As the grandson of immigrant coal miners, I stand squarely and strongly with the President on his decision to change the way immigration laws are enforced and to offer undocumented people a way to come out of the shadows. It is the right and moral thing to do.
My grandparents were treated as indentured servants by the coal companies who employed them. They were exploited in the same way that employers exploit today’s undocumented people. I don’t know what people think it means to come to America legally, but it’s probably nothing like most people believe. I wonder how many Americans could even pass the Naturalization Test (http://www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship/naturalization-test).
My grandparents had to overcome their fair share of bigotry and hatred, too. From the stories I heard, it was a lot like what some Americans are doing to this generation’s immigrants, but make no mistake. My grandparents came here for the same reasons people still come here today – for a better life.
What was different then was that this country had Ellis Island instead of barbed wire and border patrols and idiots screaming at children on buses. There was a port of entry, and the world knew where it was. They came and they stayed and they became citizens – not right away, mind you, and only because their employers “sponsored” them as citizens. They were uneducated. They didn’t speak English and they never really learned to speak English all that well beyond “broken” English.
Despite all of that, they stayed. They became part of the people who built what would become the greatest country on Earth as the 20th century dawned. Without them, who knows what America would have become and what it would be today? What would America be without people like them willing to risk it all and to leave absolutely everything and everyone they knew behind to come here for a better life? Sure, they had grand plans to “go back” some day, but they never did. They stayed, and they became America.
How is it that some of us either can’t or choose not to see precisely the same kinds of people with the same kinds of dreams and aspirations coming here today?
How is that some of us have come to think that today’s immigrants are so very different from my grandparents?
And, how is that some of us think the definition of being an American is to embarrass ourselves and this great country by demanding that our government tear families apart for nothing more sinister than the “crime” of coming here to build a better life for themselves and their families?
That’s not who I am, and it’s not how I define what it means to be an American. I am the proud grandson of dreamers, and someday the kids whose parents and grandparents followed their dreams and came here despite the hatred and despite the fences and despite the lack of a modern-day Ellis Island will say the same things I’m saying. That is what America is about, and that is what it means to be an American.
“Since President Obama has been in office, over two million people have been deported from the United States. That’s more than under George W. Bush in eight years and more than double Bill Clinton’s number. It’s more than any President, ever.” (President Obama’s Shameful Milestone, ACLU,
In addition to signing the ACLU’s petition (above link), you may want to keep the above inconvenient truth handy for the next time someone wants to talk about Obama being soft on immigration.
He’s not, and that’s the shame of it.
As a proud liberal, I approach immigration reform not as a matter to be driven by xenophobic fear of “the other” or by what’s economically most advantageous to private enterprise. Immigration reform is an issue, IMHO, completely bound up in how we think about one another as human beings and what it means to be an American.
Immigrants who risk everything they have ever owned and literally risk their very lives to come to this country strike me as the very type of people we need the most. They remind me of the very same type of people who helped to make this country great in the last century; namely, my grandparents and people just like them.
They were “welcomed”, if you can call it that, in the first decade of the 20th century through Ellis Island. They came to this country undocumented and without money, and they proved what was possible for people like them.
Now, just over 100 years later and at the start of the 21st century, my money is on this same type of person.
I think what we should be doing on our southern border – which is where this debate seems to be centered – is spending millions on Ellis Island-like immigration centers instead of on drones and walls and night-vision goggles. If we built those immigration centers, yes, the criminals will still find ways to enter illegally just as they always have and always will. That is NOT the issue that should drive immigration reform.
Instead, ask yourself this: Do you really think that a Panamanian, Venezuelan, Guatemalan, or Mexican family willing to put everything, including their lives, at risk aren’t yearning for and wouldn’t make a bee-line to a processing center to enter this country legally and as a first step in becoming a legal citizen?
Which leads me to this question: Why do some people want to put artificial and capitalistic qualifiers on the type of people we’ll welcome?
