Social scientist Dr. Alvaro Huerta

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An interdisciplinary scholar, Huerta unpacks his text, Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate.

Dr. Alvaro Huerta is a visiting scholar at UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center and teaches on various fields. Raised in an East L.A. housing project, he's the son of Mexican immigrants and the product of public schools, from inner-city schools to elite University of California universities. He holds a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from UC Berkeley, where his dissertation focused on Mexican immigrants and their social networks in L.A.'s informal economy. Huerta is also published widely in academic journals, magazines and newspapers. In his book, Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate, he reassesses critical political and cultural issues unfolding along the U.S./Mexico border.


Tavis: The legal status of some 11 million undocumented immigrants remains front and center in our political debate. Both parties know that they have to address meaningful immigration reform in order to engage Latino voters in upcoming elections.

Dr. Alvaro Huerta is the author of a recent manifesto: “Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate Towards a Humanistic Paradigm.” He’s a visiting scholar at UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. Dr. Huerta, good to have you on this program.

Dr. Alvaro Huerta: Yes, thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: I want to start with this list I have here in my hand. So as I said at the top of the conversation, everybody knows that the – most everybody knows that the Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive measure in June of last year, but it’s the House – no surprise here – where this immigration reform legislation has been stalled.

So days ago Republicans released their own set of principles that they hope will guide and frame – speaking of framing – will frame this conversation about how we might get to some legislation, maybe in small pieces, but to some legislation to advance the notion of immigration reform.

I want to put on the screen now, Dr. Huerta, what these six Republican principles are, and hear from you as to whether or not it sounds like a humanistic paradigm.

Huerta: Okay.

Tavis: Number one on the Republican list of principles for what ought to guide this debate, border security and interior enforcement must come first. Number two, implement entry-exit visa tracking system. Number three, employment verification and workplace enforcement.

Number four, reforms to the legal immigration system. Number five, youth – and by youth they mean here that youth will not be punished for their parents’ mistakes, they say, but they must meet certain eligibility standards, have a college degree, or serve in the military.

And number six on these Republican principles, individuals living outside the rule of law – and this is the big one, but they frame it “living outside the rule of law” – no special path to citizenship. They must learn English, they must pay back taxes, they must go through a rigorous background check, and not need government support.

So number six, of course, is the big one here. Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats in the House, has already said that that last issue, that point number six, is a deal-breaker for her and for her caucus.

Does that list from the Republicans sound to you like a, to take your subtitle, that we’re moving towards a humanistic paradigm?

Huerta: Well, I think we’re moving against a humanistic paradigm, or we have been going towards a Big Brother state when it comes to immigrants in this country.

Also, we look at what the NSA’s doing with surveillance; this is just an extension of that. We see, after 9/11, the border enforcement, where billions of dollars have been invested in the border, where we have surveillance with drones, with ICE officials being doubled, tripled.

We have an enforcement policy that is just a continuation of what the Republicans are dictating at the moment. So it’s very disappointing what they’re saying, but at the same time, it’s not surprising.

It’s indicative of why they lost the last election, and where 75 percent of the Latino vote went to a Democrat.

Tavis: Speaking of a Democrat who picked up most of that vote, Barack Obama, I can see now this thing is going to get ugly.

Huerta: Right.

Tavis: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or some soothsayer to see this coming. So Nancy Pelosi, as I intimated a moment ago, has already said this last point from Republicans is a deal-breaker for her and her caucus.

Not to my surprise, President Obama has basically said, let’s talk about it. There may be a way to do this. So he picks up all these votes from Latinos, and he’s already made it clear that he’s willing to negotiate on this last point. What do you make of that?

Huerta: I think he operates from a position of weakness. The Democrats control the Senate and the presidency, and the way it looks, Hillary Clinton’s going to be president in 2016.

There is no viable Republican that will win Hillary Clinton at the moment. So what Barack Obama and the Democrats are doing is they’re negotiating a position that is not in the interest of the Latino voter, that is not in the interest of Latino immigrants, and also Asian immigrants and immigrants that come from Haiti and other countries.

The problem is not the six, the probably is one through six. Because this is not an immigration reform proposal, this is an enforcement, border proposal. It’s all about enforcement. It’s all about draconian measures to control immigrants in this country.

To track them, and at one point, when the economy takes a downfall, we’re going to look at mass deportation. So there is nothing good about these proposals whatsoever.

Tavis: There are two things I want to respond to. Number one, I’m just laughing at your comment about Hillary Clinton, that she looks to be president in 2016. She thought that in 2008 and it didn’t quite happen, so you never know who’s going to become not even from her right flank, but from her left flank.

Huerta: Right.

Tavis: So Barack Obama’s president, and nobody saw him coming. I take your point and it was funny, but she thought that in 2008 and it didn’t quite happen. So we will see what happens in 2016.

Having said that, though, point number two, when you say that the whole problem of this entire list – I want to put this list back up again right quick, Jonathan, because some of these issues are issues that the president has already pretty much agreed on.

Huerta: Right.

Tavis: There are many Americans, I think, who agree on some of these. Number one, border security.

Huerta: Right.

Tavis: People believe in border security. Implementing an entry-exit visa tracking system – okay, maybe we can debate that. Employment verification and workplace enforcement – they’re making people all across the country get voter IDs to vote.

So clearly, if you’re here and an undocumented worker, you’re not going to get past point number three.

Huerta: Right.

Tavis: So tell me more of why you think this entire list is nonsense.

