Can America still afford to be a generous immigrant nation? Can it afford not to be?
These are the questions posed by Nine Network of Public Media's and PBS's documentary Homeland: Immigration in America. The first of a three-part series focused on job issues.
While the largest Hispanic populations are in California and Texas, the fastest growing Hispanic populations are in smaller Southern and Midwestern towns.
The episode shined a spotlight on Monett, Mo., home to a Tyson Foods chicken processing plant; EFCO, a Pella Company; and Happy Apples — an apple orchard that produces caramel apples for nationwide sales. The plants have relied on immigrant labor for years, and now the city has revitalized because of the influx of Hispanic immigrants.
While the issue of illegal immigration is at the forefront of people's minds when discussing immigration reform as a whole, the documentary points out the flaws in the legal immigration process as it exists.
It has been easier to come to the U.S. illegally than legally — a fact that some of the best and brightest immigrant students at American universities deal with as graduation looms. They have received an excellent education, but it is often easier and beneficial to find a job somewhere else.
Nowhere is the heated debate playing out more aggressively than in political discussions leading up to November's election.
Because of their family values and typically moral conservatism, Fox News political analyst Juan Williams says immigrants should be a huge target population for Republican candidates, "and yet Republicans on this one issue of immigration reform have managed to antagonize them."
Regardless of November's outcome, the immigration question is not going away. As more and more come legally, or are born into this country, the face of our nation, of our high schools, of our workplaces, is different.
As the documentary points out, there's a new generation that doesn't remember what things used to be like — the new reality is walking side-by-side with the granddaughter of someone who worked endlessly to make sure she had the chance.
Part 2 of the documentary premieres Friday, July 27 (check listings on the website) and focuses on Enforcement. The series' website has downloadable discussion guides, as well as clips of the episodes.
Sandi Villarreal is Associate Web Editor for Sojourners. You can follow her on Twitter @Sandi.