Pigtail Ordinances at Doheny

I didn’t know the following bit of history when I attended a lecture this week at USC’s Doheny Library:

“In 1892, Edward Laurence Doheny Sr. struck oil in Los Angeles, setting off a major land boom. The Dohenys built a financial empire based upon their success in the oil-producing business. Their son, Edward L. “Ned” Doheny Jr., studied at USC and remained involved in the university after his graduation in 1916. Tragically, he was murdered at his home in Beverly Hills in February 1929. As a memorial to their son, the Dohenys contributed the entire $1.1 million needed to build the Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Libraryand actively participated in the design and construction of the facility.

In 1930, the president of USC, Rufus B. von KleinSmid, in conjunction with the Doheny family, settled on the Boston firm of Cram and Ferguson to design the library. Ralph Adams Cram, an expert in Gothic church architecture, believed the primary goal in the design of institutions of higher learning was to instill in visitors a sense of reverence for a building’s purpose. …”

No wonder it’s such a stunning landmark. A parent’s memorial to their child would inspire incomparable passion. The Intellectual Commons where this lecture took place is a graceful room bordered on three sides with richly detailed and arched Mahogany windows. Gold and rust leaves shimmered in the sunlight just beyond the lectern. It almost felt like New England. If you ever have opportunity to visit USC, don’t miss this library and the Hoos Library of Philosophy in Mudd Hall. Two stunning buildings inspired by places of Christian worship. How far we’ve fallen!

The lecture I attended was the first in a year-long series called “Opportunities and Challenges of Immigrant Integration.” Michael Olivas, a highly accomplished Mexican-American (he made this distinction several times) professor at the University of Houston Law Center gave the inaugural speech. It was titled, “The Return of Pigtail Ordinances: Immigration-Related State and Local Ordinances—Preemption, Prejudice, and the Proper Role for Law Enforcement.”

The title comes from a 1870s “anti-pigtail” law aimed at Chinese immigrants and nicely hints at his contention that immigration ordinances are primarily motivated by racial bias. He noted several cases to demonstrate his point. For example, four passport-less Latino teenagers from Arizonawon a trip to Buffalo, NY in a national robotics competition and decided to cross the border at Niagara Falls to see the sights from the Canadian side. (Anyone who’s been there knows this was a very smart move.) The students were denied re-entry because they “looked” like illegals. Conversely, Andrew Speaker, the Caucasian groom with a drug-resistant strain of TB who flew into Canada when barred from re-entering the United States, rented a car, was identified on a watch list and allowed to cross because the Customs and Border officer said he “didn’t appear sick.”

Olivas also listed a number of local ordinances that smack of bias. In Clinton, Georgia, the mayor declared only the “American” sports of baseball and football as fit for the city’s parks, thus outlawing soccer, a Latino favorite.  He noted a rise in municipalities failing to provide municipal services in “undocumented” areas, along with “harsh” school, rental and English-only ordinances. He believes the real target of these ordinances is “birthright citizenship.” Americans do not want Latinos entering the country illegally and giving birth to children who automatically gain citizenship. He says restrictionists surmise that if they remove parents, the children will go too.

He contends that community policing is impeded when immigration law becomes a responsibility of local law enforcement. On the issue of giving undocumented migrants driver’s licenses, he says invisible drivers are unaccountable and often abandon accident scenes. I’ve seen it on SoCal’s freeways.

Olivas—who, like all of us, affirms the need for secure borders—believes that ultimately city insurance carriers will no longer pay to defend cases that municipalities know they can’t win. Indeed, he says not a single restrictive ordinance has been held constitutional by a higher court.  “The adults simply have to take over on this,” he argues, and, absent political progress, insurers will be the adults who act. Olivas believes statutes that extend benefits to the undocumented will continue to be upheld while those that restrict them will be struck down.

Before I moved to Southern California, my perspective on undocumented migrants was pretty conservative. They shouldn’t be here; they should speak English; they should get legal and stop marching in parades with the flags of foreign nations. Then I began living among them, as they served me in businesses, kept our apartment complexes groomed, picked the fruit we eat and worshiped with us.

Living together changes everything—or ought to.

The next lecture in the series takes place on Monday, November 12. “The Poverty of the Current Immigration Debate” by David Gutierrez, UC San Diego. I’m really looking forward to the one after that, however: “Religion and Integration among New Immigrants to the United States” by Douglas Massey of Princeton University.

(Conservative readers will be happy to know that Anne Coulter, the paragon of moderate discourse, was a recent lecturer at USC and received a favorable write-up in the campus paper by a Republican student.)

Educate yourself, before you react:

Pew Hispanic Center provides accurate data on the lives and attitudes of undocumented migrants.

Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform is a faith-based coalition with rational goals.

In my CT article, A Delicate Hospitality, those who minister to and among the undocumented speak.

Kate and Me on Immigration is my response to National Review columnist Kathrine-Jean Lopez on this issue.

[© cas 2007, all rights reserved.]

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