Alright, so we wanted to orient the show by focusing on the last hundred years specifically around the time of 1919 — it’s a little arbitrary, but we decided to do it — because that’s really when the immigration laws around World War I began to codify around a very sort of specific and clear racist, antisemitic, anti-indigenous sentiment.
Obviously there are antecedents, there’s the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, there’s other Chinese exclusion acts that came before it. We are starting for this one because we would have to sort of keep going back all the way to the 1770s.
Nima: And a hundred years, I think —
Adam: Yeah, so a hundred years. We sort of tried to keep it neat and clean. So to be clear, this is not when anti-immigrant sentiment started. This is just when we’re starting the clock here. This is when this sort of global taxonomy of racial hierarchy was codified in international law in a more elaborate way and beyond what sort of proceeded it.
Nima: But the passing of the Immigration Act in October 1918 — and then later the Immigration Act of 1924 — the US ushered in this real racist era of politically-motivated anti-immigrant sentiment.
Adam: And by the early 1950s new laws upheld a racist ranking system for quote unquote “desirable” ethnic groups and made it easier for the US to deport people they suspected of being communists, anarchists and other radicals.
Nima: All of this happened in parallel with the rise of major media tropes of immigration reporting, tropes that, while now more subtle (sometimes) still very much exists today.
Adam: And we are focusing specifically on how immigration in the United States is handled. Obviously these tropes exist in other countries, especially settler colonies like Australia, Canada, Israel. We were focusing on the United States for the purposes of this podcast. So of course these are not limited to the United States and indeed there’s much overlap especially of late. So we wanted to highlight these five tropes to sort of structure the conversation.
Nima: Yeah. The first of which we’re going to cover is the association of immigrants with rampant criminality and support for terrorism.
Adam: The second one is the “refugee” versus “migrant” dichotomy, the kind of undeserved and deserved immigrant, which was based on a cold war criteria that prioritizes liberal negative rights over the positive rights of economic security like food and housing.
Nima: We’re also gonna talk about how immigrants and immigration is often likened to the infestation of a foreign vermin, a flooding into of a noble pure space and being overrun.
Adam: Number four, the ostensibly race-neutral “Law and Order” appeals and arguments without noting that the laws themselves are racist and are enforced in an arbitrary and racist fashion.
Nima: And then we’re also going to talk about how the right-wing panic surrounding “open borders” is very much about an age old concentration on expansion and protection of whiteness into claimed white spaces.
Adam: Around World War I there was, this was the sort of first Red Scare, there was a huge panic around the political radicalization and criminality of immigrants who are not from Northern Europe, who were sort of seen as swarthy. This manifested itself as anti-Italian sentiment, antisemitism, this was on top of, of course, you’re kind of preexisting racism against people from Africa, from the Asian continent. This was oftentimes framed and in the immigration law it was specifically framed as a way of weeding out political radicals and archivists, etcetera, etcetera, and also people that were viewed as criminals because from their perspective there wasn’t much of a distinction. The Immigration Act of 1917 implemented a literacy test for immigrants over the age of 16 years old. They increased the amount of tax you had to pay to get an immigrant. So this kind of weeded out a certain genre of people and excluded anyone of entry born in that what they called the “Asiatic Barred Zone,” which was Asia, which of course had existed before, that excluded the Filipino and Japanese.
Nima: Following that you have the Immigration Act of 1918 which was known to be quote, “An Act To exclude and expel from the United States aliens who are members of the anarchistic and similar classes.” Following this, there was a push to pass, and then eventually did pass, the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921, also known as the Johnson Quota Act. No relation.
Adam: No relation again.
Nima: And which was subsequently revised and passed as the Immigration Act of 1924, also sometimes known as the Johnson-Reed Act. The Johnson in both of these bills refers to Republican Congressman Albert Johnson of Washington state. He was previously a newspaper editor and later started his own paper called The Home Defender.
Adam: Sounds pretty fashy.
Nima: Yeah, it was definitely very liberal.
Adam: Not a very woke newspaper called The Home Defender.
Nima: Uh, and he was later a US Congressman from 1913 through 1933. In one article, Johnson wrote that “The greatest menace to the Republic today is the open door it affords to the ignorant hordes from Eastern and Southern Europe, whose lawlessness flourishes and civilization is ebbing into barbarism.” In another piece entitled “Put Up The Bars,” Johnson wrote that, “The character of immigration has changed and the newcomers are imbued with lawless, restless sentiments of anarchy and collectivism,” we know what that means, and warned that once living lives of desperation in overcrowded cities then quote, “anarchy becomes rife among them.” End quote. Johnson and his allies in Congress desperately wanted to curb the arrival of Jews from Eastern Europe following World War I and drafted the Emergency Quota Act to limit immigration accordingly. A supporters of this bill argued that restrictions were necessary in order to protect the American working man from cheap European labor and vital to defend American values against the teeming hordes of anarchists, Bolsheviks and communists. The media subsequently lined up behind this bill.
Adam: So here’s The New York Times editorial from 1921, “Unless we provide inspectors who are perfect mind readers we shall continue to be overrun with aliens who are a charge upon our public institutions and prisons, and who spread broadcast diseases of the mind…The great hotbeds of radicalism lie in the various colonies of alien workmen.”
Nima: And so then you have this other editorial piece published in the Saturday Evening Post January 8th, 1921 talking about, “The disquieting fact is that we are confronted by a grave emergency.” It talks about how “millions of intending immigrants of the poorest and most refractory sort are almost literally standing in line at European seaports waiting for ships to bring them over.” It talks about the menace that is very close to our shores. The article also continues to say that “we must pick and choose our future immigrants, and admit only such as show some signs of being the stuff of which good Americans can eventually be made” and warns that there needs to be a “social and political quarantine, over and above an old-fashioned immigrational restrictions.” That basically by passing this bill, it will authorize the posting of quote “No Admittance signs on every frontier.” Speaking in favor of this bill, Tennessee Republican J. Will Taylor declared on the floor of the House this quote, “The issue, stripped of its frills and furbelows and without any varnish or veneer, is simply this: Shall we preserve this country, handed down to us by noble and illustrious ancestry, for Americans, and transmit it to our posterity as our forefathers intended; or shall we permit it to be overrun and submerged by a heterogenous, hodgepodge, polyglot aggregation of aliens, most of whom are the scum, the offal, the excrescence of the earth?” Unsurprisingly — this is going to come as a shock to all of you — this is what Taylor looks like (audience laughter) shocking. He’s that white dude.