Huerta: It’s nonsense because it doesn’t take into account that the 11 million workers that are here, are residents, they’re productive. They work. They pay taxes.

Tavis: No doubt.

Huerta: Not only do they pay taxes, but they don’t receive the benefits of those taxes. So undocumented immigrants, thanks to immigration reform, do not qualify for Medicare, do not qualify for Social Security, so they’re putting more into the system than they’re getting out.

So what do they get in return? They’re being punished. There’s more surveillance, there’s more deportations. Almost two million immigrants, undocumented workers, have been deported since Barack Obama took office.

So these are, all these measures are, like you said, already in place, and what the Republicans are trying to do, they’re just doubling down on it. Because the laws are being, the immigration laws and the way the system exists, they are being implemented by the Obama administration.

So what the Republicans want to do is just make them more difficult, stiffer, make it even harder for immigrants to reside in this country.

Tavis: Before I come quickly here to the epicenter of the real purpose of your text, reframing this immigration debate – I want to ask how we do that. But give me your sense, Professor, as to how the Latino community, not that I put you on the spot to speak for all of them.

But if Nancy Pelosi has already drawn the line and the White House, the president, has said well, let’s see if we can figure something out here. If he starts to quiver on this issue of a path to citizenship, what’s going to happen inside the Latino, the Chicano community?

Huerta: Well that’s a good question. I think there’s going to be a lot of Latinos, a lot of Democrats, that are going to support the president, and they’re going to compromise.

The immigrants themselves, they do not compromise on certain issues. The dreamers, for example, the youth, the undocumented youth, are, they’re like the Freedom Riders of the 1960s.

The African Americans and whites that went to the South and fought against Jim Crow. They have a lot of courage, and they actually are the ones that encouraged me to write and to speak out against these issues.

Because they’re willing to cross the border without documentation and come back and get arrested and deported.

Tavis: So you don’t think a piecemeal legislative process is going to work for them?

Huerta: It’s not going to work for them.

Tavis: Right.

Huerta: Because even the dreamers, and a lot of them were Republicans and Democrats, are promising them a pathway to citizenship. They were rejected if their parents don’t get citizenship.

So they’re willing to reject it because based on their values, based on their family values, they are asking for everything or nothing. So if their parents can’t get a legal status, they don’t want legal status.

Tavis: So top-line for me the purpose of this manifesto. Top-line for me how it is that we do, in fact, reframe the Latino immigration debate. How do we move towards a humanistic paradigm?

Huerta: I think the main thing is when we’re looking at immigration reform, it’s not about whether it’s comprehensive or it’s piecemeal. It’s about is it humane, is it just.

Is it about dignity, is it about respect. Do we treat people with respect or do we mistreat them, when those people are the ones that are cleaning our homes, taking care of our elderly, mowing our lawns, allowing the middle class to do certain activities because they don’t have to do the domestic housework.

Allowing the privileged to pursue other opportunities because they have somebody else mowing their lawn. So this is a way Republicans are paying back the same people that serve them on a daily basis.

If Republicans and conservatives truly believe that immigrants are a burden to the society, then they should boycott all goods and services that immigrants produce in this country, which will be impossible.

Because you cannot go to a restaurant, you cannot go to a dry cleaners, you cannot park your car without an immigrant or a fast-food store touching, or servicing, providing those services.

So it’s hypocritical of Republicans and conservatives in particular to talk about immigration and immigrants in such a negative, pejorative manner when they’re benefitting from their labor.

Tavis: So yours is a humane frame.

Huerta: Right.

Tavis: The frame needs to be a humane frame. I take that. Let me ask you this as the exit question. On a scale of one to 10, 10 being absolutely and zero being, one being no way, scale of one to 10 what you think the chances are that by the end of this year something will have been passed, some legislation, comprehensive or piecemeal, will have been passed and signed into law by the president.

Huerta: I think it’s going to be like a negative two. The way the –

Tavis: A negative two.

Huerta: A negative two.

Tavis: So you think after all this –

Huerta: Yeah, nothing’s going to happen

Tavis: – nothing’s going to happen.

Huerta: Nothing’s going to happen. Republicans are worried about the midterm elections in 2014.

Tavis: Right.

Huerta: Paul Ryan is already backtracking from the same principles that he put forward in what you describe. So the Republicans are not going to do anything. What they will do is in 2016, they will try to introduce something, because they know that they’re worried about 75 percent or more Latinos.

Not just Latinos, Asians, or 75 percent or more are going to vote Democrat. This is one of the reasons why they don’t want to give legal status or have undocumented immigrants become citizens, because they know that that’s going to be 11 million potential Democrat voters.

So at the end of the day, for them, it’s about the vote. They’re just paying lip service because they’re afraid of what’s going to happen in 2016.

Tavis: The name of his text, his manifesto, “Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate Towards a Humanistic Paradigm.” Alvaro Huerta, professor, now a visiting scholar at UCLA.

Huerta: UCLA. No, USC (unintelligible).

Tavis: Yeah, in this town you can’t say that. Let me do that again – UCLA. (Laughter)

Huerta: Now that we have a good football team, we’re –

Tavis: Yeah, yeah.

Huerta: – I have to be proud of it.

Tavis: Yeah, I don’t want to get run over in town confusing those two schools. Good to have you on the program.

Huerta: Okay, thank you. Thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: Good to see you.

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Last modified: February 6, 2014 at 2:47 pm