This is my response to Melina Kennedy‘s appearance today on No Limits. Ms. Kennedy is a mayoral candidate. No Limits is a local radio program.

I asked a question about immigration and mayoral initiatives regarding the issue, and was pleased to hear of Ms. Kennedy’s support of the Indiana Compact and keeping immigration under federal purview. Unfortunately, it seems that in many ways immigration is off the radar locally. While Ms. Kennedy referenced SB 590, which pitted state against federal authority, she did not address other initiatives like HB 1402 or the international tuition rates to be charged students without documentation (regardless of how long they’ve lived in the US: if they had been raised here, attended school here, graduated here, paid state and local taxes here, and so forth – you could call it the Anti-DREAM Act, if you like).

Also: the man who presented HB 1402 had no evidence that universities had a problem with students tuition rates, or any data about what percent of students the law would pertain to, or what effect it might have. This was just some guy who thought it would be more fair even though he didn’t previously know that immigrants without legal documentation pay the same state and local taxes that support our universities as do legal residents of Indiana – residency is a tax status. OK, big breath – in, out – and carry on.

I am looking for initiatives in my community that address these issues. The issue is not whether immigrants are or should be here, because they are here. Indianapolis is promoted by the governor, businesses, and economic development committees alike as a “global city” – how will we respond to the changes in our city? Will we renew old allegations surrounding “white flight” with gentrification and continue to marginalize minority groups and the poor? Or can we find new and creative ways to meet this issue and discover approaches wherein we all benefit?

Ms. Kennedy said today that she hopes improvements in early childhood education will be a hallmark of her tenure as mayor. To achieve this goal, she will have to address a myriad of issues plaguing IPS. Getting people to think of IPS as a place to educate their kids is part of that; there are also a whole host of kids already in IPS whose performance suffers from all the traditional reasons that urban students fail to succeed. We need to improve our neighborhoods and to show our kids that there are opportunities for them in life. Many of those kids just lost the opportunity to go to college, no matter how well they do in primary and secondary schools. What will they do instead?

“All the traditional reasons that urban students fail to succeed” are in key ways amplified for children of immigrants. If we cannot find ways to address immigration at a local level, we will continue to have a large group of people who are poor, disenfranchised, with few options (in addition to the other groups who are poor, disenfranchised, with few options). I agree that the Indiana Compact is a good start; Indiana has no business looking to reform federal policy. But if the State Congress can so severely limit the ability of good, hardworking kids to attend university, surely there are other proactive steps we can take as a community to build up all the residents. We need to act – and create policy – according to the understanding that people are human regardless of citizenship, and no person can be “illegal.”

International Law tells us that countries have a duty to protect all  people within the territory of that country. We learned this lesson from atrocities like genocide. We also learned that policies leading to atrocities begin with institutionalization of “otherness,” of hierarchies of belonging and citizenship. Slavery was possible in that the slaves were considered three-fifths a person – less than human – and that was a constitutional compromise. Society has changed, but it still regards many of the people who come here chasing the American Dream to be less than citizens. There are clear reasons for maintaining precise methods by which one may become a citizen. Yet, if we regard a group of people as ‘illegal’ and therefore unworthy of citizenship, we go beyond promoting legal entry and instead castigate and marginalize that group of people, and alienate others who identify with that group. There are institutional tiers that deal with different aspects of immigration: international treaties; federal laws, regulations, and enforcement; state laws (like tuition accessibility); yet we still live and function at a local level. What can we do here, where we live, work, play, and learn, to build tolerance and support structures in our communities? Can we integrate the still-disparate groups in our communities into one thriving, multi-cultural, beautiful and safe place to be? Those final steps of community building can only occur at a local level. I would hope any mayoral candidate would be willing to pursue that kind of community as a point of policy.

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