Three years after the Quota Act passed, so did the 1924 Immigration Act, and expanded the restrictions that were put in place that limited the number of immigrants allowed into the US through a “national origins” quota, which was basically visas issued for only 2 percent of the total number of people for each nationality already in the United States as of the 1890 census, meaning that whatever the demographic breakup was, that would be able to continue, but it wouldn’t allow the brown people or the swarthy Europeans to start overtaking the already majority white population.
Adam: And this obviously continued in mass until the forties and fifties obviously a lot of the reasons why Jews were turned away during the Holocaust was because of their alleged Bolshevism and ties to radical groups. This also applied to other people from the Middle East or seen as being from the Middle East. The IWW, for example, had a large contingent of Lebanese and Syrians who were part of the sort of general swarthy contingent that was not really wanted, but we sort of would be remiss to not mention the inherent antisemitism in all this and then this of course, immigration being tethered to crime and law sort of continued eighties up to 9/11, tying immigration to the sort of foreign enemy. We don’t have time to go into it here, but obviously the ISIS panic around foreign fighters, especially in Europe, which could be its own episode, was fueled by the media. It turns out a lot of that was overblown.
Nima: Shocking, I know.
Adam: Shocking, but the same sort of foreign enemy, Syrian refugee elements we saw with Trump as well. That played out more in Europe than it did here, but that was definitely a part of it as well. We’re going to do a quick breakdown here of a recent racist incitement campaign that was done by Kevin Lewis at ABC News, ABC 7 in Washington DC. This is a Sinclair station. Now I want to be clear. Sinclair, for those who know, is sort of a pro-Trump right-wing local news outlet that’s pretty nefarious, but this kind of coverage is not specific to Sinclair. I want to be clear, this is not like just a partisan issue, but they take it to like an 11. So Kevin Lewis has made a career off basically being a spicket for ICE, the Immigration Customs Enforcement agency that is the sort of thuggish wing of the Trump administration. He admitted on Sebastian Gorka, who has ties to white nationalism. He went on his podcast in September and said, quote, “because of this reform county executive in Montgomery County, Maryland” he had refused to work with ICE. ICE’s response to this was to basically feed this dipshit these immigrant rape scare stories, child molestation scare stories. So if there was 20 rapes or sexual assaults in Montgomery County over a week period, he would focus on the three or four that were by people who are immigrants or looked like immigrants. And so I counted in total in a three week period in August and early September, he published about nine stories about immigrant rape and victim in every one of them would be accompanied by this really viral sensationalist tweet. You notice, he says, “This is the fifth undocumented immigrant arrested on rape charges in Montgomery, County,” “Per ICE, the 23yo is in the U.S. illegally,” “25yo Salvadorian national,” “The Guatemala native,” blah, blah, blah.
Nima: “Per ICE.” “Per ICE.” “Per ICE.”
Adam: So he would center their immigration status while talking about this really heinous, viscerally disgusting crime. Now, of course, he did not note the immigration status for the majority of rapes who were of course not by immigrants. And then I emailed him and said, I have this article coming out at theappeal.org where I write, and I said, we’re gonna basically accuse you of being a racist asshole, uh, who’s leading an incitement campaign against the immigration community of Montgomery County, which has been under siege for some time since the latest uptick in ICE raids. 12 hours later he published a story about a white person committing a rape. Uh, he claims he was, he claims-
Nima: Because he’s balanced, Adam.
Adam: He claims he was going to publish that anyway cause, um, and since then, by the way, he has not published a story about immigrant rape except for one case, which he did in conjunction with a white rapist. So it’s weird. He can sort of, his campaign was very clearly just feeding off ICE and the County Sheriff’s Department. And why this is important is because this is more sophisticated. So you don’t have the editorial boards using words like “vermin” overtly, although Fox News, Tucker Carlson does that, but what you have increasingly is this kind of quasi journalistic enterprise where he’s just reporting the facts “per ICE,” “this guy.” But of course in that time period, our fact checker, Ethan Corey, is both the fact checker at The Appeal and the fact checker for Citations sometimes or a researcher for Citations, he found a half a dozen white rapes in that same time period, limited to just a week. And those were not being published. So what you have is a kind of, what we talk about on the show a lot, emphasis, right? You can emphasize like these cases happen, they’re not made up, right?
Nima: But it depends on how you frame what is being reported.
Adam: Right. And so the idea, all these go viral in Breitbart and Hot Air air and Free Beacon, The Daily Caller, and they’re like total chum for this sort of weird nexus of next door MAGA Nazis and like IPA drinking liberals who like, you know what I mean? Next Door loves this shit, Next Door loves this shit and this is great for their traffic. It’s also great for their kind of veiled white supremacy. So this is the latest iteration of it, which is how do you tie immigrants to crime? Now ICE has a very savvy public relations department, especially since Trump took office. They’ve gotten more sophisticated, more overt and we have several examples here of ICE press releases are literally being copied and pasted. Gabriela de Valle, who I think is at Fox now, but used to be with The Outline, wrote a column on it and May of 2017 where she basically went through ICE press releases and looked at the exact same language. We say copy and paste a lot in media criticism, but they literally just copy and pasted press releases, which is sort of what press releases are for but if you’re a journalist you really ought not be doing that.
Nima: These are not even paraphrased.
Adam: No, they’re literally, so these whole chunks of text are just copied and pasted from KFOR, Fox 2, Fox 46 and this is just one week of examples. So this is very routine. Local media covers ICE press releases. And when they do that, everybody becomes MS-13 or a gangbanger or the most evil rapist you’ve ever heard of in your life. Now of course, it’s not to say that some people aren’t all those things, but of course this is what ICE wants you to think. Sort of like when you see a New York Times headline in Afghanistan, it says a hundred ICE members killed in a bombing and it’s like all of them? Like did you identify them with their dental records in the last 14 minutes when you, you know, like so we sort of assume we take the government at their word that all these people are who they say they are. MS-13 articles in particular, ICE raids of MS-13 are always presented with these cartoonishly sinister images of like face tattoos. They don’t use the people that are actually arrested because oftentimes it’s either people who are teenagers or women who don’t have the same visceral effects. You see people like CNN and Fox News use this, the sort of caged animal image. Fox News uses this kind of cartoonishly over the top imagery is part of the media’s softball support of Trump’s attack on immigrant communities because of course this rationalizes the ICE raids that for the most part of course just attack undocumented people whose only crime is being undocumented.
