Publisher of Texas Spanish-Language Daily on Immigrant Protests: “This is a Personal Issue…A True Political Mobilization”

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Texas has seen some of the largest immigrant rights protests over the past three days. On Sunday over a half-million people filled the streets of Dallas in the city’s largest civil rights march ever. We go to Dallas to speak with Gilbert Bailon, publisher and editor of Al Dia, a Spanish-language daily that serves North Texas. [includes rush transcript]

Texas has seen some of the largest protests over the past three days. On Monday over 50,000 marched in Houston. On Sunday over a half-million people filled the streets of Dallas in the city’s largest civil rights march ever. Up to 30,000 protesters also demonstrated on Sunday in nearby Fort Worth.

  • Gilbert Bailon, publisher and editor of Al Dia, a Spanish-language daily that serves North Texas. He is the former executive editor of the Dallas Morning News.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined right now by Gilbert Bailon. He is publisher and editor of Al Dia, a Spanish-language daily that serves North Texas, former executive editor of the Dallas Morning News. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

GILBERT BAILON: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about this unprecedented protest in Dallas?

GILBERT BAILON: Well, I think even the people who were organizing were very pleasantly surprised with the turnout. They knew there would be large groups of people, but there were many more than they ever expected. I think what’s happened is this has really mobilized the family. Many of the people who were out here were families. Many of them were documented, which also surprised people.

This has also become an issue for people who are U.S. citizens or documented people who have been here for a long time, who are saying they see it as an issue for the Latino community broadly. And I think that’s something that’s probably not playing out in Washington. They’re saying, 'Well, these are a bunch of undocumented people who can't vote marching.’ Far from the truth. That’s part of the constituency, but this is very much a familial personal situation, because the potential for people to be jailed and deported, families that have both citizens and legal residents, as well as undocumented, to be torn apart, this is not an antiseptic political debate.

This is as personal as it gets. It’s talking my family, my children, my parents, my uncles and aunts, so that’s why there’s people marching. This is not something that I think people in Washington understand or in other parts of the country that aren’t used to places with large Hispanic populations. We’re a border state. We’re used to having many Mexican and Mexican Americans here. They’re not used to that phenomenon. And we saw that finally they said we need to speak out before something happens to our families.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Gilbert, one of the things that I noticed in interviewing many of the people in these marches is this enormous sense of these are people who have been for years, some of them for decades, basically hiding, hiding in the shadows, fearful of coming out of their houses, of being picked up by immigration officials and deported. And these protests have given them the opportunity for the first time to come out, to come out in public and to say, 'Listen, we're human beings. We’re doing a job here in America that so many other Americans either don’t appreciate or don’t understand the importance of.’ And so, it was an enormous sense of final — of elation among so many of these folks who are coming out. I don’t know if you’re getting the same sense there in Dallas or some of the other protests in Texas.

GILBERT BAILON: Oh, there’s no doubt. There’s a true political mobilization going. Where it heads, where it eventually will be, what happens in Washington remains to be seen. But the people are mobilized. They do have a voice now. And I think that they believe that it is time to speak out. While they had been quoted in the shadows, we’ve written some editorials about this that would say people had really not been in the shadows. They are all over town. They are on the buses. They are in the hotels. They are working construction sites that people go by. They are building downtown. They are building in the suburbs. They’re here. They just have been invisible and not noticed by many people. This is the first time as a large group they’re saying, 'Listen to us, listen to our stories.'

Now, there’s been reaction to that, and people say, ’You’re undocumented. You have no status.’ And I understand that argument. I think what they don’t understand is this is a personal issue, not something that they see as a threat to America. They want to become part of America. And now Washington has to deal with what do you do with these 12 million people here. They’re not going home on their own. If they don’t take some kind of action, if we continue, there are going to continue to be more people, and the number from 12 will be more in the future. So there has to be some kind of dealing with the people who are here, in addition to the issue of border security.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Gilbert, what’s been the impact of these massive protests there on some of the Texas congressional delegation? I know that your state has some of those who have been in the forefront of trying to push some of the most restrictive immigration policies. Your sense that this is having some kind of impact on their stance?

