There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration

There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration


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Making America a welcome place for everyone, from long-established citizens to immigrants who have just arrived.

This compelling approach to the immigration debate takes the reader behind the blaring headlines and into communities grappling with the reality of new immigrants and the changing nature of American identity. Ali Noorani, the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, interviews nearly fifty local and national leaders from law enforcement, business, immigrant, and faith communities to illustrate the challenges and opportunities they face. From high school principals to church pastors to sheriffs, the author reveals that most people are working to advance society's interests, not exploiting a crisis at the expense of one community. As he shows, some cities and regions have reached a happy conclusion, while others struggle to find balance.

Whether describing a pastor preaching to the need to welcome the stranger, a sheriff engaging the Muslim community, or a farmer's wind-whipped face moistened by tears as he tells the story of his farmworkers being deported, the author helps readers to realize that America's immigration debate isn't about policy; it is about the culture and values that make America what it is. The people on the front lines of America's cultural and demographic debate are Southern Baptist pastors in South Carolina, attorneys general in Utah or Indiana, Texas businessmen, and many more. Their combined voices make clear that all of them are working to make America a welcome place for everyone, long-established citizens and new arrivals alike.

Especially now, when we feel our identity, culture, and values changing shape, the collective message from all the diverse voices in this inspiring book is one of hope for the future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781633883079
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Publication date: 04/04/2017
Pages: 319
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Ali Noorani is the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy organization promoting the value of immigrants and immigration. Prior to joining the Forum, Noorani was Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, and has served in leadership roles within public health and environmental organizations. In 2015, Noorani was named a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
     Noorani is a sought-after commentator, and has been interviewed by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Economist, the Associated Press, and by several other national, regional, and international media. He is also a frequent guest on a range of television and radio shows, including MSNBC, the Lou Dobbs Show, the Bill O'Reilly Show, the Sean Hannity Show, Washington Journal, PBS Newshour, Fusion, NPR (the Diane Rehm Show, On Point, and Marketplace), and is an op-ed contributor to,, among others. Noorani is a regular guest on local talk radio shows across the country.

Read an Excerpt

There Goes The Neighborhood

How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration

By Ali Noorani

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2017 Ali Noorani
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63388-308-6



It all began with a Jew, walking to work in the snow on a Saturday.

The US Capitol is a surprisingly long, ornate building littered with lost tourists, scurrying staffers, and entourage-trailing members of Congress. Tourists, representing every walk of life from every corner of the country, lose themselves (and their guides) in the overwhelming mix of past and present.

Look closely at the paintings, the statues, and the history, and you will see that the Capitol is more than a landmark. A building built by slaves and decorated with paintings by naturalized US citizens, it is a living, breathing testament to America's identity crisis. For a few hours on Saturday, December 18, 2010, that identity crisis was defined by immigrants and immigration.

It was a cold morning, with a dusting of snow on the ground, and Congress was buzzing on a rare Saturday lame-duck session. The Senate was due to take up two high-profile pieces of legislation. One, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, granting legal status to undocumented youth. The other, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), a law barring gay and lesbian members of the armed services from expressing their sexual orientation.

At around 8:00 a.m., a door to a member's entrance opened, and a blast of cold air hit our small delegation of advocates waiting for the elevator. In walked Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), shaking the cold off his coat. On any other day, this would not be a big deal. On a Saturday, though, it was a big deal for Lieberman, an observant Jew, to be at the Capitol.

Lieberman straightened up in the warm air and looked at us with a "no need to lobby me, I'm with you" smile we immigration-advocate types rarely receive.

Over the course of his long political career, this was by no means the first time Senator Lieberman had worked on the Sabbath, so I don't want to overstate his decision. But when he walked through the door that morning, the faith he wore on his sleeve — and what it meant to him — stuck with me.

In that moment, I realized how an individual's culture could bring him to an unlikely place at an unlikely time. Little did I know that it was going to be that feeling, and everything that created that moment, that would mark a new path for my work. Looking back, I realize Lieberman's identity as an observant Jew was central to his values. While I have no reason to believe Lieberman crossed the line separating church and state, his culture and values clearly guided his decision making — a specific cultural perspective that would not have been welcome in the US Capitol not so long ago.

