Sunday, June 19, 2022

Chinese Laundry Exhibit at Yosemite National Park

We spent our first summer vacation at Yosemite National Park. It was my third visit to the park and much is the same. The scenery in Yosemite Valley remains spectacular: granite rock faces, rushing water falls, popping wildflowers. The unexpected treasure was Mariposa Grove and nearby Wawona, at the south entrance to the park: majestic giant sequoias, scarred from wildfire and yet with leaves reaching for the sky and glistening with afternoon sunlight. Ranger Connie Lau, who was until recently a high school teacher, took us on a walk that prompted us to observe and connect with the natural world. She asked us about our roots before describing the expansive root system that holds steady these giants, the protective devices that keep us healthy such as nutrition and hydration, and what makes us stand tall.  Her last question to the group was about legacy, taking note that the oldest of the sequoias had been dated 3,000 years and that the grove had lived through generations of parkgoers and national affairs. She recommended we consider those who built the paths we walked on... and provided the services that made possible our visits through the decades. That led her to recommend the Chinese laundry exhibit, adjacent to the Wawona Hotel, a few short miles from the Mariposa Grove. 

Drawing on research from Park Ranger Yenyen Chan (who had interned at NPS while a Yale undergraduate), this in-depth feature from the Sierra Club explains that the exhibit opened in October 2021 to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the park and the workers who contributed to and sustained it. The Gold Rush fueled interest in the Sierras and Yosemite Valley. In order to accommodate the visitors, Yosemite built two stagecoach roads and employed Chinese immigrant workers who had grown disillusioned with gold prospecting after the imposition of taxes on foreign miners. In the 1870s, 300 immigrants worked to build roads by carving and blasting a path to the Wawona hotel. In 1882, 250 Chinese workers worked alongside other laborers to build a 56-mile road from Crocker’s Station to Tioga Pass, at 9,945 feet. The Chinese were paid $1.20 per day, while the European American workers made $1.50 per day.

Rangers discovered the humble brown structure and cast aside relics of the Chinese laundry workers who cleaned and pressed clothing and hotel linens for the Wawona Hotel before the structure fell into disuse. This is the site of the new exhibit. Displays showcase historic photographs, artwork, and artifacts found in the park over a century ago. There is a 1915 photo of the beloved backcountry cook Tie Sing with Stephen T. Mather and the Mather Mountain Party as well. There are some interactive activities for visitors, asking them about their experiences with migration or to explain the hardest job they've ever done on a slip of cloth to be hung on a clothes line. The most moving to me was an activity inspired by the tradition of Chinese laundries in America, which would enclose a small piece of paper with Chinese calligraphy into finished pieces of laundry. Visitors are asked to write a note of encouragement to the Chinese laundry workers. The visitors before us wrote notes of thank you for their contributions and their sacrifices. My family, born of Chinese immigrants to the US post-1965, added to their thanks and included an apology for the Chinese Exclusion Act and discrimination that would follow notwithstanding their contributions. We also included assurances that their legacy would be remembered through exhibits such as this one and the small but growing contingent of Chinese American rangers committed to telling their stories.



Yosemite National Park (2)

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Yosemite National Park

June 19, 2022 in Data and Research, Food and Drinks, Photos, Teaching Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Alvin Salehi and his meal-delivery platform, Shef: Serving Immigrants and Refugees

For Cool Hunting, Kelly Pau profiles co-founder Alvin Salehi about his meal-delivery platform, Shef, a "service that empowers immigrants and refugees to become food entrepreneurs." What makes Shef unique? It "uses local, home cooks that are trained and safety certified. Their names and cultures are listed on the site, which is home to over 100 different countries’ cuisines from Nepalese to Haitian, Gujarati and Thai … For cooks, Shef provides a platform where they can share their culture, generate income and work from home at their own schedule." 

Amid Afghan resettlement efforts, Shef also spearheaded an expedited review process for Afghan chefs wanting to join the platform. To date, Shef continues to donate 100 meals per week to resettlement organizations assisting Afghan refugees.  


