ASA Meeting – Final Plenary Session

In addition to the plenary session which I’ll talk about below, I attended a couple of teaching workshops sessions that are probably of interest only to me, but they provide me with materials for

Things that suck and make me run out of the room within the first 20 minutes of a session

Notes to my presenting colleagues: please, do NOT read the 50-page research paper you’ve written, thinking you can cram it all within the 15 minutes allotted to you… it’s BORING, incomprehensible and deadly especially for an 8:30am session to someone like me, that is NOT a morning person at all.

Oh, and I know we’re supposed to hate and trash powerpoint, but you know what, having the basic points of your paper on slides REALLY help keeping track of what you’re talking about and where you’re going (however, kudos to Bruce Western who took the whole powerpoint presentation to a whole new level of fancy editing and transition and animation!)

However, if you do use a powerpoint presentation, please check BEFORE that the background color you use for your slides will not make your audience’s eyes bleed.

Things that totally rock!

Meeting someone whom I already consider a friend, VastLeft! We had

  • matching polo shirts (not intentional, I swear, although he had told me what he would wear, I just picked the shirt at the top of pile in my suitcase)
  • a nice lunch
  • a great conversation

VL was, of course, a perfect gentleman (although between blog posts and comments, it’s like I already knew him).

I had a great time. I hope he did too and that we can do that again!

Things that don’t suck

The final plenary session : Barriers and Bridges – A Dialogue on US-Mexico Immigration, moderated by New York Times immigration editor Julia Preston, and with a panel with Douglas Massey (check out his book, Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in the Era of Economic Integration) and Jorge Castaneda, former foreign minister of Mexico during the Fox administration, from 2000 to 2003 (his book, Ex-Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants). Since it was a dialogue, my notes are a bit disjointed.

Imagine that: a panel on a serious issue where the panelists are asked intelligent questions and where they have the time to respond and no one interrupts them until they’re done so that they can establish context and background to their answers… what a concept!

Bottom line: the current immigration situation is absurd: the backlog at the INS, the stupid wall, the militarization of the border, the raids, all these things, according to Doug Massey to increasing illegal immigration into the US… before the current trend of nativism (which increased after 9/11… never mind that Mexico has never been a base of terrorism, no terrorist has ever come from Mexico… as far as terrorism is concerned in North America, the US should look North: Canada… there are real cells there and there is recruitment going on).

How has this increased immigration? Because the strengthening of border controls makes it difficult for Mexican to enter the US but it also makes it hard for them to go home the same way. Before the current situation, individual men would come, work here for years, send back remittances. Some of them would settle but many would return. Now, it is entire families who come undocumented, because they know it is going to be hard to return. This situation creates hybrid families as far as immigration status is concerned. One spouse may have a visa but not the other, some of the children were brought over from Mexico (therefore undocumented) while others are born in the US.

The result is that whereas the Latino population used to be concentrated in the Southwestern states (where there are still in large numbers), they are now in the 50 states and especially in the South (Massey conducted studies in North Carolina, among other states) where nativist reactions have been quite strong.

Everyone on the panel agrees that there is no such thing as the status quo, just a lousy and absurd situation and that there will be no resolution until the change of the guard in the executive, whoever that happens to be. At the same time, immigration will probably not be a big topic in the campaign: McCain is at odds with his base on this (which means he’s not an insane nativist convinced that La Reconquista is on the way and La Raza is its 5th column) and Obama cannot take any chances with Latinos since they can give him a 6% (Latinos are 9% of the voting population, and Obama should get about 70% of them) advantage right off the bat (that was Castaneda’s point, of course, he stated, it’s not what matters but still) whereas McCain seems to have already conceded the Latino vote.

Both agree that any immigration reform will include some components: regularization for some undocumented, guest work program (the right wants what amounts to indentured servants by giving employers the visas, whereas Massey is a big promoter of giving the visas to immigrants and let them find their niche on the labor market).

Castaneda stated that no immigration policy can be separated from policies to push for the development of Mexico… right before the Bush administration took office in 2000, Castaneda and his groups discussed this with them. The Bush administration refused to consider the development side of things, just the immigration side… with great results (is there anything these people haven’t totally FUBARed? Don’t answer that) but Castaneda means that this is essential and if the powers that be are so concerned about immigration, then they should put their money where their mouth is.

What about the argument that the American people would never go for that? That Americans don’t want to pay for foreign development and that the US is not in the business of developing countries? Well, there is ample historical evidence to the contrary from the Marshall Plan to the Iraq War and lots of examples in-between. Massey added that it works, citing the case of the Spanish and Portuguese integration within the European Union.

The story here is that there is a persistent wage gap between Southern and Northern Europe. When Portugal and Spain were considered for membership into the EU, they had to undergo drastic structural adjustments. At the same time, the EU poured a lot of money into the economies of these countries so that when they became part of the EU, with open borders, the shock would be more easily absorbed, there would be no massive emigration out of Portugal and Spain. It worked. Actually, Portuguese and Spanish ex-pats returned.

Finally, when it comes to immigration reform, recent history shows that piecemeal legislation does not work. It has to be the whole package or nothing.