Looking forward, I know that immigration will contribute to an America that continues to change — racially, ethnically, and religiously. Along the way, Americans will continue to change, prompting an important question: As a nation, do we have a common identity or set of values?

Answering this question is a struggle at the national level as much as it is at the neighborhood level. Whatever our perspective may be, our culture, our families, and our work serve as a lens for our experiences, informing our answer to this question. Some of us become more exclusive, seeking barriers to cultural change and yearning for calmer days. Others become more inclusive, shaping relationships and institutions to welcome new cultures. Some of us toggle between the two. In my thirteen years as an immigration advocate, grappling with this question through a job that has opened up a new world of relationships, I have found that my identity shapes my work, and my work shapes my identity. I too have gone back and forth.

Personally, I would much rather cajole others into telling me their stories than tell my own. In fact, I'd rather do just about anything other than tell my own story. But it turns out that writing a book about our national identity means telling my own story as well.

My parents left Pakistan in 1971 to come to the United States. After I was born in 1973 in Santa Cruz, California, they moved forty miles to the south to Salinas, an agricultural town that was primarily white or Latino. As a child of immigrants growing up in a community with very few South Asian families, I learned the importance of cultural crossover early in life. As I befriended children of farmworkers and children of farm owners, I realized that people of all walks were more similar than they seemed. These formative years taught me to be observant, keep my mouth shut, and always look for common ground. By no means was I perfect in this endeavor.

I left Salinas in 1992 to study economics and social welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. After a year of work and travel, I headed east in 1998 to earn a master of public health degree from Boston University. Public health, specifically epidemiology and environmental health, led me to become active in Boston-area community organizations, and eventually I ran public-health programs for two large community health centers in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. Working with communities and colleagues from countries as far flung as Kenya, Vietnam, Haiti, El Salvador, and Ireland, among others, brought to light the struggle and tension between native-born and immigrant communities — foreshadowing what lay ahead. From there, I cut my immigration teeth as executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

Two experiences from these early years of my professional life left deep impressions. The first was while I was in Dorchester. In the 1970s, the exodus of families from Vietnam led to a large community of refugees in the Fields Corner neighborhood of Dorchester. I remember vividly an event we organized at the Dorchester House at which Sarah Ignatius, the executive director of the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project, met with Vietnamese youth in the neighborhood. These were good kids. But a few of them had done kid things that had gotten them into trouble with the juvenile justice system. While being processed through that system, their public defenders had recommended they plead guilty and take probation or community service. In the conversation, I realized that these kids, who had been in America since they were babies, were much more American than Vietnamese. But even though they were in the States legally, their guilty plea was a deportable offense — something many of their defense attorneys did not even realize. For a reason I didn't fully understand, America was deporting kids who, for all intents and purposes, were American.

The second experience took place in the basement of St. James Church, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 2007, after I had been at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition for a few years, there was a major immigration raid in New Bedford, about sixty miles south of Boston. Over three hundred men and women, sewing backpacks for the military, were put into deportation proceedings. Working with local partners, we established a relief center in the basement of the church. It was an awful scene that rattled my senses. As I wrote for the Boston Globe:

How can we look into the eyes of a young mother who has fled the repressive government and economic perils of Guatemala to stitch safety vests for our troops, and tell her to leave? How can we look into the eyes of a young father of an eight-month-old baby [who is] dehydrated because his mother has been detained, and tell him he doesn't belong here?

If we allow this to continue, we will turn our backs on liberty and the American dream. Irrational fears will only drive us to the wrong side of history. Let us live up to the dreams of every immigrant of every generation that had the courage to come to this country to make a better life for their families.

