Salvador Reza: Transatlantic Immigration Lessons

Immigration is a hot-button issue in the Southwest, with an ever-present debate on how to manage border security and labor.  But immigration affects many nations in many ways, with some situations all too closely mirroring that of the U.S.   This morning we have the first in an occasional series from KJZZ’s Tony Ganzer who’s in Germany on an international journalist exchange.  Tony will be looking at immigration and guest worker issues from perspectives on both sides of the Atlantic, and in this report, he tells how one Phoenix man’s past influenced his sometimes heated future.

TG. In an unassuming building in downtown Phoenix you’ll find the Tonatierra center, one of Salvador Reza’s offices.

TG. Reza is a community organizer….probably best known for establishing a day-labor center in North Phoenix ….and for his opposition to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s policies.  Reza once said he didn’t like the term activist, because those people, he said, need to be activated by a cause.  Instead, Reza seems genuinely moved by issues of immigration and integration.

REZA: “We’re still fighting to be human. They’re called Auslanders in Germany, it’s like a dirty word, like illegal alien here.  In Europe at one time I admired them because they did allow guest workers.  I met some of them when I was in Germany.  I went to a German wedding and there were a couple of Turks passing through, and the German guys were already drunk and some of them got up and beat up the…the…Turks in the street.  The same hate is going on with the Minutemen here.”

TG.  Reza sits on a folding chair in a studio-like room in tonatierra.  He’s a stocky man with glasses, a gray ponytail and mustache.

REZA: “From 73 to 75 I was in the United States Air Force, and the way the Turkish were treated, the way the Italians were treated, and the way the Spanish were treated to me was the same way we were treated as braceros here in the United States.  That’s why I went to the University, I wanted to know why.”

TG.  Reza says he studied the history of colonization, and world economics, for which he blames most problems with foreign labor and immigrants.  He also places high value on a human aspect of society.  When Germany began importing workers from Turkey and other poorer European nations in the 60s and 70s, the country planned for the workers to stay only temporarily.  Now, the Turkish community is Germany’s largest minority.

Turkish political and social identity are still issue today. The vandalised poster here says “Entrance for a free-thinking Turkey.”

DAWN MCLAREN: “There’s a good thing, and a bad thing when it comes to needing workers and wanting workers.”

TG. Dawn McLaren is a Washington D.C. based research economist specializing in immigration.

DAWN: “People are not machines.  People when they come to an area demand housing, thez demand food. Adding people to an economy is a key way to grow an economy.”

TG.  McLaren says one major difference between immigrant communities in the US and Germany lies in how easy it is to thrive in a new environment.  Germany has more social infrastructure for health care and food, thus making it less enticing for a worker to leave.  But McLaren says both the US and Germany would be better off embracing foreign workers.

DAWN: “The idea of a guest worker program where you come in here and work, and just be invisible and like ‘Don’t touch our land and don’t demand our housing’ that’s not going to happen, especially if you have an environment and society that is friendly to people.  Someone who’s there temporarily is not going to have the same loyalty, the same care for the place where they live.”

TG. McLaren says a truly successful guest worker program would be difficult because for a person to relocate their lives in a move they have to leave their comfort zone.  And in an economic down turn, a country is left with many guest workers without any work, or support.  Some groups like the non-partisan, Washington DC based Center for Immigration studies also see difficulty in guest worker programs.  The Center says such programs strain native, low-skilled workers, and give foreign workers a stepping stone to citizenship.

But US Citizenship and Immigration service spokeswoman Marie Sebrechts says the U.S. has proven such temporary worker programs can work.

SEBRECHTS:  “During the season to shuck oysters in New England—they will come for harvest in the Southwest.  Those people every year come to the United States for a season, and then go back to their families in their country of origin.”

TG.  Sebrechts says her department has modeled what a potential new guest worker program could look like, and it’s more complicated than many people think.  She says multiple agencies would need to work together for logistics and enforcement, and there would need to be ways for workers to be managed.  But those details aside, she thinks current border successes show the potential of further guest worker programs.

Sebrechts: “Their ability to move across the border seems to be the thing that holds the family together, without fear of not being able to come back and not having their income the following year.”

REZA.  “If you’re an alcoholic you have to recognize you’re an alcoholic.  The United States is fixated on foreign labor.”

TG.  Immigrant advocate Salvador Reza says there needs to be a change in the approach to immigration and foreign labor, not just in the U.S. but around the world.  He says countries seem to want workers, but they don’t want to deal with social consequences.  And before a guest worker program is fully rolled out in the U.S. the past successes and failures in a country like Germany may hold a glimpse at things to come.

For KJZZ I’m Tony Ganzer in Bonn, Germany.

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