Monday, May 31, 2010

Civil Disobedience June 1, 2010 12 noon Federal Plaza NYC

"Being conscientiously of opinion that our current immigration laws betray our core principles of democracy, inclusiveness and justice; that they allow for Arizona's immoral and unconstitutional SB1070; and that their continued enforcement through detention and deportation separates families and destroys communities; we are compelled to escalate our call for Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the face of inaction from our nation's elected representatives. 

"Today we stand in solidarity with the millions who contribute to our communities and economy while being denied full access to them.  Our act of civil disobedience is performed with the belief that our laws can—and should—be better, and that our nation's leaders cannot stand on the sidelines as our society's core values are betrayed by a broken and immoral immigration system. 

"We invite the enforcement of the law upon ourselves in the hope that our arrest today will be the catalyst for principled leadership from the President and Congress and for meaningful Comprehensive Immigration Reform that will put an end to the arrests and other mistreatments faced by our friends, families, congregations, and communities."


Friday, May 21, 2010

ESOL classes for Jamaican students

 A conversation on a TESOL listserv has caught my attention. A poster asked if students from Jamaica should be put in a English for Speakers of Other Languages class. Several replies posted told her to do so based on the fact that Jamaicans don't speak "standard English". I know of older children who have been put into ESOL classes even though they only speak English. I consider myself a native English speaker, even though it wasn't my first language, it's my primary language and now my only language. Perception can play too big a part in how "fluent" people are judged to be. Below is my response to the thread.


This conversation bothers me because I have heard of other non-American, but native English speaking people being placed in ESOL classes. I'm not calling anyone here racist or prejudiced, but there have been instances I know of where those really were motivating factors in putting non-white, native English speakers into inappropriate classes. As a community, I think we should be sensitized to this situation and guard against judging Englishes from non-First World countries as being inferior or non-standard.

I know of Africans, Asians, and Caribbean people who were all put in ESOL classes although they were taught in English through their entire academic life, and are completely fluent and functional. They're accents were judged by middle-class white Americans as "too foreign" but *I* could easily understand them. I've even heard of British-born people required to take the TOEFL. They were of Asian descent and regardless of their transcript and passport, were required to prove their English proficiency! Their Asian names and student visas trumped the obvious fact that they were native English speakers. Another example that illustrates that people are judged as fluent or not depending on their race is students who are white but speak French or Italian are often judged to be more fluent than they are because there's less stigma associated with their accents (they're even considered "romantic") even if they're test scores are equal to a Dominican student.

Also, judging some world Englishes to be "non-standard" makes me cringe because there IS no defined standard English. Secondly, many people who come from countries or societies where English is an official language along a creole or indigenous language can code switch quite easily. This includes children. Finally, a lot of children from the U.S, Canada, UK, Australia, or NZ do not have the academic writing (perhaps spoken) language skills necessary. (See this article.

As ESOL students still are in some schools considered "remedial" and often tracked into lower classes (which reflects more prejudices) I think it's even more important that students are correctly placed. (Even better if the attitudes toward non-ESOL students changes, but that's another topic.) For Jamaican (I'm assuming Black) students, this is an especially important issue. As a non-white student who was racially tracked, I know that the long-term effects are real.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010



Non-white/Person of Color

Adopted Korean/KAD



Adoptive parents/Forever Family


Indian/Native American

Concentration Camp/Internment Camp



Sunday, May 9, 2010

Adoption Immigration Studied and Then….?

At the end of April I went the Adoption: Secret Histories, Public Policies Conference. It was presented by the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture at MIT. I particularly was interested in the session titled, "Transnational Adoption as Immigration Policy: Exceptions, Parallels, and Dilemmas". There were three presenters.  
  • "Adoption and (as) Immigration: Exceptions, Parallels, and Dilemmas" was presented by Sara Dorow from the University of Alberta 
  • "'They're Cute When They're Young': Adoption and the 'Racelessness' of Babies" was the talk given by Karen Dubinsky of Queen's University
  • U.S. Immigration Policy and the Embrace of Transnational Adoption in the 1950s and 1960s" was Karen Balcom's topic. She's from McMaster University

Darrow's presentation seemed mostly about ethnic and national identity, both as perceived by adoptees themselves and their adoptive parents. I had a problem with the fact that she interviewed children and their adoptive parents but no adults who had been internationally adopted. However, I did find phrase that she used interesting: culturally naturalized. 