In both of these situations, there was a struggle between old and new. In Dorchester, families who had been in Boston for generations chafed at the influx of immigrants and refugees. And during the New Bedford immigration raid, Greater Boston's talk-radio shows lit up with callers thrilled with the idea of hundreds of immigrants being deported. The lines of the debate simplified to left versus right, communities of color versus white residents. It was hard to see how a consensus could be forged that pulled the human story of immigration out of the raging political fire.

These experiences, personal and professional, heightened how I felt on that snowy December 2010 morning. I was deeply struck by the poignancy of a Jewish senator walking to work on the Sabbath. Maybe it was the DREAM Act that drew Lieberman to the Senate on that Saturday, maybe it was the repeal of DADT. It was probably both. Either way, the issues at hand were important enough to him, and what he believed, that he was willing to cast his vote on the Sabbath.

Remember, Lieberman was retiring from the Senate at the end of the year. With no reelection to consider, he was truly voting his conscience. The challenge we faced that day was whether or not we had changed enough hearts and minds so a majority would vote their conscience and support the DREAM Act.

Let's fast-forward a few hours.

No. Wait. First, let's go back a couple years. A lot happened in that time that set a new political and cultural stage.


On November 4, 2008, with the help of record support from Latino and Asian voters, Barack Obama was elected the forty-fourth president of the United States. For the first time in history, an African American would be the leader of the free world — and he had a foreign-born father.

This was running through my head that election night as I sat in a local bar in Washington, DC, listening to Obama's speech and watching the celebration. The tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat were about more than politics and anticipation of what may lie ahead. It was great to feel that, as a nation, we could elect Barack Hussein Obama to be president. I believed it was a fundamental turning point for the nation's approach to culture and identity — a turning point that was bigger than the president. I just didn't realize the turn would be for the worse.

The diverse coalition Obama marshalled to the polls also put the House and Senate in control of the Democrats, raising liberals' expectations for legislative reforms and many to believe a golden age of progressive change was upon the country. A new electorate had flexed its muscles in 2008 and ushered in what we thought was a new age of American politics.

But underneath the electoral results, the cultural churn was surfacing an anger that had been pushed out of the mainstream for decades. Obama's Republican opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), with a long history of championing immigration reform, seemed perfectly placed to ease conservatives out of their defensive posture. As a moderate Republican with a strong track record of constructively engaging in the immigration debate, he could have been a formidable general-election candidate. But the Republican primary electorate was his undoing, as McCain was forced to take increasingly anti-immigrant positions. This strategy secured him the nomination but gave oxygen to extremist forces within the party so that the outreach and engagement of Latino voters from the George W. Bush years were cast aside. Soon, the Republican brand was tarnished in the eyes of Latino voters, and McCain's share of the Latino vote dropped nine points from President Bush's 2004 historic high for Republican candidates.

While victory was sweet, I didn't realize McCain's lurch to the right cut far deeper than just politics. It was cultural. A significant portion of the American electorate felt that their country had been taken away. The campaign-trail accusations that Obama was not a US-born citizen, and that he was a Muslim, led to a sense by many that he represented foreign, not American, interests. Who and what this powerful segment of Republican voters identified as American, demographically and culturally, was being challenged. And the anger they directed at, and through, McCain was a harbinger of things to come.

At the time, of course, as a card-carrying liberal, I was pretty excited. I saw the potential for incredible change. With the Democratic supermajority in control of the Senate and Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the House, we assumed it was a matter of when, not if, immigration reform would be passed. Which, for me, meant 11 million people living in the shadows as undocumented immigrants would get on a path to citizenship, a functioning legal immigration system that met the needs of our families and our economy, and the days of home- or workplace-invasion immigration raids like what I saw in New Bedford would come to an end. In short, it meant Congress would finally take action to value immigrants and immigration.

It was in this tumultuous period of political transition that I spent my first year in Washington, DC, as executive director of the National Immigration Forum. My predecessor was Frank Sharry; the effective and effusive leader of the Forum for sixteen years had taken the organization to national prominence. At thirty-five years old, I was a young outsider who didn't have much of an idea of how Washington, DC, worked, but I had good relationships across the country. Surrounded by great staff and generous allies who knew the town, I settled into the role and we started planning for what we hoped would be great things to come with the Obama administration.