January 19, 2022 in Current Affairs, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 22, 2021

"Food has forever unified people": How Immigrant Food brings "gastroadvocacy" to the table


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

As Thanksgiving brings families and cultures together, food is on our minds.  Food has an incredible power to bring communities together. For Salon Food, Kayla Stewart features Washington, D.C.’s one-of-a-kind Immigrant Food restaurant, showcasing its ability to counter misinformation about immigrants while serving delicious meals. "Food has forever unified people," explained Chief Operating Officer Téa Ivanovic. "For someone unfamiliar with the issues facing immigrants in America, it’s daunting to jump into the complex topic of immigration without a baseline understanding of what immigrants contribute ... But it’s a lot less tough to sit down with a group of friends and learn about how your favorite dishes or flavors have come from immigrant cultures across the globe." 

Stewart writes that "Immigrant Food sought to counter pervasive stereotypes and misinformation about immigrants in the U.S. — and it opted to serve really great food while doing so."

I will need to check out Immigrant Food on my next trip to D.C.


November 22, 2021 in Current Affairs, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Changing Demographics in Long Island City

Long Island City in Queens is a burgeoning site for Asian food, cutlure, and politics in what is becoming a mecca for a new migrant community. According to the NY Times, there has been a fivefold increase in Asian residents in Long Island City since 2010 so that the Asian population of 11,000 is now one-third of the total city population. There are at least 15 Asian-owned businesses — including a Mandarin child care center and hair salon and several restaurants — that have opened in the neighborhood since March 2020.

Residents, many of whom are Chinese and Korean students (Japanese is the third largest ethnic group), are attracted by the close proximity to Manhattan and comparatively lower rents for luxury apartments.  They are changing the profile of the community from its Italian immigrant and artist roots.

Long Island City


October 19, 2021 in Current Affairs, Data and Research, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 22, 2021

From the Bookshelves: Taste of Belonging by Welcoming America

Taste of belonging
Welcome America is presenting a cook book,  Taste of Belonging: A Collection of Recipes and Ways to Strengthen Community Across Differences, to promote cultural understanding. Created as a toolkit and resource guide, the cookbook is intended for individuals and organizations seeking fresh inspiration and tips for building connections and decreasing prejudice in communities.

The introduction to the cookbook quotes chef Jose Andres:

From biryani to bulgogi and tortillas to tikkis, food has the power to evoke memories, bring people together, and transport you to other places. 

Learn more and read the downloadable cookbook here.

To learn even more about using food as a tool for understanding, register for the session on "Fostering a Sense of Belonging in Your Community" at the Welcoming Interactive on May 5.


April 22, 2021 in Books, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 8, 2021

Arab Americans Advocate for Little Arabia in California

The Arab American Civic Council in southern California is now reviving its efforts to promote an area within Anaheim, California as Little Arabia. The goal is help local businesses who have struggled during the pandemic. Arab American advocates, business owners, and many community members see the designation as a way to acknowledge the community's economic and cultural contributions to the city. A social media campaign  promoting "Designate Little Arabia"  is part of the effort.

According to the Journal of Urban History. The district took root when entrepreneurs capitalized on low real-estate costs in the West Anaheim area and leased space to Arab immigrants for homes or businesses. Over time, the area transformed from an economically stagnant part of town to a vibrant food destination of Arabic restaurants, bakeries, halal markets, hookah lounges, and community organizations.

More on this story here. For a more general discussion of how ethnic food enclaves contribute to communities, see here.

Little Arabia



March 8, 2021 in Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 21, 2020

Best food in the US and other immigrant contributions recognized by Vilcek Foundation