Balcom's presentation illustrated that children as orphans and refugees have historically been used politically. She also juxtaposed adoption history and general immigration laws of the U.S. which showed that adoption often leads immigration policy change and people trying change permanent immigration policy are often stymied by adoption advocates.

Dubinsky noted that the immigrants adopted by Americans are desirable as babies but are not desired as adult immigrants. This is because babies and children up to pre-teen years are "raceless". Liberals wanted to experiment with interracial families (despite racelessness!). Anti-communists wanted to seem charitable to the world during the Cold War.

I wish the session allowed more discussion about adoption and immigration with points made with by the panelists based on their research. 

I would have asked Dr. Darrow to guess what adult adoptees would have said about being "born again" Canadians (or Americans). Does that mean their lives before their "rebirth" was unmeaningful? I would have asked the other adoptees in the room if they were perceived by white people as "culturally naturalized" as adults. Or, if they've been asked where they're from, where they learned such good English/French/Norwegian/etc. after they're no longer easily identifiable as adoptees like they were when they were at their adoptive parents' sides. 

Dr. Dubinsky's provocative title compares raceless babies to racialized adult immigrants but seems to present them as separate people. Doesn't it make sense to also study those of us who might have started as raceless babies but grow up to be politicized, racialized adults? What does that mean to us personally? Will that have an effect on future adoption policies and practices? Maybe her, upcoming book, Babies Without Borders: Adoption and Migration Across the Americas, will ask and answer these questions. 

The presentation from Balcom seems to have the most implications for the most people. If international adoption laws leads change and justifies the draconian laws that allow first world adopters to get the children they desire at the expense of other immigrants, clear lines need to be drawn so that adoption supporters know all the repercussions of their advocacy. I think the timeline of general immigration history makes it obvious how racist our past is. I would hope that anyone who adopts transracially would act to make amends for this history and advocate for a more just future. 

I also would have asked what conclusions and recommendations could be supported by their studies. I want to know if my opinions and calls for action are supported by these professors' studies. And for the record, I'd also like to know if these academics are adoptive parents or adoptees and what their personal stake is in this research. 

Side note:
The conference concluded on May 2. That meant that I missed the May Day CIR rallies in New York. I saw no shows of support for comprehensive immigration reform at the conference. What a shame.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Classism in the Adoption Community

I think one reason that the adoption community does not readily take up the immigration cause is classism. While the community now acknowledges “racial difference” (although not always actual racism), classism remains a taboo topic for adoptees and adoptive parents. It’s discussed when we talk about birth parents and exploitation of poor and disempowered women, but the privilege of wealth is denied by adoptees and even more vehemently by adoptive parents. 

Adoptee organizers and the most outspoken representatives of adoptees overwhelmingly come from the middle and upper-classes. I’ve seen this reflected in numerous ways which effectively shuts out lower- and working-class adoptees. For example, in adult adoptee-run organizations I have heard board members say that only social workers (who seem to be overrepresented in the adoptee community) should run the programs, especially the mentorship programs. Adoptee trips tend toward expensive ski trips and golf outings. “Gatherings” of adoptees often involve costly travel and lodging, taking time off from work, and socializing well beyond the means of wage-earners. Less privileged adoptees end up not participating and not being heard, and so they become invisible.

Adoptive parents often claim that they are not rich. They even fundraise online to pay for their adoptions! Adoptive parents with all the trappings of privilege will argue that they are middle class. Their accoutrements included nannies and housekeeping staff, international vacations, advanced degrees, and 2 (or more) cars in the garage of the big house or condo that they own. Like most Americans, adoptive parents in the USA claim to be middle-class, even if by most measures they are wealthy. They fundraise so that they won’t go into debt paying for the adoption instead of giving up any of the luxuries they’ve become accustomed to. (Yes, these are sweeping generalizations I’m indulging in.)

Immigrants, of course, range from conspicuously wealthy to pathetically poor, but the poor are the people that are in the mind’s eye when we talk about immigrant rights and reform. The wretched masses picking our tomatoes, mowing our lawns, delivering our take-out pad Thai, yelling orders for pork fried rice, running the liquor stores, and cleaning the behinds of our babies and invalids are the people who need reform most desperately. Clearly members of the adoption community in America are not THESE kinds of immigrants! We’re not poor! We speak English! We value education! We have respect for The Law! We work hard! 

