[The first in a series on some of the broader American Studies issues and stakes in the 2012 presidential election. As always, and doubly so with controversial topics like these, your takes are very welcome!]
On the stakes of 2012 for a core American issue of immigration policy, law, and narratives.
I’ve written a good deal on the DREAM Act and concurrent contemporary issues and public figures in this space (more than most other current events/issues, I’d say), and I don’t want to repeat myself. I also hope to have a book coming out at some point in the not-too-distant future on parallel historical and national issues (watch this space!), and so I don’t want to steal my own thunder. So for today I’ll simply say this: I think there are few 21st-century issues more crucial than the question of how we treat undocumented immigrants, and more exactly those undocumented immigrants who exemplify the very best of what America has been and can be. The DREAM Act is designed to benefit precisely that latter category, and its failure to pass the Senate (including one of its Republican co-sponsors voting against it) last year represented the triumph of bigotry and xenophobia over logic, empathy, and American community.
President Obama hasn’t always gone with those more positive perspectives on this issue either, but this past week, he definitely did so: issuing an executive order version of the DREAM Act that, as I wrote in a Facebook post on it, seems to me to be one of the boldest and best things an American president has ever done. While it’s unsurprisingly difficult to pin Mitt Romney down on this issue, there’s no question that during the Republican primaries, and particularly in arguments with Texas Governor Rick Perry, Romney staked out a far more anti-immigrant position than either Perry or Obama, suggesting for example the ludicrous concept of “self-deportation” as a viable option for undocumented immigrants. Since Obama’s act was an executive order, it would be instantly reversible by a future such order—and there’s no reliable reason to think a President Romney would not take that step.
So that’s one pretty clear American Studies stake in this election, I’d say: whether we continue to pursue a more empathetic, logical, and genuinely American policy toward kids like these (and, hopefully, toward their older peers); or whether we give in to the kinds of bigotry and xenophobia that have driven so many of the Republican-controlled state legislatures in their anti-immigration efforts over the last couple of years. Some of the issues and stakes I’ll address in this week’s series are pretty complex, but I’ll be honest: when it comes to the DREAM Act, and to the attitudes to which support or opposition for it connect, I don’t know if a contrast gets more simple and stark than this.
Next issue tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?
6/18 Memory Day nominee: James Montgomery Flagg, the talented child prodigy and turn of the 20th century artist and illustrator whose most lasting legacy is his creation of an iconic, definitely patriotic, perhaps jingoistic and disturbing, and certainly striking and memorable American figure.