"The best food in the US is from somewhere else," says CNN in its write up of a cook book about dishes popularized by immigrant chef. "A Place at the Table: New American Recipes from the Nation's Top Foreign-Born Chefs," celebrates immigrant chefs in cities across the nation and documents the two-way evolution of cuisine as local ingredients are incorporated and as the dishes find their place in the American appetite. The author GABRIELLE LANGHOLTZ is the Director of Culinary Projects at the Vilcek Foundation which aims to raise awareness of immigrant contributions in America.
A former Vilcek winner Marcus Samuelsson, owner of Harlem's Red Rooster and a staunch advocate for immigrant opportunity in food, won the $100,000 cash award in 2019. He said to CNN, "Unless you're Native American, you're an immigrant. Our journeys are different, but we share big dreams. The key is to remember that. Eating each other's foods, listening to each other's music, hearing each other's stories, act as a constant reminder." His website features recipes, restaurants, and ways to support the hospitality industry during the economic turmoil unleashed by the global pandemic.
The Foundation's Creative Promise Awards, which come with a $50,000 purse, in 2019 were awarded to the New York Times California food critic Tejal Rao and chefs Fabián von Hauske Valtierra and Cambodian restauranteur  and refugee Nite Yun.
The Vilcek Foundation aims to raise awareness and appreciation of immigrant contributions in America in the arts and sciences. The premise of the Vilcek Foundation is that "The arts and sciences need diversity to thrive. Diversity sparks dialogue. Diversity propels innovation. Diversity refines ideas. Immigrants from around the world bring the diverse perspectives that are crucial to strengthening America’s cultural and scientific community." Their prizes reward immigrant artists and scientists achievement and creative promise at early and later stages of their careers. Their grants support the programs and initiatives of other organizations that complement their mission. Their art collection connects the foundation with cultural institutions around the world, facilitating academic and artistic dialogue.
A 2021 award for public service was awarded to Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur and former presidential candidate. Other 2021 awardees contribute to biomedical science and film.

December 21, 2020 in Film & Television, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Now Streaming: Taste The Nation

Attention Hulu subscribers: Have you checked out Padma Lakshmi's show Taste the Nation? The Top Chef host and cookbook author travels the U.S. exploring foods from indigenous and immigrant communities. It looks delicious! 


December 12, 2020 in Film & Television, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Fugetsu-Do: An LA Immigration Story

Fugetsu-Do, a confectionery shop in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Little Tokyo, is known for its mochi -- a Japanese rice cake treat. The store has been owned and operated by one family -- the Kito family -- since 1903.

As the BBC notes, the business was started by Seiichi Kito, a Tokyo-trained mochi maker, in 1903. His son Roy joined the business in 1935, but their work was cut short during WW2 when the shop was closed and the Kitos were interned at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. After the war, father and son returned to Little Tokyo to restart their business. While they'd stored their equipment during internment, they couldn't pay the demanded back rent to get their equipment out of storage. With the help of an investor, the business eventually reopened in 1946. Roy's son, Brian, took over the business in 1980 and continues to run it today though he hopes his son Korey may take over the business. It's a National Historic Landmark!

You can watch their mochi-making magic here:

The next time you're in LA, you'll know where to stop in for a tasty treat!


November 24, 2020 in Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Su go ha se yo

Novelist Min Jin Lee (Pachinko 2017) shares a moving personal anecdote about venturing into a Korean restaurant in Manhattan for jajangmyeon during the pandemic. These black bean sauce noodles, which originate in Northern China, happen to be one of this blogger's favorite comfort food dishes. They are the kind of food that I miss, and the she misses, while forgoing restaurants under shelter. Lee describes her transaction from behind a plastic counter mask, masked and gloved, and her heartfelt attempt to convey her appreciation for the woman's labor in this way:

"The Korean woman in the apron handed me the paper bag and stepped back.

We bowed to each other, the way we might have at a Korean church.

“Su go ha se yo,” I said, which translates to “Keep up your hard work,” but that isn’t it exactly. The phrase is a kindness, meaning, I recognize you’re making an effort, and I encourage you to bear up, and it also means, I admire your labor.

My city is five boroughs, and each borough has many neighborhoods, and each neighborhood is made up of numerous blocks, and on each block, there are businesses, and in each one, there is a counter, and that’s where you and I meet.

I hope when we can take off our masks, I get to tell you how much I need you."


May 17, 2020 in Current Affairs, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 24, 2020

Immigrant of the Day: Antoni Porowski


Antoni Porowski is a Quebecois chef and television personality who you may recognize from the Netflix hit reboot of Queer Eye. His parents migrated to Canada from Poland (along with Antoni's sisters) before he was born. And Antoni has moved between Canada and the U.S. throughout his life.

Antoni had a super relatable immigrant moment during Season 1 of Queer Eye, Episode 3 ("Dega Don't"). The Fab Five got pulled over by a police officer while driving around Georgia. They're all clearly stressed when the officer asks the driver (not Antoni) for his license, which the driver was unable to produce. (Interjection: Really? You're driving a car! Even if it's for TV. Whatever.) Anyhoo, when it all turns out to be a gimmick -- the police officer was the nominator of the week, Antoni exclaims in relief: "I thought I was going back to Canada!"