Nima: But this doesn’t of course happen in news media only. News media does not operate in a vacuum. So pop culture and entertainment are deeply implicated in creating, embedding, and reinforcing these same stereotypes about “others.” Oftentimes foreigners and immigrants. As soon as the medium of film really emerged in the early 20th century, these stereotypes were already rampant. In 1910, D.W. Griffith — not known for being particularly awesome on race — uh, his film, The Thread of Destiny used the term “greaser” for the Mexican bandit character. Uh, Bandito characters along with other tropes such as maids and servers, macho Latin lovers, spitfire sex pots and of course the obvious and ubiquitous, stupid, lazy, sleepy drunk have maintained their place in our entertainment for more than a century. A 2017 study by The Opportunity Agenda, for instance, found that a significant portion of television storylines that were related specifically to immigration or immigrants centered on some form of criminal activity like murder, rape, human trafficking, and of course drug dealing.
Adam: So 50 percent of all Latino immigrants represented in the media are committing a crime and a third of them are in prison. In the aggregate, I’m sure people who write it don’t necessarily mean that on a micro level, but in the aggregate that’ll begin to reinforce the stereotypes of the immigrant Latino criminality.
Nima: So similar to it’s routine depiction of Muslim terrorists and black gang members, the continuing Hollywood obsession with drug lords and cartels, for instance, Narcos, but also Blow or you could go on and on.
Adam: Which again on a micro level are perfectly fine as they are but in the aggregate the representations do sort of begin to pile up.
Nima: And there are stark implications for when these do pile up.
Adam: So of course the day after Dylann Roof committed a shooting, on June 18th and on June 19th, 2015 Trump announced his running for office, the first thing he began with was Mexican rapists. And now we all know this now it’s now infamous. We don’t need to go into detail, but there is a social and news context to this, which we’ll get into more detail later in terms of the feedback loop between Trump and Fox. Now, one thing we really wanted to point out is that we really shouldn’t have to say that immigrants commit less crimes because it doesn’t actually matter. Even if immigrants committed more crimes, I wouldn’t give a shit.
Nima: They still should be treated as humans.
Adam: In fact, it would be a form of, in the aggregate, it would be a form of reparations. They deserve it anyway for the US policy towards Mexico, anti indigenous policies, etcetera, etcetera. So I mean, I don’t want to be too liberal or sentimental about this, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that they don’t actually commit more crimes. When you’re doing that, you’re already on the defensive. You’re sort of accepting the premise that their humanity should be tethered to their lack of criminality, which is a bourgeois concept anyway. It is in a sort of short term counter propaganda, it is true that they don’t actually commit more crimes and that may be worth pointing out.
Nima: Although when that’s the only question that you’re responding to, the framework is already in place that you’re disputing criminality as a baseline behavior.
Adam: Right. So now the second trope is the dichotomy between deserving “refugee” and undeserving “migrant,” which is largely a product of the Cold War. The determination of who is and who isn’t a refugee prioritizes liberal definition of negative rights as in people being persecuted for religious reasons, people being persecuted for free speech. It does not prioritize or even really care much about positive rights material needs such as economic, housing, security, food. So it’s based on a liberal capitalist framework about who is deserving of freedom and who isn’t deserving of freedom. In These Times did a good breakdown of this last year.
Nima: Now these tropes that we see in media and entertainment, they have also political implications. So for a little political background, in 1951 the UN Refugee Convention disproportionately shaped by US allies and was itself a product of the Cold War. It defines a refugee as an individual with a reasonable fear of persecution quote “for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” End quote. So, you know, right here, this is embedded into the UN Refugee Convention economic rights, as Adam was talking about, are not included. It ignores poverty as the basis of need. It only applies to people fleeing the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The implication being that the United States will readily accept white European capitalists who really don’t like living under communist and socialist government. So while the United States actually initially declined to sign this convention, the convention still shaped global policy. In 1952, the McCarran-Walter Act upheld a racist ranking system for quote “desirable” end quote ethnic groups and made it easier for the US to deport people suspected of being Communists.
Adam: The Reagan administration really leaned into this dichotomy as part of its broader war against the Soviet Union. And then this is most manifested, I think, in the late, early fifties, late forties where refugees, so here we have the deserved refugee and the undeserved migrant. Here’s a headline The New York Times “Hungarian Refugees Use Improvised Bridge to Cross Canal to Freedom.” Right, when they were going from Hungary to Austria, whereas people who are South of the border are aliens swarming US borders.
Nima: They’re swarming yeah.
Adam: Again, why are they coming to the United States? Obviously they’re not doing it for sport. There’s a reason for it. But economic rights, poverty, especially that which has been instilled by right-wing regimes propped up by the US, it doesn’t sort of count. There’s a famous description of Neoliberalism, which is if there’s a homeless gay person, you don’t want them to die because they’re gay, you want them to die because they’re homeless. It is sort of a description of neoliberalism. (Audience laughter) Um, so that’s an illustration of positive and negative rights. Now in theory, what you’d want is you’d want both positive and negative rights. That you should have freedom of religion, freedom of press, and also freedom of starvation. But the US for ideological reasons really only cares about one and most of our current even human rights framework unfortunately is built on that. And so you see this today. So you have the “North Korean Defector, Honored by Trump, Has a Remarkable Escape Story.” Undeserved migrant, “Shoot Migrants’ Legs, Build Alligator Moat: Behind Trump’s Idea for Border.” So this is the same person, the same publication. One is deserved, one is undeserved. And that dichotomy is reinforced by very narrow definitions of how we perceive rights.
Nima: Similarly, there are the definitions of who is human, who deserves to be treated as a person and very often when we’re talking about immigration and when we read about immigration, it is framed as being an invasion an infiltration an infestation to our pure society. As far back as 1921, when the Emergency Quota Act was being pitched, The New York Times was very much in favor of doing this very thing and so you have this quote, “Literally millions of workmen are out of employment. American institutions are menaced; and the menace centres in the swarms of aliens whom we are importing as ‘hands’ for our industries, regardless of the fact that each hand has a mind and potentially a vote.” Heaven forfend! They don’t say that, I said that. “With the diseases of ignorance and Bolshevism we are importing also the most loathsome diseases of the flesh. Typhus, the carrier of which is human vermin, has already been scattered among us…” Major media tropes didn’t really get much better from there. For instance, the very racist term “wetback” was used by media in articles about immigrants crossing the Southern border. Always —
Adam: It’s a term that didn’t really die off until the early eighties.
Nima: Yeah. And always in terms of being an invasion.
