Maria Hinojosa sees a long road ahead for the immigration debate

June 22, 2012

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Journalist Maria Hinojosa has been covering immigration issues for 25 years. WBEZ fans know her as the host of the NPR show Latino USA. She also hosts her own interview show on WGBH and is an anchor on PBS.

Hinojosa is in Chicago Friday to deliver a keynote address for a Heartland Alliance awards ceremony. Eight Forty-Eight was lucky enough to snag her before her speaking gig to talk about immigration, politics and her years growing up in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

The interview couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. The Supreme Court ruling on Arizona's controversial immigration laws may come as early as Monday. While political opposites rarely see eye-to-eye in our ridiculously partisan times, both sides agree Arizona 1070 is the most hardline stance on immigration in recent memory.

The bill, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in April, allows local law enforcement to detain people thought to be in the country illegally. Immigrant advocates say it’s racial profiling. Supporters believe it’s giving local government the ability to deal with a broken system that Washington has been either unable or unwilling to fix.

Another huge topic she takes on is the recent directive issued by President Barack Obama that halts the deportation of young people brought to the US illegally as children. The move, which affects an estimated 800,000, sidesteps Capitol Hill’s failed attempts to pass the Dream Act.

Hinojosa, who was granted rare access into the U.S. detention system for a Frontline investigation, has unique insights into the issue of deportation. Her team of investigators examined everything from allegations of sexual abuse within US detention centers to the effect that deportation has on families. She shares those stories with us on the show. Here are a few of her thoughts:

On the future of immigration in the United States:

"My worry is that we are so stuck, and American lives are in the balance. American kids whose parents are being deported, the American economny. And in terms of the Supreme Court, we're talking about some key issues."

The best thing Elie Weisel ever told her:

"He said, 'There's no such thing as "illegal people." You should not use that term. You may have committed a crime; that does not make you an illegal person. We've all been stopped for traffic violations or speeding; that doesn't make you an illegal driver. We have to be aware of what labeling an entire group of people illegal does to them.'

"'That's what Nazis did to the Jews. They labeled us an illegal people.'

"The notion of terminology and the notion of other and the notion of dehumanizing has real consequences."

On the role of immigration in politics:

"One in four latinos knows someone who has been detained or deported. So that gives you a sense that this is an issue that is for many people very personal."

"Latino activists have a lot of questions about this new executive order [President Obama's halting of deportation for young immigrants]. They say, 'We're going to have hawk-eyes on the administration. So if they mess up, we're paying attention.'"

On Chicago shaping her cultural understanding:

"I absolutely think Chicago and being a part of the Midwest, as a Mexican immigrant growing up in Hyde Park and spending time in Pilsen...was central. Hyde Park to me was this multi-culti utopia, before multi-culti existed. There were no Mexicans in Hyde Park, but...there was a lot of seeing ourselves in each other, which I think gave me this basis for seeing the world.

"Because in this young immigrant community, it was as if we felt like we had a voice. Not that it was going to be easy."