And if you're looking for a feel-good quarantine show, I highly recommend Queer Eye. It's refreshing to watch a show that leaves you feeling your faith in humanity restored. It's a nice antidote to my over-consumption of news.

(And, yes, Tan fans... DO expect another QE immigrant of the day nod in the future!)


April 24, 2020 in Film & Television, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 9, 2018

World Loses Anthony Bourdain, Champion of Diversity and Inclusion -- and Immigrants

The shocking loss to suicide of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has dominated the news in recent days.  Bourdain had quite a following.  As CNN reports, "[o]n his award-winning series, "Parts Unknown," Bourdain brought the world home to CNN viewers. Through the simple act of sharing meals, he showcased both the extraordinary diversity of cultures and cuisines, yet how much we all have in common."

In one of the many eulogies to Bourdain's life, Gustavo Arellano for the Los Angeles Times writes that "Anthony Bourdain was the eternal compadre of overlooked Latinos."  He elaborates:

"Bourdain understood his privilege and used it as a cudgel to force Americans to think about our role in the world. He was particularly unsparing to our hypocrisies on Latino immigration. He spoke throughout his career about how Latinos (since he was a New Yorker, specifically Ecuadoreans, Salvadorans and Mexicans from the state of Puebla) were his eternal compadres, because of their work ethic and hilarity and giving ways. Anyone who opposed more of them coming into the United States, he said, was simply deranged."

Bourdain publicly criticized Donald Trump's immigration policies:




June 9, 2018 in Current Affairs, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Migrant Kitchen


The Migrant Kitchen

"The Migrant Kitchen" is an Emmy®-winning food series that explores Los Angeles’ booming food scene through the eyes of a new generation of chefs whose cuisine is inspired by the immigrant experience. Visit the kitchens of those who have transformed the culinary landscape of the city, combining traditional ethnic cuisines and a fusion of new flavors and techniques to make Los Angeles one of the food capitals of the world."The Migrant Kitchen" is produced in association with Life & Thyme.

The website has stories like this one, Vietnamese Immigration and Its Culinary Influence on the United States.



December 26, 2017 in Current Affairs, Film & Television, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Battle of Brexit? Migrant labor shortage leaves fruit rotting on UK farms


BREXIT Campaign Poster

Scheherazade Daneshkhu for the Financial Times reports that fruit and vegetables are being left to rot on British farms because of a shortage of labour, according to the National Farmers’ Union, which is calling on the government to implement a seasonal agricultural workers scheme to fix the problem.  Ali Capper, whose fruit farm on the border between Herefordshire and Worcestershire sells Gala apples to supermarkets, said the business had 20 per cent fewer workers than usual in September. 

The UK farming industry is heavily dependent on pickers from the EU — notably eastern Europe — for seasonal work. Low unemployment rates and the seasonal nature of farm work makes it difficult to attract domestic pickers, the sector argues.  At the same time, the UK has also become less attractive to seasonal workers mostly from Romania and Bulgaria because of the fall in the value of sterling against the euro since Britain voted last year in a referendum to leave the EU.


November 6, 2017 in Current Affairs, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Cambodian Refugees and the Resurgence of the Donut Business in Southern California


Susan Lim's doughnuts served in pink boxes at her Rose Donuts & Cafe in San Clemente. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Times reports on this "sweet" story about everyone's favorite breakfast food:  "Instead of national chains, the Southern California doughnut sector is dominated by mom-and-pop businesses run by immigrants, none more influential than Cambodian Americans."

Landing here as refugees in the mid-1970s to escape the Khmer Rouge, the Southeast Asian community quickly found a lifeline in the doughnut business.

An ambitious Cambodian refugee named Ted Ngoy built a network of doughnut shops and staffed them with his countrymen whose visas he sponsored. Ngoy started in Orange County, in La Habra and expanded to Fullerton, Anaheim and Buena Park. Cambodian doughnut stores spread to Los Angeles County, which long been dominated by the Winchell’s Donuts chain.

Years ago, Bill Hing told me about the presence of Cambodians in the donut business.