Adam: And this kind of rhetoric of course still exists. The caravan moral panic was largely a discussion of disease infestation. Again, there’s a visceral appeal to this and anyone who has had the misfortune of, you know, reading Der Stürmer, the disease of Bolshevism, disease of Jews is a very common rhetoric. Uh, it’s pretty much Fascism 101, but it’s still around. It has its antecedents. For quite a long time the idea of an invasion, here we have some miscellaneous Fox News dip shit, I didn’t have time to memorize his name, um-
Nima: It’s Pete! It’s Pete!
Adam: “When you see a lot of young men carrying the flag of their country to your country to break your laws, it looks a lot more like an invasion than anything else.” So this was during the caravan episode last year.
Nima: Yeah. And so, you know, some of the most overt examples of this very thing come from none other than Donald Trump and his Fox News contingents who, you know, support him in this surreal feedback loop. In April of last year, Trump tweeted, “There is a Revolution going on in California. Soooo many Sanctuary areas want OUT of this ridiculous, crime infested & breeding concept. Jerry Brown is trying to back out of the National Guard at the Border, but the people of the State are not happy. Want Security & Safety NOW!”
Adam: Yeah. Then in June of 2018 “Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13.” Laura Ingraham in October of 2018 talked about the migrant caravan was quote unquote “spreading disease.” She said, quote, “I want to put up on the screen, again, the list of diseases that are of concern, given the multitude of people crossing our border. So, we got HIV, measles,” —
Nima: And then she just lists all these fucked up diseases.
Adam: “Pertussis, rubella, rabies, hepatitis A, influenza, TB, shigellosis, syphilis.” So then the fourth trope we’re talking about sort of extensively race neutral, which is the only trope on here that has kind of gone out of favor as the right-wing media shifted rhetoric from this more coded to more overt in the era of Trump, and I want to be very clear, most of the stuff we are focusing on Trump cause he’s the current president, but a lot of this stuff was an issue during the Obama administration as well, especially as a matter of policy. But the more overt kind of Nazi type rhetoric is, I think fair to say new, and we’ll get into that later with our guest, but just wanted to qualify that here, the master of the foe law-and-order was the initial version of this was Lou Dobbs, who of course wasn’t on Fox, he was on CNN and headline news, these kinds of foe Law in Order appeals. They always have this guy who come on who says, you know, ‘Oh it’s not about hating immigrant it’s about enforcing the law.’ Which sort of sounds good, but there’s a major reason we know that’s not the case, which is that we never arrest people who hire undocumented people, which is as against the law as being undocumented. Right? So there is sort of like a good way to tease that out, which is that we never do that. And then this was Lou Dobbs’ favorite argument. Lou Dobbs would constantly talk about “Dobbs: Big media hide truth about immigration.” So this is one of my favorite things people do. Bill Maher does this all the time where they’re on a major corporate media station telling you the media doesn’t cover the thing they’re about to talk about. Bill Maher —
Nima: “No one ever talks about this except for me and everyone watching.”
Adam: Bill Maher’s like ‘why won’t the media talk about this?’ And I’m like, you get paid $5 million a year to hang out with Bari Weiss. And like, this is your, you’re the media. You’re that guy. Like if we sold out and got a TV show I wouldn’t go on and be like, no one’s talking about this. Like, no, like you’re the media, you’re it!
Nima: We would probably do that though.
Adam: We’d sell out?
Adam: Well, how much money?
Nima: Or would say that, or both.
Adam: Okay. Well, anyway, uh, so Lou Dobbs would always do this. ‘I don’t hate immigrants. I just wanna enforce the law.’ And anyone who has the misfortune of having a right-wing father or uncle, I have the fortune of having both or had having both. They repeat this line. It’s all about the law, right? This sort of proverbial uncle at Thanksgiving, it’s all about, ‘I’m not racist, just about enforcing the law.’ Now that’s gone. So with Trump and Tucker Carlson, they don’t even do that anymore. So Trump announced laws to attack “legal immigrants,” quote unquote “legal immigrants.” And Fox News has repeatedly attacked legal immigrants and talked about how they’re on welfare. Legal immigrants are changing the sort of racial composition, which is what Tucker Carlson calls the law. So the law-and-order appeal, which was always what they hid behind for decades and even some of the more anti-immigrant liberals you’ll see, you’ll read in The New York Times in the ‘20s and ‘30s, that’s all gone now. So they’re not even trying to do that anymore. So now we’re just like, we have not enough white people is the sort of direct appeal.
Nima: So speaking of not enough white people.
Nima: Um, our fifth trope that we’re going to talk about is how the expansion and protection of “whiteness” is the guiding feature when framing the hysteria over so-called “open borders.” This panic of once we fling the doors open, what is going to possibly happen? And it just makes, you know, it makes our sacred space far less white. This is nothing new. In 1919, a hundred years ago, the pro-eugenics group, the Immigration Restriction League, it’s, I think you know where this is going, produced a pamphlet warning that quote, “a preponderance of foreign elements destroys the most precious thing [a Nation] possesses — its own soul.” And this is still happening. You see Laura Ingraham talking about this very thing saying “In some parts of the country it does seem like the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.”
Adam: Yeah, bad times. This is, I think, is a good place to pivot to our guest.
Nima: Absolutely. So please welcome Shannon Gleeson, sociologist, author and Associate Professor of Labor Relations, Law & History here at the Cornell University. Her books include Precarious Claims: The Promise and Failure of Workplace Protections in the United States, The Nation and Its Peoples: Citizens, Denizens, Migrants, and Conflicting Commitments: The Politics of Enforcing Immigrant Worker Rights in San Jose and Houston. Please everyone welcome Shannon Gleeson.
Shannon Gleeson: Thanks, Nima. Hi, everyone.
Nima: Shannon, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.
Shannon Gleeson: Thanks.
Adam: So we wanted to sort of open up space about the open borders, which one of the moderators asked Castro in the debates about his position on open borders. They didn’t use the term but they used something like opening up the borders. He responded “open borders is a right-wing canard.” Asking, especially the only, you know, the sort of soul Latino on stage about open borders would be like to me asking what are your thoughts on white genocide? It’s a white nationalist canard that’s meant to solicit a certain image of people pouring over, blah, blah blah. I want to talk about how, firstly there is no definition of open borders, but how open borders of late has become the new right-wing watchword and is meant to solicit that part of the id brain of like angry white people ‘err, open borders, ah!’ Sort of unleash the Hulk. And to what extent do you feel like a moderator asking a question about it is even appropriate or sort of doing the right’s work for them?
