Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America/Parish Ministry in a Hispanic Community

Article excerpt

Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America. By Hugh Davis Graham (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Pp. x, 246. Index. Cloth, $30.00).

Parish Ministry in a Hispanic Community. By Charles W. Dahm (New York: Paulist Press, 2004. Pp. xiii, 296. Paper, $22.95).

These two books fill important lacunae in U.S. history, with particular relevance for the study of Mexican Americans, the largest Latino immigrant subgroup. Hugh D. Graham's Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America brings to the table a thoughtful, multifaceted examination of perhaps the biggest, and often controversial, items on the contemporary civil rights agenda-affirmative action programs and federal immigration policy. Meanwhile, Charles Dahm, in his eloquent Parish Ministry in a Hispanic Community, offers insights into religious practices among his mostly Mexican-American parishioners at St. Pius V, the most populous church in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, which he has led since 1986. The meticulous scholarship of both books does justice to their main themes. Civil rights and religion, often difficult to teach objectively and thoroughly in the classroom, can be equally elusive as topics of historical research.

The authors muster the creative scholarship needed to overcome barriers of political partisanship, in the first case, and reflexive academic apathy toward religion, specifically Catholicism, in the second. Graham takes on the daunting task of unraveling the unintended consequences of the mid-1960s nondiscrimination laws-the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, aimed at the time at redressing historical inequities suffered by African Americans-as well as the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, which ended the national origins immigration quotas imposed in the 1920s. Graham points out the tendency of proponents of affirmative action to avoid the entire topic of immigrant participation, which owes partly to the tendency of federal courts since the 1960s to recognize equal protection for persons living within the governmental jurisdiction of the United States, as individuals, rather than merely by their citizenship status. This approach, of course, integrates immigrants-undocumented and documented alike-into the constitutional body politic.

Collision Course argues that the civil rights coalition evolved in support of both affirmative action and liberal immigration policies without connecting them. The coalition sought to preserve itself within the evolving political landscape of the 1960s and 1970s, redefined itself in the 1980s and 1990s (to include the NAACP and, lastly, the AFL-CIO) and gained the support of elected officials and a wide range of interest groups. The counterpart to these "immigration expansionists" was not merely an obscurantist conservative coalition. Indeed, Graham points out that, during the 1980s, the libertarian "free market" wing of the Republican Party acquiesced in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), despite the act's ultimate vagueness on enforcement and identification procedures. Fractures in constituencies on both the Left and the Right have often obscured allegiances in the affirmative action debate (broadly but logically construed to include the several Voting Rights Act amendments as well).

The book raises important questions. Why, we are asked, were Jewish Americans, with their long history of discrimination in America, excluded from affirmative action while, for example, Indonesian Americans, "a recent and prosperous group with no history of oppression in the United States, [were] given Small Business Administration grants and minority set-aside contracts under the federal government's 8(a) program?" Graham also questions why all women, regardless of socioeconomic class and income, were afforded "protected-class status" (12). The answers lie in understanding reconfigurations of national political parties and interest group strategies, as well as in changing definitions of what constitutes a minority. …