May 26, 2017 in Current Affairs, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (40)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Highlighting the refugee crisis with a new immigrant dinners series


Here is a cool idea for foodies

This May, Momed Atwater Village in Los Angeles is holding weekly “immigrant dinners” on Wednesday, featuring nine dishes from a variety of countries including Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and Egypt. The series is meant to promote the understanding and acceptance of different cultures and shine a light on the refugee and immigrant crisis affecting much of the world today.

Even better, fifty percent of all proceeds will be donated to the International Rescue Committee, an organization that works to help refugees from all over the world.


May 18, 2017 in Current Affairs, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Immigrants Change Twin Cities Restaurant Scene

For those of you interested in immigration and food (I'm talking to you, Stephen Lee), the Minneapolis Star Tribune has taken a fascinating look at "26 immigrants who have woven their cooking into the fabric of Minnesota, changing the Twin Cities dining scene forever."

The coverage includes beautiful portraits, maps of the chefs' home countries, and information about their food.

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 11.20.41 AM

Perhaps we could schedule a future immprof conference for Minneapolis? We'd eat well!


May 12, 2017 in Current Affairs, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Sriracha Argument for Immigration


Sriracha has been the subject of a book and commentaryDavid Tran, the founder of Huy Fong Foods, which manufactures Sriracha, has an amazing refugee story. See here, here, here.  The company is named for a Taiwanese freighter, the "Huey Fong", that carried the Tran and more than 3,000 other Vietnamese refugees in 1978. 

In the New Yorker, David Sax uses the spicy hot sauce as an example of our increasingly global food palates:  

'while racism and xenophobia have come out into the open, food this time around seems to be exempt. It would be nearly unthinkable to talk of banning a cuisine based on its country of origin. Red or blue state, Trump voter or Sanders diehard, we all want to watch Anthony Bourdain eat his way around the world and find the tastiest fish taco in town. The political tide may be shifting to nationalism, but our appetite is increasingly globalist."


April 2, 2017 in Current Affairs, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Immigration in the Age of Trump? How Kitchen Raids In Buffalo Sent Shock Waves Through Immigrant Rights Community


Photo courtesy of Yelp

Last November, the ImmigrationProf blog raised the question whether the Trump administration would expand the use of workplace raids in immigrtation enforcement and looked at the raid on La Divina, a taqueria in Buffalo, New York.  

NPR ("How Kitchen Raids In Buffalo Sent Shock Waves Through Immigrant Rights Community") follows up on the story and the impacts of the La Divina taqueria raid:

"The morning of Oct. 18, 2016, the employees at La Divina, a taqueria and Mexican grocery in Buffalo, N.Y., were prepping for the lunch crowd — making salsa, grilling chicken and stocking the shelves with Mexican Cokes and Corona beer. Suddenly, agents from Homeland Security Investigations rushed in.

"I heard someone shouting, 'Don't move! Don't move!' It was ICE," says Jose Antonio Ramos, a 29-year-old Mexican cook working illegally, in Spanish. ICE stands for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "I was in shock. I was complying with their orders, but they were mistreating us," he says. "They pointed guns at our heads. They pushed us on the floor and handcuffed us. They brought in dogs."

Beefy federal agents hauled out computers and cash registers while local news crews filmed. The raid of La Divina and three other restaurants under the same owner became one of the nation's biggest immigration worksite actions in recent years.

In all, 14 workers have been charged with civil and criminal immigration violations. Twelve more workers were found to be in the country illegally, but they were released because they didn't meet the government's enforcement priorities. The owner and his two managers are charged with harboring unauthorized immigrants. The federal criminal complaint alleges the trio provided workers with housing and transportation, paid them in cash off the books and avoided income taxes.

Sergio Mucino, a 42-year-old lawful permanent resident from Mexico City, owns the four restaurants ICE raided. During a recent lunch rush, Mucino is spotted making tacos behind the counter at La Divina with some newly hired workers. He declines to discuss the raid because his case is ongoing, but he is happy to talk about his menu.

While Mucino is out on bail and reopening his restaurants one by one, most of his illegal workforce is out of a job and facing deportation. This was the aftermath of the raid despite an ICE statement that they were targeting the abusive employer, not his employees."


January 8, 2017 in Current Affairs, Food and Drinks | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hurricane Katrina Ten Years After: Latino Immigrant Workers Helped Rebuild New Orleans


Satellite image of Hurricane Katrina on August 28, 2005



The SuperDome housed local citizens who fled the flooding

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and literally destroyed large parts of the Southeast, including New Orleans.  The ten year anniversary of this natural disaster has received considerable attention.

