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Immigration Activist Says Movement Ignored Americans Struggling With Changing Culture

The book cover for Ali Noorani's "There Goes The Neighborhood."
Prometheus Books
The book cover for Ali Noorani's "There Goes The Neighborhood."
Immigration Activist Says Movement Ignored Americans Struggling With Changing Culture
Immigration Activist Says Movement Ignored Americans Struggling With Changing Culture GUEST: Ali Noorani, author, "There Goes The Neighborhood"

Tomorrow Mayor Kevin Faulconer will announce a new partnership with immigration form. The city of San Diego and the international air will join one of the groups employer programs. City and airport workers who are legal permanent resident workers will get help coming citizens. Only Ronnie is the national immigration forms executive director. After he saw white working class voters overwhelmingly supporting Donald Trump in large part because of their fears about immigrant p.m. and -- interviewed people on both sides of the debate. Trying to understand why reform has failed. Is written a new book there goes the neighborhood how communities overcome prejudice and meet the challenge of American immigration. He recently spoke with Michael Lipkin. You open your broke looking at two Senate bills. The dream act the children who were brought the country illegally by their parent and a repeal of the military's don't ask don't tell policy. What is important about the comparison. On December 18, 2010 the dream act failed to pass the United States while don't ask don't tell was successfully repealed. On that day I realized that those of us while we were having a political debate the rest of the country was having a cultural debate about the meaning and value of the migrants in the nation. At that moment I just said to some colleagues the next time around we are going to do something different. The difference has been that since that day we really focused our attention on the cultural conversation rather than just the conversation about politics and policy that defines our immigration. What does that mean tangibly. You talk about how the debate was led by culture and in that informed and strength and the strategy whereas the dream act was led politically and only back and culture. In terms of the lobbying and activist efforts in activities what does that actually mean to Those who were advocating for the repeal engaged the military establishment. They made the case of what it means to be able to serve their country openly and free will -- freely. In the rights movement we made sure that Latino voters were registering to vote and putting resources into swing states in the election. The fact is that the don't ask don't tell community was successful in repealing and we failed to pass a law that we are advocating for. I would argue that we are at a political High Point in terms of strength and it was our most compelling piece of legislation we talked about young people achieving legal status. Looking back over the course of 2010 the two very different paths of the took and let me be clear I think they have very different dynamics. I think that there were things that we needed to learn in the movement and that is that the debate is not about politics or policy for the majority of Americans it's really about how they interpret how immigrants are coming to the neighborhood, the fear that their culture or values are going to change and ultimately their neighbor is cash neighborhood is going to change. I felt that we have to do a better job in understanding those fears and anxieties ultimately meet people where they are and not just leave them there. Who makes up the populace that you believe is struggling with these cultural changes that you said integration act -- immigration activism community has not -- has ignored. You look at the dream apt dream act and the map is pretty clear. Those are the least amount of support for immigration as defined by that piece of legislation. How do you engage culturally and politically conservative voters in these regions of the United States. We developed a strategy of engaging them through the eighth through their beliefs and the rule of law and through their belief in economic vitality of American workers and their families. Came down to engage in days and law enforcement leaders in the Southeast and the Midwest so that we were having a conversation about the anxieties that Americans feel and developing ways and strategies to move the conversation forward instead of backward. You are talking about having honest conversations. I wonder if you could share with me the test that you mentioned in the book about when you are brushing your teeth and how to find people that you think you can communicate with. In this day and age it is too easy to say if you don't agree with me on immigration you must be racist. I think that is the worst thing that we can do in terms of automatically pigeonholing somebody as a racist. They have a real fear and a real anxiety. I talk about in the book as you brush your teeth in the morning look in the mirror and ask yourself are you a racist. If you say yes I am thanks for buying the book and telephoned. If your answer is the same as the majority of Americans are not being I have fears and anxieties some are cultural and some are economic. We can work with that because we are all afraid. The question is how do we engage those fears and allay those fears in a constructive way First of all it is a matter of understanding what is happening in the community. Understanding that there are fears that are based on somebody coming from a different country and taking a job and somebody's job in the Midwest going to another country. So there is this conflation and trade of immigration. There is a real concern around outlook safety and terrorism. We found it is the pastor and the police chief and the local business owner that I the books that conservative voters in these regions are going to listen to. It is kind of surrounding somebody with a range of opportunities to say I am afraid that this is a conversation I can enter. Ultimately we want to be sure somebody's fears are not just related. We can really take ownership of how do we find a constructive solution to the immigration problems and challenges that the country is facing. Many of the people you're talking about are evangelical Christian families or people that voted for Donald Trump. I wonder if these problems are only going to intensify during his present desk presidency given that many of the reasons they voted for him or because of his stance on immigration. Is It is easy to be pessimistic about how people are feeling and seeing each other particularly those Americans that have been here for generations and how this immigrants to the US. What I found through the interview and the research that I did in the book. I did all the interviews and I. All that we are experiencing now Since communities are diversified and people are getting to know Latinos and Muslims and Asians they now left the house a next-door. They are still afraid of the José R Mohammed city or state or town over. Have to help people bridge that gap and get to a place where it is not just about the one that you know but the one that is to stay sober. He is just as good as the person next-door. That is all he the executive director of the national immigration forum.

White, working-class voters overwhelmingly supported President Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. A new analysis finds that fears about immigrants were more powerful than economic concerns in predicting that support.

The Atlantic and the Public Religion Research Institute found white, working-class voters who said they often "feel like a stranger in my own country" and believe the U.S. needs protection from foreign influence were 3.5 times more likely to favor Trump than those who did not have those concerns.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the pro-immigration National Immigration Forum, spent the past few years interviewing people around the country on both sides of the immigration debate trying to understand why immigration reform legislation has not passed. In his book, "There Goes The Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration," he said it is because advocates did not appreciate the immigration-based cultural stresses facing many Americans.


"What we fail to realize is that people are scared. Not necessarily in a bad way," Noorani wrote. "But they are scared they will lose their jobs, then their homes. And they are scared of the new neighbors who look and sound different, who might be coming for their jobs and their homes. With fear comes a lack of trust and mutual respect. Opponents of immigrants and immigration reform prey on this fear to their benefit. Supporters ignore this fear to their peril."

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer will announce a new partnership with Noorani's National Immigration Forum on Friday. The group's New American Workforce program partners with companies that have legal, permanent residents as employees, helping them become naturalized citizens. There are 55 San Diego employers currently in the program, according to the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, but the City of San Diego and the San Diego International Airport will join Friday.

Noorani speaks with KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday about how his group and others are changing their strategy to better reach the working class.

Author Event

Where: Verbatim Books, 3793 30th St., San Diego

When: Thursday, May 11, 7:30 p.m.

Cost: Free