Foreigners: The ruckus over illegal immigrants
August 27, 2008 · Updated 8:30 PM
The ruckus over illegal immigrants has the nation pulling in different directions. Everyone wants to live under a rule of law that protects rights and property but not everyone wants laws that pounce on laborers who traveled here to find work. Yes, many are illegal. No, theyre not necessarily bad people. Yes, they provide a needed function in our economy. No, they shouldnt be entitled, nor do they expect the entire package of citizens rights unless it is made readily available.
Much of the debate centers on which rights and services foreign workers ought to enjoy simply because theyre human beings. Another part asks political-economic type questions: What do you do with them if you catch them? If they were granted citizenship, might their first allegiance remain with their ancestral homeland? How might we determine whether were better off with them here than without them?
There has always been a fuss over immigrants. The neighborhood where I grew up in the late 1930s and early 40s was populated with Moores, Robertsons, Palmers, Graefs, Reeves, Wolfs, Comptons, Olsens, Gralaps, Edwards, LaCroixs, Colliers, Mancks, Bantas, Schaeffers and other worthy north-European descendants. Political correctness hadnt reared its head at that time, so homeowners were free to be picky about who they rented or sold to, which kept our street free of anyone other than White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestants give or take a few Roman Catholics.
A not-too subtle prejudice kept the Rizzutos, Ferraras, Bascettas and Silvas on truck-farms on the other side of the Northern Pacific tracks. And with good reason, according to my parents. Those southern-European types stunk up their homes with un-American odors of olive oil and garlic. And they were winos, the WASP-ish label for anyone preferring wine over the true American beverages of choice, beer and whiskey.
Then came WWII when our young men fought their way across North Africa and up the Italian boot. Like warriors through the ages, our soldiers sampled the pleasures of the lands they liberated and so they came home bearing new appreciations for olive oil, garlic and wine and Italians.
Just so, we continue to learn from other peoples, but reluctantly. Always reluctantly. We want things to stay the same and immigrants always bring change. A story is circulating about a survey taken in Arizona and New Mexico. The survey question was, Is immigration a serious problem?
27 percent said, Yes, immigration is a serious problem.
73 percent said, No. Inmigracion no es un problema grave.
It draws a tight-lipped chuckle from some. Not politically correct, say others.
Hey, you dont know the half of it, says a local builder. My drywall crew just lost another contract to a Mexican outfit.
You think thats bad? I cant understand a word my new gardener says.
Yeah, well they ought to stop em at the border unless they can pass a language test.
According to that standard I should have learned Croatian, Italian, Spanish and Swahili before setting out on recent travels. According to that standard, every Boeing and Microsoft overseas rep should fashion their sales pitches in other languages.
I read a book about U.S. policy last year that opened my eyes and made me a better citizen. It was written by a Washington Post editor named Rajiv Chandrasekaran. I ask you, does that name sound American? As I go through my personal address book I find its filling with foreigners: Vasili Armancas, Hamid Bayazi, Aron Brzac, Daniela Bojica, Ahmed Hammoud, Octavian Kisenime, and thats only through the Ks. Even my address book has been globalized. Try scanning the local telephone directory. Same thing.
Time was when the only source of newcomers to this continent was Europe and, aside from slaves and Oriental laborers, it pretty much continued that way for more than two centuries. Everyone else was considered a foreigner, even the Native Americans we displaced. Now legal and illegal newcomers pour through our borders from every corner of the globe if a globe can be thought of as having corners.
They come because, in spite of its warts and pimples, the U.S.A. is still the land of opportunity. While home-grown indigents lurk at freeway ramps with HOMELESS AND HUNGRY signs, newcomers take entry-level jobs, live six to a room and manage to put their children through universities. Did you notice how many non-Caucasian newcomers were listed as National Merit scholars and valedictorians this year?
They look different. Time was when the people of my neighborhood shared the same complexion; pale as the underside of a flounder when docile, rosy as a summer sunrise when agitated. Having evolved in the foggy shade of a retreating icecap we northerners evolved as the human equivalents of shade-plants. There are moments when, slathered with SPF-50 sunblock, we harbor sunburned envy for the honey-to-chocolate range of newcomers skin tones.
So much to adjust to. New faces, different religions, ethnic styles of dress, foods from around the world and the ripple of languages we cant understand. Just like Ellis Island a century ago. Just like England, France and Germany of today. It would help if we reminded ourselves that it is people with the guts to take a chance that get here. That means our new immigrant population is pre-screened. Only the daring make it to our shores. Aside from a few bad apples, that works well for us.
In part, we create the immigration issue. So long as the economic and military reach of imperial culture undercuts traditional ways of life elsewhere, we should expect impacted people to keep coming. And for anyone who isnt comfortable sharing space with immigrants, here is the one piece of advice that applies: Get used to it.
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