The Accidental American’s Rinku Sen on our Broken Immigration Narrative, Post-9/11

By Debayani Kar Sep 11, 2009

Moroccan-born waiter Fekkak Mamdouh’s life was thrown into turmoil after September 11th, when Windows on the World, the restaurant he worked at in the World Trade Center, was destroyed. The book about his immigrant experience in the aftermath of September 11th provided the foundation for The Accidental American: Immigration and Citizenship in the Age of Globalization by Rinku Sen and Fekkak Mamdouh (Berrett-Koehler 2008). “Since September 11th, immigrants have been wrongly criminalized and scapegoated for allegedly posing a threat to national security and undermining economic opportunities of native-born Americans,” says Rinku Sen, executive director of Applied Research Center and publisher of ColorLines. “9/11 marked a shift in the politics of race and immigration that has prevented us from adopting a plan for legalization, much less overhauling our very broken system to allow immigration to benefit either the United States or immigrants themselves.” Looking for a powerful reflection on immigration this September 11th? Check out The Accidental American website and read the discussion guide.
For more on reclaiming the immigration debate, both in language and on policy, see Rinku and Mamdouh’s piece today on, "Post-9/11 immigration debate needs shift in focus":

Immigrants do more than work. They raise families; they organize to improve life for the poor; they learn new skills and build communities. Yet, they are typically treated as expendably "illegal" even if they aren’t. Comprehensive immigration reform would leave the enforcement approach in place, while changing the status of millions of undocumented people. But a little bit of legalization won’t cancel out the negative effects of enforcement. Twenty years from now, the undocumented population will grow again, and we will again debate how much legalization to offer. The traditional pro-immigrant response to restrictionists has been to characterize immigrants as hard workers simply looking for a decent living. Though more benevolent, this narrative suggests that immigrants offer nothing more than a pair of hands available for picking, cleaning and writing computer code. The economic argument is not the only reason we need an entirely new system. The one we have is terribly broken, especially for the vast majority of poor immigrants and immigrants of color. We need a system that eases people’s movement rather than restricts it (thereby equalizing the power of immigrants in relation to their employers), one that isn’t fixated on preserving some outdated notion of America as simply a white, Christian country.