Juan Gonzalez, co-host of “Democracy Now!” and author of “Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America,” spoke at Ithaca College last week. Ithaca Now had the opportunity to speak with Gonzalez about the recent debate surrounding the DREAM Act and Congress’ push to develop immigration reform. To read more about his visit, check out the Ithacan.
How did the topic of immigration reform come to be so important to you?
I felt through the work and my research that I had done in Harvest of Empire, that the whole issue of how it came to be that there was such an explosion of Latino population in the country since WWII was really not understood. It didn’t happen by accident, it didn’t happen because all of the sudden in every country in the Caribbean basin people started figuring, let’s go to the United States. But in fact, that there were direct policies of the United States government and of businesses that invested in Latin America to one, recruit large numbers of Latinos to come to this country as cheap labor, two, because of government policies that disrupted the economies in the countries, like El Salvador and Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala, that forced people to flee and that really, you cannot understand this enormous demographic change that’s occurred in America without first getting a better understanding of what was the United States doing in Latin America before all these Latinos came. When I understood that I had a fairly good understanding of how that happened, I realized that I had to get much more involved in getting out the word as people were trying to grapple with immigration problems.
What’s next for immigration reform? Can we expect some kind of change in the near future?
I think the main thing right now, first, the DREAMers have been trying to put a lot of pressure on the Obama administration and the government to slow or stop the mass deportations, because if the government now is pretty much in agreement that there has to be some sort of a legalization process, why are we continuing to deport so many people every day? If there’s already sort of general agreement that we’re going to find a way to legalize the people that are here, why do we keep trying to deport them? So I think that a halt or at least a sharp slowdown of the mass deportations would help a whole lot of communities that are being torn apart, families are being split up, mothers are being sent back to their home countries, or fathers, so that’s one thing.