by Bill Ong Hing. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 236pp. Hardback. $28.99. ISBN: 9780521864923. eBook format. $23.00. ISBN: 9780511243448.
Reviewed by Ediberto Roman, Florida International University College of Law, Miami, Florida. Email: romane [at] fiu.edu.
Few issues touching upon politics, law, and public interests stir up more passionate, and at times volatile, debate than immigration reform. During the year the President and Congress attempted a complete overhaul of this country’s immigration system, there could not be a more timely project than an exhaustive examination of key components of these reform efforts, as well as other attempts to affect immigration and related laws. The thrust of Bill Ong Hing’s view in DEPORTING OUR SOULS is that instead of the vitriolic rhetoric associated with the so-called immigration invasion or crises, which often borders on hysteria, this country and its policy makers should appreciate the economic benefit of immigrant workers and find ways to accept them. Hing argues that instead of the immigration debate’s focus on labels such as “invasions” and “crises,” which lead to related unrealistic calls for mass deportations and equally unworkable criminalizing efforts, sound economic and humanistic approaches should instead lead to proposals that address both domestic market needs and opportunities for willing and productive workers. In an apparent effort to change the tenor of the debate and the focus of the dominant public narrative, Hing rejects the all-too-common nativist shaming efforts, and suggests that instead we should give both legal and illegal immigrant workers “a parade.”
DEPORTING OUR SOULS does not merely examine the history of guest-worker proposals associated with recent attempts at comprehensive reform, it traces other related efforts to change the focus and direction of our immigration system. This well-written book examines four major attempts to revamp domestic immigration policies. After first analyzing comprehensive reform efforts, in particular those relating to the guest-worker proposals, other lesser-known but equally important attempts to change immigration priorities and policies are examined. The second effort examined is the increased use of aggravated felonies as a basis for deportation and termination of the Immigration and Naturalization Act’s Section 212 discretionary relief for permanent residents convicted of serious crimes. In that chapter, Hing agues for discretion in determinations regarding deportation for aggravated felonies in order to provide for greater compassion and public responsibility for those felons with ties solely to the United States. This second restrictive effort is followed in the third chapter by an examination of the failed attempt to terminate the family unification reforms of 1965, which [*694] allowed unlimited immigration for immediate relatives of US citizens. This so-called relative category includes spouses, and minor children of citizens, as well as parents of adult citizens. Here, the author accurately notes that such efforts had serious racial overtones, particularly because they arose when “three in four immigrants are Latino or Asian.” The fourth and final reform effort examined by the book is the use or misuse of immigration policies in the name of homeland security. Hing concludes that harsh governmental efforts against immigrants in the name of security failed to make the nation safer, violated civil rights, and alienated many Americans. The last chapter is the author’s vision of reform. In it he rejects the current emphasis on limiting immigration, and calls for national efforts aimed at integrating immigrants into society and the body politic. In this chapter, Hing looks to numerous efforts by both state and local governments and their related entities geared towards integrating immigrants.
The first portion of the book, arguably its most detailed and exhaustive, is a review of the guest-worker proposals associated with comprehensive reform efforts. It traces the genesis and evolution of recent reform attempts, including President George W. Bush’s first proposals in 2004 for guest worker programs. It also examines the more liberal proposals for reform and the far more restrictive efforts led by conservatives, which included closing our borders by, among other things, building hundreds of miles of fences, enhancing border enforcement, and imposing harsher sanctions against undocumented workers and those who assist them. This portion of the book provides a useful and much needed source of reference on an issue that invariably will be of great interest to policy makers, pundits, and the public at large for years to come. Hing initially supports what he describes as “straightforward legalization plan[s],” but ultimately concludes that guest-worker/legalization proposals provide acceptable compromises for both the US market and undocumented workers. This measured and arguably moderate position was somewhat surprising to this reader, given Hing’s previous progressive writings on race and immigration. Despite this interesting, though surprising, diplomatic solution to a significant component of the immigration debate – the economic realities on both sides of the border – Hing persuasively supports guest-worker programs.
Following the examination of recent guest-worker proposals, the book slightly shifts focus by examining other reform efforts. While related, interesting, and informative, these subsequent chapters leave the reader feeling a little lost, at least for a period of time, in part because the introductory sections fail to provide a sufficient overview of the books’ focus, and the chapters themselves do not transition seamlessly. This structure may leave a reader feeling as if he or she is examining four distinct articles or essays. Though perhaps viewed as simplistic by some, a detailed outline or more of a roadmap that draws parallels between [*695] the chapters would have been useful, given the complex and detailed nature of the four reform efforts examined. Notwithstanding this minor hurdle, the four reforms addressed in the book are fascinating, particularly for students and scholars beginning to examine the role that nationality, race, and class play in this country’s ideas about and policies towards membership and inclusion. Of particular interest to this reader was how deftly HIng notes the repeated and relatively recent reform efforts and how they often became of considerable interest when racial minority groups began to take advantage of INA entry and preferences provisions, such as the family unification policies. Unlike Hing’s previous book (2004), which openly focused on race, this book is arguably equally centered on racial and class themes, although more subtly. This approach may make the book far more acceptable to a wider audience.
Another interesting aspect of the book is its use of sources and references. Whereas the first and fourth chapters, focusing on guest-worker and homeland security reform proposals respectively, provide detailed accounts of various political players in the debate and references their stated positions, the second and third chapters come across as far more personal in that they provides individual case studies. This occurs in both the criminalization reform chapter and to a lesser extent in the family unification chapter. Both approaches make their case, though the first and fourth chapters may become more useful as reference sources for other writers.
Overall, this book is the definitive reference, up to its date of publication of course, for those examining recent reform efforts associated with guest-worker programs. More importantly, it is a broad and provocative examination of recent reform efforts and how they seem to follow a trend of attempting to exclude or at least limit those seeking entry, who do not appear to fit what many Americans believe reflect this country’s ethnic identity and culture. Professor Hing once again presents a timely, well-researched, and well-written expose on this country’s efforts to maintain a certain national character. His ultimate call for a policy of humanity, although to some degree idealistic, perhaps will be the basis for sound and rational policy in the future. Hing sums up his view eloquently in the book’s last paragraph, when he observes “[w]e are in this together. Let us welcome the migrant worker – documented or undocumented – into membership because we have recruited him here and benefited from her labor.”
Hing, Bill Ong. 2004. DEFINING AMERICA THROUGH IMMIGRATION POLICY. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
© Copyright 2007 by the author, Ediberto Roman.