In the first two years of the Obama administration, the Forum was the managing organization of a national campaign to execute a left-leaning strategy and mobilize the progressive base. The campaign coalition, which I chaired and my colleague, Rich Stolz, managed, Reform Immigration for America, resourced crucial immigrant rights and progressive organizations that were executing a range of strategies to advocate for immigration reform. Just as important, the campaign seeded new organizations in emerging communities and built out the first high-profile digital presence for the movement. From Arizona to New Hampshire, Alaska to Maine, we protested and pressured, we chanted and cheered. It was the best of times. Sort of.

But President Obama and congressional Democrats invested their political capital in the effort to reform the nation's healthcare system: capital that was quickly spent down through a difficult and contentious debate to pass the Affordable Care Act. Encouraged by our progressive allies to be patient, the immigrant rights community waited on the sidelines as the fight for Obamacare proceeded. But this became increasingly difficult as the administration doubled down on immigration enforcement measures, hoping to prove their "rule-of-law" mettle to skeptical Democrats and obstinate Republicans.

President George W. Bush could have told Obama he was making a tactical mistake. For example, the 2007 New Bedford, Massachusetts, raid was an instance of Bush flexing enforcement muscle to bring Republicans and business to the table. It was a failed strategy. The legislative effort that followed was still unable to get enough Republican votes to pass. All that resulted was the deportation and separation of hundreds of families. The undocumented were pushed further underground, subject to greater exploitation by unscrupulous employers who were able to push down wages and protections for immigrants and US workers alike. Employers trying to play by the rules were unable to compete with unscrupulous employers who put forward lower bids for jobs. You would be hard-pressed to find Republican members of Congress who agreed it was time to legalize 11 million undocumented people, because immigration enforcement was working too well.

While Obama did not replicate the heavy-handed deportation raids of the Bush administration, it was clear he believed an enforcement-centric approach would curry favor and trust with members whose votes he would need. Unfortunately, the Obama administration did not anticipate his opposition's ability to sow public doubt, fear, and mistrust in his actions. For our part, while we pressured the Republicans, we aimed most of our ire at the Democrats. We believed that they could do more to force the question. We believed the political power of the movement should be respected and rewarded. We failed to understand the seriousness of the nation's cultural crisis. We were having a political debate when the country was having a cultural debate.

The administration's immigration-enforcement measures exacted an enormous toll. As the Department of Homeland Security interior and border-enforcement budget grew to nearly $18 billion fiscal year 2012, deportation numbers grew well beyond what the community anticipated from the nation's first African American president — a president supported in record numbers by new American voters. It seemed like every day there were news reports of detentions and deportations, along with heart-wrenching stories of families separated by immigration-enforcement actions. Over the course of 2009, as the advocacy community was locked in a case-by-case battle with Homeland Security, the excitement of Obama's election turned to disappointment and frustration, which meant there was no way to mobilize a base of support. In this moment, we didn't even think about engaging moderates and conservatives who had not yet taken a position on immigration reform. As Obama's first year in office drew to a close, our tension with the administration neared a boiling point. And on the right, an unpredictable new power emerged from the ashes of McCain's defeat: the Tea Party.


Excerpted from There Goes The Neighborhood by Ali Noorani. Copyright © 2017 Ali Noorani. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Foreword Juan Williams, Fox News political analyst and author of several bestselling books, including We the People and Eyes on the Prize 9

Chapter 1 Elections Matter … Culture Matters More 17

Chapter 2 Utah's Hit List 39

Chapter 3 Soul Freedom 65

Chapter 4 As South Carolina Goes, So Goes America 97

Chapter 5 We Are All Afraid 123

Chapter 6 Identity, Integration, Influence 153

Chapter 7 The New Texas 179

Chapter 8 My Workforce Is My Family 207

Chapter 9 Making the Future 233

Acknowledgments 251

Notes 257

About the Author 301

Index 303

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