I’ve read a lot about how we want only highly educated immigrants, as if they’re the only ones with something to contribute. To be sure, they do have a great deal to contribute in terms of their intelligence and their productivity, but understand this. They will be competing for the “good paying jobs” with natural-born Americans. I have no problem with that, either, so long as it results in having the best doctors, scientists, engineers, et. al., and not just those willing to work for less and just so that corporations and institutions can make greater profits at the expense (once again) of Americans.
If education and skills are to be the benchmark, we need to appreciate that what that could end up translating into is a form of “onshore outsourcing” of highly skilled and better paying jobs. Not to be hyperbolic, but that could be the lead toward more and more of a race to the bottom in terms of incomes and living standards here in America.
I am NOT saying that immigrant doctors and engineers will always work for less and should therefore be sent home. I’m just asking the question if they are the only type of immigrant we should welcome.
What about the unskilled immigrants and the jobs they’d have here? From a capitalistic perspective, isn’t it “better” for a company’s bottom line if they have cheaper and cheaper unskilled and less skilled immigrants working for them, too? If health care providers can hire less expensive immigrant doctors and industrialists can hire the less expensive foreign-born engineers, why can’t the local restaurateur, hotelier, and contractor be given the same opportunity to hire less expensive immigrant cooks, housekeepers, and carpenters?
I think what’s best for America is simple: Welcome everyone and anyone who has enough ambition and courage to leave everything they know behind for what they intend to build as a better life for themselves and their families. Aren’t those admirable qualities, and aren’t they enough to start with?
The second thing this country needs is an awakening by the 99% that the 1% do NOT have our best interests at heart. That means we need to get behind labor movements again, stop drinking the anti-labor Koch-Aid, and stop voting against our own economic self-interests. Trickle-down economics is a lie, and until we all understand that nothing else will really matter.
Step three is to get money out of politics. Once we get the one-percenters out of government, we can actually ALL make actual living wages, maybe even have clean energy and a planet to live on in the next century and….GASP!….perhaps health care provided for every human being on the planet because, you know, HUMAN BEINGS!
In the long-term and grand scheme of what immigration means to any society, I’ll put just as much of my money on the unskilled individual who, like my grandparents, have the courage and ambition to come here. My ancestors came to this country with only their dreams and their desires for a better life for themselves and their progeny. That’s what we need more of today.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all diminishing the value of highly educated immigrants. I value them, too. All that I am saying is that when it comes to our immigration policy there should be more to it than what private enterprise deems is good for them and what our blind devotion to capitalism has to say about “the value” human beings have to a financial statement. That is not only an extremely short-sighted view of what is best for America, it suffers from that malodorous air that comes with putting any kind of price tag on human beings.
Finally, I’ll say this. It has to do with equality and equal opportunity.
The immigrants who can afford to attend university in the U.S. and have the support mechanisms and wherewithal to go through the appropriate visa process – not to mention the gates at JFK or Reagan – already have an edge. They aren’t starting the game between third and home, but they are starting with an advantage. That advantage is money.
So, why not give an equal opportunity (something we hear a lot about from certain quarters, especially those who think everyone starts life in the same batter’s box) to everyone else? We could start by stopping the construction of more walls and ending the investments in more technology meant solely to keep the poor out of America and, instead, start building Immigration Centers throughout our Southern states. Think of the jobs that would create, both during construction and then in the ongoing operations.
Maybe what this really all comes down to is whether or not these words actually do mean anything to us any longer….
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
If you’re curious about positions of the Democratic and Republican parties on immigration in the 2012 election, here are a couple of links that may prove useful in general terms:
You can find the position of several individual politicians at http://www.ontheissues.org/Immigration.htm#Headlines
WASHINGTON — President Obama told about 20 hunger strikers on the National Mall on Friday that he supported their effort to pressure House Republicans to overhaul immigration laws but was concerned about their health.
"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
See on www.latimes.com
This Republican House is almost like a parallel government, sitting in for some fantasy nation created in talk-radio land.
“Obama may be doomed to be a reactive president in his second term, with even the most common-sense proposals swatted down because, well — if he’s for it, Republicans will have to be against it. What could be a signature achievement, immigration reform, faces quicksand in the House. But a gerrymander is good for only a decade or so. Eventually, demography and destiny will catch up with a Congress that refuses to do the people’s bidding.”