Shannon Gleeson: Yeah, so, you know, I think that on the one hand you’re right, it gets used as this, I think what you were calling a racial canard, right? To push us towards inciting panic. And I think the panic occurs in a couple of different ways. Certainly it’s this panic around invasion, panic around law and order, anguish about what is really practical or not. Right? But I think the left and those of us who are invested in advancing immigrant rights and really thinking about the structural changes, need to come closer into that conversation and reclaim that discussion and to try to kind of parse out some clarity about what do we actually mean by tackling the border as it is right now. And I think that that’s important for a number of different reasons. I think for one, if we trace kind of where the political debate has come in the last 15 years in this country, we started from conversations, real conversations around 2006, 2007 around what we’ve been calling comprehensive immigration reform. That was really the first time in two decades where we started to really think about what could we do for the growing undocumented population in this country, which in 1986 with our last legalization program was close to 3 million and is now right over 11 million, down from 12 million. Anyway, so we’ve been working with comprehensive, that went away and we ended up at a point in 2012, 2014 where our main policy goal was a two year reprieve from deportation and the right to work. And that’s where we’ve ended up. This is where we are currently-
Nima: That was like the thing to fight for.
Shannon Gleeson: And that is what we’re very much fighting for. The Supreme Court’s about to make a decision on DACA. DAPA has fallen away, the deferred action for what was called the Parental Accountability Program. And so from the perspective of immigrant rights, I think we need to move closer to a really deep interrogation of what is the border. Now the challenge becomes what do we mean by this term open borders? And in preparation for today’s conversation, I kind of did a review of, you know, how has this term been used? Forget what’s happening by folks who want to use it in a more restrictive way. And this is kind of abstract so I’m just going to throw, you know, fire over the crowd, but how does the left, and I’m using that in a broad way, but how do those who favor a less restrictionist more opening of immigrant rights talk about open borders. And I kind of came at it from a few different perspectives. So to answer your question, I don’t think it’s unfair to ask the question, but I do think that in the context of the conversation we’re having today, we do need to gain some clarity about what do we mean? And for those of us who are allied with the labor movement, it’s an issue of labor solidarity, right? Thinking about Workers of the World Unite, thinking about how the AFL-CIO, which has a very sorted history of-
Adam: Sorted is one way of putting it.
Shannon Gleeson: Of both how it relates to immigrants in this country, but also intervention in Latin America. You know, how do we build true labor solidarity so that here we are over 20 years out from NAFTA, that the reality of free trade actually follows with workers’ rights. But then there’s also the other side of that, which is the free market argument of, of open borders. Cato, Koch all of those very much are in favor of open borders.
Adam: Which is what Bernie Sanders got into some hot water cause he said, this is a Koch idea.
Shannon Gleeson: Right.
Adam: Which is not a good answer.
Shannon Gleeson: Which was not a good answer on the campaign trail, but it was an honest answer in the sense of opening the borders alone-
Adam: For cheap labor.
Shannon Gleeson: Just throwing it open without actually addressing the political inclusion attached to it, without addressing the labor integration and the labor rights piece of it. Open borders alone is a field day, right? For capital. And then I think that there’s a few other ways in which we talk about open borders. One is from a more social justice perspective of thinking about this as reparations for long standing intervention of the United States in, for example, Central America. So not talking about MS-13 in this disembodied way without thinking about our investment in militarism in the eighties and even prior that led to the civil wars, you know, the exodus and then the repatriation of young people who ended up pulled into gangs in Los Angeles. Right? And then finally, I think that there’s a conversation about this kind of moral imperative. Open borders is charity and, and there too we need to be thinking about, you know, this isn’t charity, this is justice, right? And so I think each of those lead us in a different direction. And I don’t think we can tackle all of those this evening, but I don’t think it’s an unfair question, but I think it’s one that we haven’t really done the work to push us past this because we are in a moment of being defensive. Right?
Nima: Well right. Yeah.
Shannon Gleeson: And so we are trying to just keep our head above water and those in my community, those in my family very much have a lot on the line. But the question is we have to create space for opening up these conversations.
Nima: Yeah, I mean I think that idea of being defensive that, you know, you saw it with what we’re talking about, a minimum, bare minimum of a hundred years of these tropes moving through our society, operating, being reinforced and maintained to challenge those narratives, to challenge those frameworks is really tough. And I think that’s why you see, even talking about “immigration reform” as a term is a framework in and of itself. It means, you know, as Shannon, you were just saying like, it doesn’t talk about labor, doesn’t talk about militarism, doesn’t talk about foreign policy, it doesn’t talk about all the implications that would kind of start causing immigration. It just winds up being this thing and reform is needed because when reform is needed, it means that something is broken, is dangerous and needs to be fixed.
Adam: Well you can launder anything through the word reform.
Shannon Gleeson: Yeah. Well I think also when this country and many other places as well find themselves having visceral debates around immigration, really what they’re debating is the structure of the welfare state, the structure of criminal justice in this country. Really race relations, you know, it becomes a foil through which we are grappling with other things that we, you know, immigration doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The immigration debate is clashing with a whole range of other policy arenas and cultural tensions that we have not addressed in a very public way.
Nima: Yeah. Well, and that’s why you see, I mean that the kind of bizarre contradiction in so many of the arguments, right, that immigrants are so lazy that they’re just going to take advantage of our welfare system but also are so fucking good at working that they’re going to take all the jobs from everyone. And so, you know, it’s, it’s just like whatever is going to work, right?
Adam: Yeah, it’s not supposed to make sense.
Nima: Like, whatever’s going to work for that audience at that time, that’s going to instill the highest level of fear and you know, freaking out. So we talk about the idea of the lack of criminality as a precondition for basic humanity, right? Like that that is set up as we’ve been discussing.
Adam: Yeah I want to ask a question about that. And I know that things like open borders, it’s meant to solicit a certain and you kind of want to reappropriate it. I think on the issue of like undeserved and deserved migrant, there’s so much to unpack propaganda wise. There’s this clip we played in one episode that’s ‘through no fault of their own, through no fault of their own’ DACA is going to sit here and help these kids who got here ‘through no fault of their own.’ Now implied in that is that someone’s at fault, their parents. Um, and I know that from the work that you’ve and the conversations you’ve had, and we talked about this offline, how does one balance the kind of short term need to just get some kind of win to preserve some kind of humanity in this current climate? Even under Obama, with not laying the seeds of, again, they’re sort of criminal versus non-criminal, these are felons, not families. How does one strike that balance? And I actually don’t know the answer to that. It’s a big question, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on it.