The government's response to Hurricane Katrina, including the response of President George W. Bush and the federal government, was harshly criticized.  Criticism focused on mismanagement and lack of leadership in the relief efforts in response to the storm and its aftermath. More specifically, the criticism focused on the delayed response to the flooding of New Orleans, and the subsequent state of chaos in the city.

Hurricane Katrina also had immigration consequences, many of which were addressed in my lecture at the Houston University Law Center in 2007.  The lecture was published in the Houston Law Review.   (Raquel Aldana and Anna Shavers offered commentary on the lecture.).  Here is an abstract of my lecture:

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina crippled the Gulf Coast. National and international television networks televised the widespread destruction virtually non-stop for days. Many observers identified failures by all levels of government, beginning with the failure to take adequate steps to prevent the flooding to the painfully slow reconstruction of the gulf region.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, race soon emerged at the center of a heated – and often over-heated – controversy. African Americans comprised a substantial number of the flood victims seen on television screens around the world. As the federal government slowly responded and nothing less than anarchy reigned on the streets of New Orleans, critics forcefully contended that the race of many of the victims contributed to the slowness and ineptitude of the response. Rap star Kanye West put it most bluntly: George Bush doesn't care about black people, a position with which nearly three-quarters of African Americans polled in September 2005 agreed. Evidently feeling it necessary to squarely address the charge, President Bush vigorously denied that the race of the victims in any way influenced the federal government's emergency response to the devastation wrought by the hurricane.

Another group – an often invisible group – suffered in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Immigrants, including many from Latin America, were the silent victims of the deadly hurricane. Thousands of immigrants were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. However, most reports, while critical of the governmental response to the hurricane, failed to even mention, much less criticize, the widespread indifference to the plight of the many noncitizens displaced by the mass disaster.

The general public did not look sympathetically upon immigrants. Government's failure to provide relief failed to generate much of a public response, much less trigger any general expression of outrage. The denial of disaster relief to noncitizens, as well as aggressive enforcement of the immigration laws in the wake of the hurricane, was consistent with the times, which were filled with calls for increased immigration enforcement and the popular perception that immigrants – especially undocumented ones – constituted a serious social problem that must be addressed.

As the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast began, immigrant workers responded. Workers were in short supply; as efforts to return to some semblance of normalcy began, many businesses were hard-pressed to field a workforce. Rather than applaud the assistance of noncitizens in the resettlement and rebuilding efforts, politicians and the public expressed fear and apprehension about the possibility that new immigrants transform the racial identity of New Orleans as well as hurt the job prospects of U.S. – especially African American – citizens. Unlike others willing to help, immigrants were criticized and feared, not welcomed and lauded.

Indeed, local citizens and public officials demanded action to halt immigrants from taking American jobs and changing the racial identity of a major southern city. The African American mayor of New Orleans expressed fear about the city being overrun by Mexican workers. He later stated that it was nothing less than God's will for New Orleans to be a chocolate – not a Mexican – city, presumably expressing the hope that it would be reconstructed as the African American enclave that it had been. In the public discussion of the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, race was considered central to the city's past and future identity.

Although a fascinating story in and of itself, the plight of immigrants in the Hurricane Katrina disaster teaches deeper lessons about society's views of immigration and immigrants in the modern United States. First, despite their many contributions to U.S. society, immigrants generally, as a historical matter, have been deemed unworthy of public benefits whatever their personal circumstances. Welfare assumes an even worse name for immigrants than it does for citizens. The failure of government to provide relief to immigrants after Hurricane Katrina thus fits comfortably into a deep and enduring American tradition.

Second, immigrants – especially undocumented ones – who seek gainful employment in the United States often are characterized as economic parasites who take jobs from U.S. citizens. Throughout its history, this nation at various times has narrowed the immigration laws, ratcheted up border enforcement, and engaged in mass deportation campaigns, based on the unproven claim that immigrants from displacing American workers, which is a special concern in poor economic times. Time and time again, commentators and activists have contended that immigrant labor adversely affects African Americans in the job market.

