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An Unlikely Occupation For Rooted Washingtonian

By Nora Boustany
Friday, December 24, 2004; Page A12

A third-generation Washingtonian, Michael Fix refers to himself as an improbable scholar of migration.

He grew up at 1835 16th St. NW, where his late mother lived until July, just a block and a half from where she grew up.

Michael Fix, an immigration specialist, joined the Migration Policy Institute as director of studies and vice president. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

Read Nora Boustany's previous Diplomatic Dispatches columns.

Now, Fix, 54, is moving from the Urban Institute at 2100 M St. NW to become vice president and director of studies at the Migration Policy Institute at 1400 16th St. NW, four blocks from his childhood home.

"The story for me is not that of migration and travel, but the story is about how Washington has changed and how I was seduced into this kind of work," said Fix, a leading U.S. expert on immigration and migrant communities.

At the Migration Policy Institute, Fix will focus on immigration and integration policies. One in five U.S. children have immigrant parents, he pointed out, and one in four low-income children come from an immigrant family.

"The country is changing. We want those children to be as economically mobile as possible, successful and as productive as possible, and we want our policies to serve that purpose," he said. "We do not want race and ethnicity to be powerful predictions of outcomes of poverty and health."

On Monday, President Bush discussed immigration reform as a goal of his second term and called for a system that would allow well-intentioned people to come and work in the U.S. legally, doing "jobs that Americans will not do."

Fix said "most of the children of undocumented immigrant workers are U.S. citizens. How do we provide for the successful integration of U.S. immigrant kids?"

A main policy concern is language proficiency. "Hardship and poverty are much more closely related to language skills than to being undocumented. These are all hot-button issues culturally, but we need an instrumentally driven language policy to help these people naturalize and integrate, to help their juniors do homework."

Fix's affinity for studying diverse communities developed when he was 15. "I started out working up the street at the All Souls Unitarian Church, for the Columbia Heights Boys' Club on Harvard Street," he said. "I made very dear friends with the other counselors."

Midway during Fix's time at the Boys' Club, race riots broke out in Washington.

"I was the only full-time, paid, white staff member, but for an occasional volunteer here and there. They were very tolerant of me. It made me so deeply respectful of them and it broke down so many of the barriers that typically existed in the '60s," he said.

"I made friendships that were different and that I have until now. What made them different was that Washington was a very segregated city, spatially, in terms of class, and, of course, in terms of race."

While his college contemporaries were engaged in the anti-war movement, Fix was fixed on civil rights. He eventually left for Mississippi to work for the brother of a slain civil rights leader. "We were high on adrenaline since there was quite a bit at stake," he reminisced.

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