To illustrate the human toll of the immigration debate, New York Times reporter Julia Preston described devastating raids on meatpacking plants in Marshalltown, Iowa that ended with the deportation of hundreds of workers back to Mexico.
Preston, who is the national immigration correspondent for The Times, spoke yesterday afternoon about policy concerns with illegal immigration and its social impact as part of “¡México Hoy!”, a David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies series on U.S.-Mexico relations.
Titled “Where There Are Mexicans, There Is Mexico: Mexican Immigrants in the United States,” Preston’s talk emphasized the significance of the Mexican immigrant community.
“It is very different when you have one country, one foreign language, and so many illegal immigrants,” she said.
Preston acknowledged that “the word ‘legal’ is a very hard sound byte to address,” making it harder for the government to explore legalization policies.
Preston later said that while immigration is a civil issue, it is often thought of as a criminal matter.
“The words criminal and alien have gotten into the debate in a very inappropriate way,” she said.
The problem of illegal immigrants has been a powerful political issue in recent years because of conflicts over services, especially the increased burden on local schools and hospitals, Preston said.
While this new population is helping to meet the demand for labor, “how those people are incorporated into American society will have a enormous impact on the tenure of American society,” Preston said in an interview after the event.
According to President of Fuerza Latina Juan S. Arias ’09, the topic of immigration on campus has died down since the protest against a House bill in 2006 which would have classified illegal immigrants and anyone who abetted them as felons.
“I am, and I think a couple of the group members are, following the immigration debate,” he said. “But it just hasn’t been that big. The candidates haven’t made too big a deal about it.”
Preston ended her talk by expressing optimism.
“Our society has had tremendous capability of turning new immigrants into assets in the past,” she said.
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