Public opinion in the United States poses a most unfair Catch 22 to undocumented immigrants, who are characterized as both abusers of public benefit programs and as job takers who hurt U.S. citizens. Put simply, they either do not work and consume welfare or work and steal jobs. Much of this, of course, is old news to the most casual student of this nation's immigration history. However, even though a plethora of scholarship exists on the problems that riddle the immigration bureaucracy, there has been precious little analysis of the theoretical underpinnings of the regulation of immigration by administrative agencies. This is surprising given the great power, including the authority to remove noncitizens from the country, which such agencies possess over the lives and destinies of immigrants. Rather, immigration law, although administered and enforced through a complex and powerful administrative bureaucracy, is considered to be a specialty area outside the mainstream of administrative law.

A problem that has arisen in the U.S. government's response to immigrants in the Hurricane Katrina disaster is symptomatic of a more general failure of American democracy – the lack of political accountability of the immigration bureaucracy to all persons affected by its actions. This Article critically considers the reasons for the lack of responsiveness of that bureaucracy to the needs of immigrant communities and analyzes a glaring political process defect. By so doing, I hope to encourage a sustained examination of the issue, which deeply afflicts the administration and enforcement of the U.S. immigration laws, a complex regulatory body of law filled with vast delegations of discretion to the bureaucracy.

Most generally, the frequent failure of the agencies that administer the immigration laws to fully consider the impacts of laws and regulations on noncitizens suggests a fundamental flaw in the conventional rationale for deference to administrative agencies. The Supreme Court, in perhaps the leading administrative law decision of the post-World War II period, Chevron USA v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., has emphasized that reviewing courts ordinarily should defer to the interpretations of statutes by administrative agencies because the Executive Branch, through election of the President, is politically accountable to the voters and that decisions properly delegated to agencies are necessarily political ones. The administration of the immigration laws thus poses a fundamental problem for the democratic rationale for deference: if we entrust agencies with making and enforcing the laws because of their political accountability, what should we do if a specific agency is only accountable to part of the people affected, directly or indirectly, by its decisions?

Both lawful and undocumented immigrants, barred from having any formal political input – namely, the vote – into the administrative state, are frequently injured by decisions of the bureaucracy. Citizens, whose interests often diverge from those of noncitizens, are indirectly affected by the decisions of the immigration bureaucracy but, whatever its limitations, have a full voice in the national political system through election of the President. Some citizens, of course, have family members and friends affected by immigration law and its enforcement and may advocate politically for pro-immigrant laws and policies. Still, immigrants lack the political capital of the ordinary citizen constituency of an administrative agency.

The lack of balance in political input between the affected communities can be expected to result in agency rulings and decisions on immigration matters that fail to fully consider the interests of immigrants. This fact helps explain why, especially in times of social stress, the rights of immigrants have been marginalized by the immigration agencies, as well as by Congress, throughout U.S. history. The politically powerful dominate, while the weak – noncitizens – have their interests under-valued and often suffer punishment.

Part I of this Article summarizes the context surrounding the Hurricane Katrina disaster and how the stage was set for a racially-charged debate over the government's actions in response to the disaster as well as the mistreatment of immigrants. Part II critically analyzes how government harshly treated immigrants in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and how political failure within administrative agencies contributed to this treatment, just as it has throughout U.S. history. This structural flaw further helps explain why we know so little about the silent suffering of immigrants in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and, more generally, in American social life. It also suggests deep problems with the lack of political accountability of the immigration bureaucracy to noncitizens.

As it turns out, Hurricane Katrina is symptomatic of a more general problem in the governance of the United States. A shadow population of millions of undocumented immigrants who are abused and exploited, live in the United States and lack any formal input into the political process. They, along with many lawful immigrants, hold second class status in U.S. social life and, more specifically, are part of a low wage caste of color. Although more diluted than the old racial caste in place in the days of Jim Crow, it is a racial caste no less, marked by a subordinated status and subject to exploitation. To make matters worse, the democratic problem identified in this article is not limited to the immigration bureaucracy, but is a more general problem of U.S. government.


As this news story reports, Latino immigrants who came to the New Orleans and the Southeast to assist in rebuilding efforts are establishing more permanent roots in the region.  Many of those workers claim that they still have not been paid for their rebuilding work.




August 29, 2015 in Current Affairs, Food and Drinks, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)