When we talk of exploited birth mothers and powerless women in grinding poverty in foreign countries, we make them into nobly suffering victims. It’s the white man’s burden to educate and rescue them, or at the very least their children, from manual jobs and menial labor. Never mind that manual work and menial labor are honorable jobs. Working in restaurants, factories, on farms, or at market places is not demeaning. Only those who judge those occupations as inferior would abhor these kinds of work and look down on the people doing it. Even in the worst cases of exploitation, it’s the exploitation, not the workers, who should be considered inferior.

Failing to identify with the poor in this country or in sending countries is one of the reasons that the adoption community does not take interest in immigration issues. But, before we can do that, we have to first acknowledge the classism in our own community.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Response to the REPAIR Proposal by Chuck Schumer

I feel strongly that this legislation is a bad proposal. I also realize that it's trying to play to the various political stances so that it has a chance of passing by appearing tough on "illegal immigration". I don't think the proponents of comprehensive immigration reform should support this bill based on social justice criteria. It is too narrowly focused and short-sighted. Schumer really isn't in favor of humane reform.

1. Border security
Personally, I think that allocating funds for increased border control that restrict the movement of labor is misguided. NAFTA is a free trade agreement and we should have a matching free labor agreement and instead funnel our limited resources to combating drug smuggling, human trafficking, and arms dealing which would also mean dealing with the demand for these things that Americans create. Militarizing the border sends a message of aggression to the rest of the world, threatens the physical safety of American citizens who may be mistaken for unauthorized border crossers, may have a detrimental effect on wildlife in border regions, and may injure otherwise law-abiding people who would be unable to access or navigate bureaucratic procedures for entry of the U.S.

  Internal security
Anyhow, I think that the requirement of fingerprinting of foreign nationals does little increase the security of the U.S., especially given that some of the most egregious terrorist acts perpetuated within US borders has been committed by US citizens. Therefore, all American citizens, resident aliens, and visitors must be fingerprinted and checked by authorities for criminal ties and records. Of course this would be impossible to pass politically, so instead we should think of a less invasive, more effective way to protect the funding law enforcement and first responders' such as police, firefighters, and EMTs rather than immigration enforcement.

2. Deportation & Detention
Any legislation that does not also guarantee the right of detained people to legal representation within reasonable proximity to their normal residence should be considered a bad proposal. Whether people are here with visas and green cards or completely without status, the current practices of moving detainees to places far from family, legal representatives, and other supportive community while in the custody of what amounts to the prison system is unjust and inhumane. The law should also grant the same right to speedy resolution for immigrants that it does for accused criminals.

3. Employment
Since most immigration is fueled by the economic needs of people, encouraging economic growth in socially responsible ways would be a more effective way to end competition for highly skilled and unskilled jobs by American labor and foreign workers. The U.S. should partner with local businesses abroad to create jobs that would improve the quality of life globally and in the US businesses and government should fund more education to produce quality high-tech workers in the US., including doctors and nurses. The employment and labor situation does not exist in an immigration vacuum and the push and pull factors cannot be mitigated by immigration enforcement.

4. Family reunification
The other major reason for migration according to the Migration Policy Institute is family reunification. Current definitions of immediate family reflect a nuclear family bias which does not even acknowledge step-children, let alone same-sex partners, extended family, and biological family of adoptees. For this reason, I think family reunification visas should be scrapped in favor of a system which would allow American citizens and permanent residents to petition for anyone for a certain amount of individuals, rather than an arbitrary list of people who the US government designates as "family".

5. Current unauthorized immigrants already in the U.S.
This legislation does not really spell out what the process or fines would be. I don't think I can form an opinion without know that. There should be provisions for low-income immigrants in regard to any proposed fines and fees. The language of this law also implies that immigrants without authorization do not currently pay taxes. This language should be revised to reflect the reality that immigrants do already pay taxes and should be credited for it. It should also reflect provisions that would fund English classes since people who wish to stay in the country have English language skills. What does that mean, exactly? What are "basic citizenship skills"? I think that the definition of these "skills" has to be more clearly defined.

6. Commission on Wartime Treatment of European Americans, Irish, and Australians
This clear favoritism and bias for presumably Caucasian, English speaking people is unjust and reminds of the worst laws of the past which blatantly discriminated against Asians and other non-white/non-European immigrants in the past. Although it will be effectively inconsequential, including this language and continued favoritism because of political pandering, is an insult to the majority of people who seek to immigrate to the US since we mostly come from Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa.