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Monday, Sept. 15, 2008

Civil Liberties, Human Rights

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   The deployment of smear tactics and sex-centered propaganda in the run-up to the November election has helped eclipse some of the issues that genuinely deserve primacy on the public agenda. Speculation over Sarah Palin's ability to govern a region more populous than Alaska (not to mention concern over her shaky knowledge of the Jurassic period) has momentarily crowded out issues like immigration rights and border control. Thankfully there are some individuals, such as UW-Milwaukee instructor Rachel Ida Buff, attempting to turn public attention back to the more pressing issues of our day.

  She's the editor of a new book titled Immigrant Rights in the Shadows of Citizenship, which makes a probing examination of the mechanics of immigration control. The book reaches beyond the growing nationalism of the post-9/11 era and the Mexican immigrant experience by examining federally sanctioned discrimination of other ethnic and social groups like South Asians, Arabs and gays throughout the nation's history.

  More than 20 authors contribute essays that highlight the paradox inherent in a nation of immigrants with a history of legislation curbing immigrant rights. The book makes a well-articulated and urgent case for the fact that laws like the Patriot Act not only affect immigrant communities but also undermine the tenets of democracy as a whole.

  However, the book's primary assertion is that immigration-rights reformers and activists have too long strived for citizenship as the best of all possible outcomes. It calls for a reappraisal of the idea of citizenship in the light of increased globalization. In her introduction Buff poses the question: If industry is borderless, why aren't the workforces that fuel it? Bringing the idea neatly full circle is the final chapter by Monisha Das Gupta, in which the notion of citizenship as the means of attaining basic rights is picked apart. Gupta examines what it means for a migrant or indigenous population to affiliate itself to a single nation-the bartering of customs and ideas of self-identity in exchange for access to rights that many might argue they should already have. The book makes a strong case for repackaging immigrant rights as a human rights issue, not just a civil rights issue operating within fixed and carefully policed borders.

  Meet Rachel Ida Buff when she comes to the book release party hosted by Broad Vocabulary on Sept. 19 at 4 p.m.

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