Shannon Gleeson: Well, yeah and I think that the inherent tension is what are the kind of conversations happening in Congress and what does the immigrant rights movement broadly define push for. And so when is a question of political strategy and the other is a kind of a broader, what do we as a social movement wants to embody? And I think that this question of ‘through no fault of their own’ has really been repudiated by the student movement around DACA. And for those of you who aren’t familiar with DACA, I’ll do a quick primer. So the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was an executive action which President Obama put in place in June of 2012 which essentially gave a two year reprieve from deportation and a work permit to individuals who had come here prior to 2007, had maintained some sort of documented presence in this country, had attended school here and had not fallen into any of the criminal bars associated with it. And so one of the key, you know, ideas politically was this was something that we could win and it would create an opening for a return to a more comprehensive question.
Shannon Gleeson: Quickly thereafter there was a similar proposal, although different for parents of US citizens and it wouldn’t have impacted those who only had children who would benefit under DACA. Right? And so this really in coming off such a turbulent number of failures in Congress seemed like a real opening and the both the student movement and the labor movement had really grappled with whether or not to go to the legislative route or to really push Obama to finally do something. And so when that occurred, I mean there was a real split within the immigrant rights movement about what would be the sacrifice, right? And the idea that the parents, the, the vast majority of individuals who are here out of status, those who would never qualify for the “right way” to get in, even if they had connections to go through the family petition process could be lingering 10, 20 years.
That for those individuals, we really needed to have some sort of solution. And the idea was it was both unfeasible and that politically it would never play in the bipartisan context. Right? After a while though, you saw large organizations like United We Dream and other student groups basically saying we refuse to have our parents be used as a sacrificial lamb.
Shannon Gleeson: But it’s a tension between those folks inside the belt, strategists, what we kind of would broadly refer to as a nonprofit industrial complex of, of immigration reform. And I think that you see a split. And so I guess what should we be doing? Or how do we balance that? I think that the onus isn’t so much on the politicians because they’re going to do the politicking that they need to do to push things through. It’s on the movement itself to throw their weight behind things that reach higher and further knowing that we’re gonna end up somewhere between, and I think it’s also a move away from thinking about these as individual rights, but really these are families, many of them are families who have very complicated realities of immigration. As I said, you can have a parent who is in one status, a parent who’s in another, children maybe who were born here. And that really the ripple effects aren’t just on individual migrants, but on entire families and communities more generally. And when we shift that focus, then the compromises that we’re willing to make become a lot more stark.
Nima: The idea that rights, as they’re so commonly discussed, are purposefully siloed, right? That they’re distinct things. Either you’re talking about civil rights or immigrant rights or human rights or workers’ rights and that to keep them separate as part of like a divide and conquer, um, motivation both from those in power and those who have powerful media outlets. But can you talk about the relationship between immigrant rights and worker rights and also how those are purposefully kind of separated? I mean there’s, immigrant workers have been at the forefront of countless worker struggles from the Haymarket Riot in 1886, the 1912 Bread and Roses Textile strike, Dan Denvir in Jacobin, who was also the, uh, host of the, the great podcast The Dig, has kind of laid a lot of this out, how immigrants and labor are so intimately interconnected and so therefore the attacks on both make a lot more sense.
Shannon Gleeson: Yeah. And I want to take the moment and recall that, you know, some of the stuff that you were showing earlier about the anti-immigrant positionality, you could pull that straight out of the bowels of labor leaders in the early eras. And the AFL-CIO didn’t actually change its formal position on embracing immigrants as a key part of their membership until 2000 and that was after a lot of internal organizing on the part of what we call now kind of immigrant unions that saw their memberships being increasingly foreign born and even immigrant leaders who we think of as being quintessentially aligned with the rights of immigrants today like Cesar Chavez was known early on for um, being very anti-undocumented immigrant, calling INS, what was then the Immigration Naturalization Service and really being very weary of what he saw were scabs that were going to break the lines. And what shifted both of those was an organizing tactic on the part of, in the case of Cesar Chavez, the Chicano movement that emerged in the 1960s and then ’80s and for the AFL-CIO it is really this internal more democratic approach to organizing. And so I think that we do have a major shift right now where the AFL-CIO sees in its member unions, as well as the Change to Win Coalition, sees itself as very much having to out of necessity embrace its immigrant membership. And so the relationship between immigrant rights and worker rights has been one that you cannot talk about the rights of workers in key industries such as construction and agricultural and hospitality services without looking straight down the line at some of the ways in which the workplace has become a really fundamental part of worksite enforcement. And so 1986 the last major amnesty that we had in this country, legalization program, not only did it provide a legalization for close to 3 million individuals, but it also instituted something called Employer Sanctions, which made the work site all of a sudden this major bureaucratic tool for enforcing the immigration laws in our country. And it put the power of that in the hands of employers, HR departments who now have something called an I9 Form, which we’ve all filled out at some point or another. And it handed them in an additional layer of power and an additional layer of hassle to deal with, which meant that in an at-will context, that is an individual who’s not represented by a union, potentially running afoul of immigration law becomes a potential concern on the part of risk averse employers who would, who would rather not assume that. And so to get to the question that Adam posed earlier about why aren’t employers being arrested, I think that’s a legitimate concern of employers but I think there’s some real trickle down effects there as well. And we have some examples of that not only for undocumented immigrants, but also those who have temporary status and all the rest. I think where the AFL-CIO and the labor movement more generally are grappling with the immigrant rights framework is two fold. One is to say, um, how do we continue to argue for the rights of immigrants without reducing immigrants to simply their labor input? Right?
Shannon Gleeson: And how do we do that in terms of thinking about their families and their children, but also not arguing in the direction of the only premise in which we are going to extend rights is if they can do jobs cheaper than others.
Shannon Gleeson: The other way that I think we see the labor movement grappling and the immigrant rights movement also grappling, is how do we think about this in an intersectional way? So really at the forefront of a lot of the immigrant rights organizing that we’ve seen are LGBT and especially transwomen and also having a really clear focus on Islamophobia within not only the broader community but also in the workplace. And so embracing those two kind of third rail issues with blue collar trades who maybe are already not predisposed to accepting immigrants and really having the federations say this is something that we’re going to tackle head on, has been part of the institutional culture that they’ve had to shift. So it’s not just immigrant rights but in a very comprehensive way.
Adam: Yeah. I saw Sara Nelson speak at the Mother Jones dinner two weeks ago. Sara Nelson is very likely, very possibly going to be the next head of the AFL-CIO. And she’s very nice. She was speaking and she was to a room, this was, you know, central Illinois, this room was probably a third coal miners, the head of the coal miners union was there, and she centered immigrant and immigrant rights and they had an immigrant speaker speak for her. So I know being optimistic is sort of off brand for me, but I do think that um, there is a cultural shift. It was bizarre to watch it and it was, I think leadership like that is important. You know, having said that, the border patrol and ICE unions are in AFL-CIO.
Shannon Gleeson: And police unions.
Nima: Cops are in the AFL-CIO.
Adam: I wanted to tell her, I didn’t get a chance, to be like, you know, the easiest thing you can do is to kick them out of the AFL-CIO like tomorrow. Uh, I know it’s more complicated than that, but, uh, and, and I know there is movements with the unions within the AFL-CIO to get the border patrol out of the AFL-CIO. So I think that there’s possibly gonna be hopefully some sort of cultural shift there. I do want to talk about obviously using racism to divide unions is as old as the wind and certainly something the AFL’s failed at traditionally. But I want to talk about, from the movement’s perspective, the difference between the Trump and Obama era. And I mentioned in the context of the Yemen war, that the hardest thing for the left to do in this day and age, one of the hardest things to do, is to show how Trump’s worse without committing the crime of whitewashing or, you know, we Stan a king Obama like that kind of fatuous partisan cheerleading that is dangerous and however not doing the other thing where we go into like full ‘they’re all the same.’ So hide from the immigrant perspective. How does, why does one balance that and what are the propaganda difficulties in the Trump era that if and when, say like, I don’t know, a Joe Biden or a Bernie Sanders becomes president, we don’t all just sit back and go, okay, the bad man’s gone now.
Nima: Everything’s fine, right.
Shannon Gleeson: Yeah. And I think I’d push this back to Clinton even further, you know?
Shannon Gleeson: And so immigration and anti-immigrant policies are a bipartisan issue and have a bipartisan, I think, legacy behind it. And I think that a lot of the criminalization of immigrants, a lot of the questions around what investments local communities can be making and should not be making with collaboration with border patrol and ICE, go back to the Clinton era where this became institutionalized, not only opening up the ability to have 287(g) programs, but also simultaneously deploying the war on drugs, which created-
Adam: And border enforcement became punitive and cruel by definition, like openly as a deterrent. That was when it really-
Shannon Gleeson: Yeah, it’s this idea of deterrence, right? And all of that is a very, it’s a hallmark of the ‘96 changes. What you had, and I want to focus on two things, I mean, in terms of enforcement, right? Let’s just think about work site enforcement. During the Bush era, one of the things that was very emblematic was these large scale raids, right? And so if we look at the number of large scale raids, the approach during the Bush era was to do these big raids, for example, one of close to 600 individuals who were literally rounded up in cattle carts in Laurel, Mississippi at a leather factory. That was a Bush era tactic right on the tail end of that administration and the idea was spectacle, right? This idea that we are sending a message through the community that we are out there in force. When Obama came in, what you saw was a definite slowdown in these large scale raids at the workplace and in local communities and a move to what was referred to as the silent raids, which are using the bureaucracy largely of the workforce to do these I 9 audits in collaboration with IRS and Social Security Administration and you had a number of injunctions that were put in place and essentially that was the engine of what ended up having him labeled the deporter in chief. Right? What we have now during the Trump administration in terms of strategy is a combination of both, right? You see the resurgence of these large scale raids. We just saw one with devastating impacts also in Mississippi, but you also have seen a ramping up of enforcement resources at the work site, the ICE director, Tom Homan, promised a quadrupling of ICE agents, many of whom are working through the workplace. So it’s really a marrying of those two strategies. In terms of the rhetoric, sure. I think that this is been a shift, right? And I think that we have plenty of evidence, we were talking about El Paso earlier, that the shift in rhetoric has incited violence and really, um, put communities in danger in a way that the Obama administration at least couched a lot of these arguments and justifications for their policies in the Law and Order, families not felons rhetoric. But I think the immigrant rights community has a good memory. And so there’s been an internal challenge, right, of trying to decide how do we not glorify the Obama years when we are just trying to tread water right now while at the same time making clear that these issues will continue to be something we need to fight for if and when the Democrats win. And so what is different certainly is the rhetoric, but I’m not sure that, and I think empirically we’re going to have to wait and see, um, in terms of what happens with the deportation. I think one of the other things that very much changed is during the Obama era he put in place fist something called the Secure Communities Program and then the Priority Enforcement Program with the idea being that we were only going to focus on prioritizing folks who had committed crimes, when in fact we know lots of studies that have been done, the Marshall Project has a good report on this, that the vast majority of individuals who are being picked up that fall into this criminal category either had their only crime being repeat entry, so an immigration related offense that had been labeled to crime or low level crimes or had been caught in a kind of pipeline of deportation through things that all of us have been caught in. Broken tail light fix-it ticket that ended up multiplying into a deportation. And so this rhetoric of ‘families not felons’ and kind of a focus on crime was the justification for the Obama era enforcement strategy. Trump has come in and as a matter of strategy said “all’s fair in,” however the term goes, right?
Nima: — “in being racist.”
Shannon Gleeson: (Laughs.) “In being racist,” right? (Audience laughter.)
Adam: “Love and racism,” I think is the full —
Shannon Gleeson: We, um, there is no, there are no priorities. If you, if we show up at someone’s door and we are there to pick up one person and that person isn’t there and somebody else happens to be there, there’s nothing bureaucratically that keeps us from getting people caught up in that. And so I certainly think that the tone of the enforcement is different. And even here in upstate New York, I had spoken to folks in the legal aid community that actually saw, even in these very marginalized communities near the Northern border where border patrol operates with impunity in that a hundred mile radius, at least they saw that party enforcement program for all its faults having some trickle down effects for discretion. And I think now the discretion has been opened up in a different way where people in border patrol have operated with impunity. And so the question is also, in the current era, where are we going to see accountability for some of the abuses that for sure were in place before. Border patrol has literal blood on their hands for that sort of happened at the border in detentions, sexual abuse, a recent suicide of a Cuban man, threats of mass suicide. And we know that the internal accountability for CVP is very thin. We also know that ICE, as with a lot of law enforcement, has had a disproportionate amount of power. There’s a current lawsuit of a Connecticut woman who reports and alleges that an ICE agent for years terrorized her under the threat of rape and that he would subject her to deportation. Question is going to be will the current administration actually subject those individuals to accountability? Right? And so that I think is also, it’s not that the issues I wouldn’t necessarily say are radically different, but where will the accountability come?
