Preface to The Politics of Immigration by Jane Guskin and David L. Wilson

Is the United States a Nation of Immigrants?

It’s often said that the United States is a country built by immigrants. It’s true that the nation was founded by recent arrivals to this land—at the expense of the original inhabitants (Native Americans), and with the slave labor of people brought here by force from Africa. It’s also true that a majority of the country’s current population are descendants of immigrants.

Certainly, immigration is not new to this country. Why, then, does each successive wave of newcomers spark so much controversy?

As this book goes to press, immigration is again a major political issue. Raids and detention are on the rise, tearing apart families and communities. Congress is promising tougher enforcement, and maybe a “guest worker” program, to keep immigrants in their place.

Resistance is also swelling, and taking new forms. In the spring of 2006, immigrants and their supporters hit the streets with massive demonstrations. Hundreds of thousands of people, of all ages and colors, marched with U.S. flags and signs reading “We Are America.”

A year later, churches are banding together to forge a new “sanctuary” movement,  framing it as an explicitly political act in support of immigrants and their families.  Communities respond to raids with outrage, and public expressions of solidarity. Organizations across the country sponsor a “night of 1,000 conversations” to discuss immigration.

Every day, more people are realizing that immigrants are here to stay. They are our friends, our parents, our partners, our neighbors, ourselves. Either we condemn them to live as a permanent underclass, or we look for ways to integrate them into a more just and inclusive society.
As the Los Angeles–based rapper Jae-P puts it in his song “Vecino” (Neighbor):

I don’t come to beg, or for you to give me anything
I come for the dollar, and to provide for my family
Your country is big and needs me
If there wasn’t work, we wouldn’t be here
Remember, your grandparents did my job
They came as immigrants searching for the same thing
Study the history of this country
You’ll see that everyone came to build
I know you like me, you eat my food
I know you like me, you ask me for help
Don’t be afraid of me if I don’t look like you
If I take off my skin, I’m exactly like you
I’m your neighbor and will always be
Learn Spanish and I’ll learn English
So we can understand each other much better
Together we can pull this great nation forward
—Jae-P, “Vecino”
(Excerpts translated into English by Jane Guskin)