Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2006-10-20

The U.S. is a divided nation on the complex matter of immigration issues, said U.S.-Mexico relations expert Juan Hernandez at Samford University Thursday, Oct. 19.

One group, in fear since Sept. 11, 2001, believes anyone they see is the enemy. "The other group says if we become a nation motivated by fear, then the enemy has already won," said Dr. Hernandez, president of the Organization for Hispanic Advancement and a former cabinet member of Mexican president Vicente Fox.

A divided U.S. Congress is reflected in one group's creation of a bill that is based on immigrants coming to the U.S. to work if jobs would not be taken from citizens already here, their paying taxes and social security, dealing with English language concerns and paying fines if a law was broken crossing the border.

"Research says that up to 67 percent of the U.S. citizens say the plan is okay if these criteria are met," said Hernandez, speaking as this year's J. Roderick Davis lecturer.

Although the U.S. Senate approved the plan, the House of Representatives has a much different plan, one that suggests walls, he said.

The answer to how there can be two such different bills, said Hernandez, is politics. "The people in the House are up for election. Few in the Senate are," he said.

Members of the House think they will get reelected with a plan to close the borders, he said.

Hernandez is author of The New American Pioneers: Why Are We Afraid of Mexican Immigrants. As director of the Office for Mexicans Abroad in the Fox cabinet, he served more than 24 million Mexicans living in foreign countries. The son of an American mother and Mexican father, he was the first U.S.-born person to hold a cabinet position in the Mexican government.

He noted that many business leaders have sought the Hispanic market, which has 44 million Hispanics spending billions of dollars. "Business is catering to them," he said, adding that more people watched a Univision special on the late Mexican-American singer Selena than watched this year's Super Bowl.

"Conservative talk shows would have us believe that all Americans are against immigrants, but polls indicate otherwise," said Hernandez, who holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Mexico.

"The idea of a cultural war is not true. We're not trying to take over this nation. We're not wanting to destroy this nation," he said, recalling a sign seen at rally that said, ´America, marry me.'

"That is the spirit. We want this country to marry us," said Hernandez, suggesting that Christians pray and consult the Bible about the situation. He offered three ways to demonstrate concern for immigration-related matters.

"Be there. Go where you can participate. Invite immigrants to church. See what their needs are and how you can help them," he said. "Be there to listen and to learn. Not just to teach us what we're doing wrong.

"And be there when it counts. Register to vote, call your senators. Be active. Get involved in politics," he said, noting appreciation of voter registration tables outside the lecture hall.

A crowd of about 700 Samford students and area Hispanic residents attended the event in Wright Center. While at Samford, Hernandez led a seminar with honors and Latin American studies students.

The J. Roderick Davis Lecture series honors the former dean of Samford's Howard College of Arts and Sciences. It brings nationally and internationally known speakers to the campus each fall for lectures and interaction with students and the community.