Nima: Yeah, I mean, you know, the idea that even what we are hearing as, you know, liberal policy proposals, talking about immigration reform, all of them still pretty much, you know, maintain this idea of border security as being this paramount idea that always needs to be a part of the discussion. Doing this really doesn’t deal at all on purpose with the nature of a border itself. It doesn’t question how borders came to be and how borders themselves are violent acts born of colonialism and obviously maintained by rampant militarism. Can you kind of talk to us about how the language is used to reinforce that and maybe possible ways out of that?
Shannon Gleeson: So I often think about, going back to your first comment about or set of conversations around immigrant criminality, Beto O’Rourke often talks about El Paso as being, you know, the safest city. And for us as liberals, we were real happy with that, right? Cause they have proximity to the the US Mexico border. But it’s almost our comfort with El Paso being a really safe city requires us to close our eyes to what’s happening in Juarez, in the Valley that runs along it. The Texas Observer did an awesome long-form piece on the Narco violence that’s happening there. And so border security, not only does it require us to think more broadly about human security trans nationally, but then also aside from the ridiculousness of creating physical barriers that not only impact, the only impact of pushing migrants has had two impacts. One is pushing migrants into more dangerous points of crossing and also really ceasing the cyclical nature of that migration. So not that people aren’t coming, but now that they, they aren’t necessarily going back. So to get out of our conversation around border security, I think going back to the question of open borders, the question was posed in an earlier conversation, well does open borders really just mean no borders? We can have a back and forth about that, but I think essentially it does require us to head at least in the direction of that conversation.
Adam: Yeah, I mean the whole thing misses like the violence of the whole thing. And this is all, this is really just an iteration and extension of westward Indian Wars. I mean quite honestly, we talked about anti and the hatred of indigenous people, which is what Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz mentioned when we interviewed her, that so much contempt for the people from Latinx communities is a manifestation, even if they don’t even know it, of anti-indigenous biases. It’s like saying, what are your thoughts about an open border between Israel-Palestine? Or between, you know, 1880s vanguard of white colonialism? It’s kind of just missing the point, which is why the conversation we should be having, now that I’m sermonizing, is about reparations. It should be about writing someone a fucking check. Now we’re not having that conversation. We’re having conversations about maybe I’ll let you scrub my toilets and not arrest you. It’s obscene.
Shannon Gleeson: Well, yeah, and Todd Miller was just here on campus. Some of you maybe got a chance to see him, but his talk was amazing because he, and I recommend his book to you, he talks about the elasticity of borders. So the US border is really not just the Northern and the Southern border. He talks about border patrol outfits in Puerto Rico, border patrol outfits in the DR. Thinking about Mexico’s Southern border as being a key part of the investments that we’re making in border security and the kind of ethos of the Department of Homeland Security that sees us in very imperialistic ways and has actually invested, and this is the entirety of his book, in training of borders and creation of border patrol apparatus across the world. And so it’s not, what’s at stake isn’t just the viability of the US-Mexico border or, you know, the Canadian border, but it’s really what are the practices that we’re putting in place? The genocide in Israel is, we can see replicated exactly in much of the training, not only of police, but also border patrol tactics here. And so these things aren’t disconnected. Right? And so yeah, that’s a much harder conversation to have. But it certainly is one that, you know, if we stay in thinking about border security in the terms of, you know, kind of these physical barriers at the Southern border, I mean we’ve had over 20 years of this. This isn’t new, right? Operation Wetback, going all the way back, um, Operation Gatekeeper throughout the nineties. Joseph Nevins has written a lot about this. These are not new conversations to be having, but we have lots of empirical data to show that they don’t work.
Shannon Gleeson: So even if that is your goal, it’s not working.
Adam: Right. It’s like when people say the war on drugs isn’t working. I’m like, it’s not supposed work.
Nima: It’s actually working exactly the way it is supposed to work.
Adam: It’s supposed to be a racist enforcement regime. So it is working.
Nima: Um, so talking about work, to wrap us up, what, uh, Shannon are you working on these days? What can we be looking out for?
Shannon Gleeson: Sure. One of the pieces of research that I’ve been working with labor and employment lawyer, Kate Griffith here on campus is looking at the impacts of immigration enforcement, not solely on undocumented communities, but also those who have other forms of precarious status. And so we’ve been doing a lot of research in the Haitian and Central American community in the New York City Metro area to understand, for example, the precarity of temporary protected status. And again, to broaden the conversation beyond simply what is the impact of immigration enforcement. It’s not just the 11 to 12 million individuals who are undocumented, but other folks as well. Um, the other big debate happening right now, aside from the border, is the cancellation of this program, which has provided temporary relief for decades for the Central American community and almost 10 years for the Haitian community. I have another project where we are looking at the role of local communities in implementing federal reform with a specific focus on DACA and with my colleague Els de Graauw at Baruch, we’ve been focusing in California, New York and Texas at what does it take to create benefit programs that flow from federal openings? So DACA was this program that was put in place, but it didn’t all of a sudden manifest overnight. It took the work of local governments, local philanthropic organizations, local community organizations. And then lastly, I want to make a plug for a project that I’ve been working on with sociologist, Xóchitl Bada, at the University of Illinois, Chicago, where we’re really interested in the transnational aspect of immigrant rights organizing and talking with, for example, organizations in Mexico City who’ve been working to hold the Mexican government accountable, not only to the abuses that Central Americans are facing in Mexico, but also holding the US government accountable for the abuses that immigrant workers, including guest workers, are facing. And how does this kind of dualistic relationship between civil society and both the United States and the Mexican government as both a country of that sends migrants but also sent, a transit country, how do we think about this advocacy in a transnational context? So that’s what I’ve been up to.
Nima: So, not that much. (Audience laughter.)
Shannon Gleeson: Not that much. With a deep interest in seeing where the labor movement is going to move on some of these issues.
Nima: That’s fantastic and I think that’s a great place to leave it. Shannon Gleeson sociologist, author, Associate Professor of Labor Relations, Law and History here at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Shannon, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.
Shannon Gleeson: Thanks.
Nima: This has been amazing and uh, that will do it for us today. Thank you for coming everyone here in Ithaca. Thanks everyone for listening of course. Thanks again to our guest Shannon Gleeson and a very special thanks to Leah Sweet, Mat Gorney and Andrea Potochniak and the extremely patient and generous staff of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art here on campus at Cornell. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Our production consultant is Josh Kross. Production assistant Trendel Lightburn. The research and writing for this episode, that I want to really point out was so incredibly amazing for us, was by Julianne Tveten. Our newsletter is by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music by Grandaddy. Thank you everyone. We’ll catch you next time.
This episode of Citations Needed was recorded live at Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, New York, on October 25, 2019. It was released on Wednesday, November 13, 2019.
Transcription by Morgan McAslan.