ST. LOUIS - "The topic of immigrant rights is not always the easiest topic to talk about, but what it comes down to is this: If we are going to advance the rights of all workers we must not let immigration be a wedge to pit worker against worker," Natalie Patrick-Knox told labor, community, and student activists here at the 9th Annual People's World 'Working Class Media & Democracy' forum.
Patrick-Know, the national Immigration and Workers' Rights campaign coordinator for Jobs with Justice, was the keynote speaker at the Media Forum, which addressed issues of immigrant rights within the context of media rhetoric.
She said, "immigration reform policy falls under three pillars: legalization, enforcement and future flow."
Legalization is the process of allowing U.S. unauthorized or temporary workers to become legal permanent residents and ultimately U.S. citizens.
Enforcement deals with federal immigration policy, "which we know to be problematic since it is enforcing policy that doesn't work," Patrick-Knox added.
And future flow, or future immigration, "involves looking at the processes that new immigrants can use, and necessitates a review of our current visa system."
Patrick-Knox then spoke about the framing of the immigration debate in the mainstream media.
She said, "The debate of these frames has played out most publicly with the movement to get rid of the I-word - Illegal," which effectively paints immigrants as criminals.
"The criminal framing is a dangerous falsehood," Patrick-Knox added, "which has increased in recent years. Immigration law is in fact civil law and immigrants are only criminals in the same way U.S. citizens are criminals - by breaking criminal law."
She also said, "The word legalization also tends to play into the legal vs. illegal dichotomy. So we need other ways to talk about what we mean, and many immigrant rights groups have started saying 'Roadmap to Citizenship' instead."
Patrick-Knox urged Media Forum participants to "be conscious of the words that we use and make sure that we are not playing into anti-immigrant sentiment."
The 9th Annual People's World 'Working Class Media & Democracy' Forum was co-sponsored by the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates (MIRA) coalition and took place on the last day of that organization's annual art show, which featured a photo gallery called "Faces and Places" depicting immigrant life by local photographers.
Juan Montana, a MIRA leader and SEIU organizer, was one of the photographers. Montana had recently used his photography in a series of Service Employees' International Union rally's and pickets attempting to put a human face on a work force considered largely "invisible."
Montana and this author also appeared on the Bernie Hayes' Urban Forum radio show the Friday before the Media Forum. Click here to listen to the interview dealing with media democracy and immigrant rights.
While in the Show Me State Patrick-Knox also spoke at the University of Missouri-MIZZOU campus and met with a few student activists.
In all, nearly $7,000 was raised for the People's World at two events, which was supported by the Service Employees International Union, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Laborers' Union, the Communication Workers' Union, Jobs with Justice, Missourians' for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, St. Louis Stonewall Democrats, and a number of other organizations.
Photo: G. Otten, Painters District Council 2