GILBERT BAILON: Well, I think it has woken them. They’re now realizing that, number one, these aren’t just all documented, because there are many elected officials here, the bishop, other people, African American leaders, other civil rights leaders are saying this is a civil rights issue. Now, some people say it’s not, because they are undocumented, they have no status. The fact is, they are in our country, they’re going to our schools, they’re supporting many institutions we have here. So there has to be some kind of rational approach to what do you do with them. I’m not advocating for a particular piece of legislation. That has to happen as part of this.

A lot of the people who are more on the — I wouldn’t say anti-immigrant — they don’t like that term, but probably pro-security side are looking at this purely as a security issue. There’s really two parts here. There are people here, and then there’s border security. I don’t think they are at odds, but I don’t hear them talking about it in the same way that a person who here in the Southwest, particularly, where we have a lot of integration of community of immigrants and have for many, many years, understand the connection, economic and human, that takes place every day, not just at the border, but places like Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and other places.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Gilbert Bailon. He’s publisher and editor of Al Dia, Spanish-language daily that serves North Texas. And I should say we’re in the presence here of two past presidents of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists: Gilbert Bailon and Juan Gonzalez. But I wanted to then talk about the Spanish press and the role of the Spanish-language daily press all over this country. One of the things we saw in Los Angeles is that the organizers immediately said that they knew to make this protest big, to legitimize it in the eyes of the Latino community there, was to target the press. The deejays came out. They held news conferences. Can you talk about the role of the Spanish language press, Gilbert Bailon, in Dallas?

GILBERT BAILON: I would say, yeah, the Spanish-language media, particularly broadcast, because they were on the air throughout the country telling people to come out, informing them on the legislation. This is unusual, because many of these are more entertainers. They would be more of a talk show host, as opposed to a newscaster. Also, the coverage of this debate has been going on for many years. The difference in Spanish language is immigration has always been a core issue. For many Americans, all of a sudden it’s flashing onto their screens, and they’re saying, 'Where did all these people come from?' They have been here. They have been contributing. They’ve been coming for many, many years. In 1986, we thought Congress was going to pass a law that would have employer sanctions and amnesty and put an end to illegal immigration. Far from it. That was 20 years ago, and we’re still back where we are now, and we haven’t really addressed the issue.

So I think that what we’re trying to say to the people is you need to become educated about this topic. We’re also advocating that people integrate. And it’s a term we use — “integrate” — because I think it’s different from what sometimes Americans say is these people do not want to become Americans. Then want to learn English. They want a path toward citizenship. They want legality. They want to be able to have the ability for their kids to have all the access of higher education, other institutions, be able to have jobs, other things that they want. And they also know they’ve got to work for it. Nobody is giving them an easy path. It’s difficult to become a citizen in this country, but they’re willing to do it. I think that what they understand is now that this is a key point in time where we need to address the undocumented here, in addition to the greater policy that’s on the table.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Gilbert, in terms of the impact on political leadership within the Latino community, I think one of the things that is occurring, I saw it among the labor unions, that there were many Latino leaders who were sort of in mid-level or organizer positions, who suddenly in the last few weeks, they’ve become the main organizers, have gotten a higher profile within their own unions. I think it’s happening to the Latino reporters who are covering all these stories for the various media. And it’s certainly happening to the political leadership around the country, as people are beginning to pay more attention to the concerns and the voices of these elected officials. Your sense that that’s happening in Texas, as well?

GILBERT BAILON: Oh, absolutely, and some of these people were not previously known to the community, not widely known. They certainly were known in some circles. And they’ve become center stage. Some of the people here in Dallas, about a week ago, there were some student walkouts. And the tenor is very different in this city. At that time, there was a lot of talk radio, very hateful hostile language. I mean, things that you probably wouldn’t expect to hear in most markets, epithets about immigrants, because these kids took out of school and went to the City Hall, were swimming in the pond. Some were misbehaved. Some of them were, you know, frankly, not really comporting themselves in the way they want. There was a lot of Mexican flags. Well, they changed the tenor. And now, they’re saying this is a serious issue for a lot more people. It’s not just some students taking out of class. Deal with it now. Understand it. You may not agree with it. But now it has become more of a political force.

And for the individuals, like the student leader, Gustavo Jimenez — he was one of them. He has written in our paper and been on TV a lot here. Two weeks ago, Gustavo Jimenez was a student at Duncanville High School. He now has a voice, and other people do. What they now do with it, how they organize this, is going to be very interesting, because in Texas there has been, especially in Dallas, not as much unity within the Hispanic ranks. Keep in mind when we say Hispanic, we have people who have been here three, four generations. We have people who have been here two years. They often don’t connect politically, even move in the same circles. Now, they’re uniting around this. The question is can that become a political force? Can that be unifying? Are they after the same goals? I don’t know that. But I do know that they’re now at the table for first time under a united forum, and I think that that can be something very beneficial to the country, regardless of whether they’re in link step, but if we can get people registered to vote, more people graduating from high school, these are good things, and I think that people can pull together, regardless of political affiliation.

AMY GOODMAN: Gilbert, we’re going to have Gustavo Jimenez join us in the Dallas studio in just a minute, a student organizer at Duncanville High School, who helped the student walkout organizing. And then, we’re going to learn about another leading student organizer who shot himself a few days ago, after his vice principal said he would be going to prison for organizing the protest. But I wanted to ask what is Al Dia recommending? What are you putting in your editorial pages as a solution on the issue of immigration?

GILBERT BAILON: Our policy that we’ve had so far is not a specific piece of legislation. It is that we deal with both issues. I think people are talking past each other right now. You have people who are pro-security, who can’t see past the fact that there are 12 million people here in this country contributing in some way or another, whether they like it or not. It’s just a fact of life. They’re here. They’re in our schools. They’re supporting. They’re building. They’re doing many things. What do you do with them?

Do not confuse that with border security. I don’t think things like building the wall are going to — I don’t think it’s going to work. I think it’s going to cost billions of dollars. The other thing is they’re saying deport these 12 million people. I think anybody who is really going to have a serious debate says, 'How would that happen? What kind of dollars?' Our immigration courts are already flooded with people. How do we go out and round up 12 million people, adjudicate them, because there is a right of due process, and then return them to their sending countries. Is that really what this country wants to do right now with, among the priorities we have, with financial constraints, fighting a war and many other problems — high oil prices — facing this country? Is that where we want to take more tax dollars? I think there is some irony that many of the people who are advocating this are very conservative anti-tax people who want to spend lots of tax money to deport people who are contributing here.

So we have to ask the question: Where does that priority fit among other things, such as health care, unemployment and others? I just think that it’s not getting the full debate. It’s getting a lot of flash, a lot of symbolism with the Mexican flag, that it’s anti-American, that they’re threats. Let’s work past that rhetoric and say: Really, what are the policy options here for both the immigrants, as well as the U.S. security? That’s where really that middle ground has not been reached. I hope within the next couple of weeks they can get past that. But it’s going to be difficult, because there’s a lot of hot emotions on both sides. There’s a lot of passion, and we’ve seen a lot of passion from the immigrant community, because they feel threatened.

AMY GOODMAN: Gilbert Bailon, I want to thank you very much for being with us, publisher and editor of Al Dia, a Spanish-language daily that serves North Texas, former executive editor of the Dallas Morning News. We will be speaking with Gustavo Jimenez in Dallas in just a few minutes, but we thought we’d go to Washington, D.C., to the National Mall yesterday. Hundreds of thousands of people protesting. Among those who addressed the crowd was Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.

SEN. TED KENNEDY: As President Kennedy proclaimed a half a century ago, we are a nation of immigrants. And today we stand together as brothers and sisters to shape America’s destiny. Old Americans, new Americans, and future Americans, all join together for the common good. Let me ask you some questions. Are you ready?


SEN. TED KENNEDY: Do you have a good job?


SEN. TED KENNEDY: Do you love your family?


SEN. TED KENNEDY: Do you love your community?


SEN. TED KENNEDY: Do you love America?


AMY GOODMAN: Senator Ted Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, addressing the hundreds of thousands of people who protested in Washington, D.C., part of the unprecedented wave of protest that has rocked this country.

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