I hope everyone is doing well. Alright, let’s get to it. Now, how does that famous ling go? Oh yeah…Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…more later. It is estimated that 16 million people immigrated to the United States between 1892 and 1924. In 1900, the population of the country was approximately 76 million. That’s approximately 1 in 5 of the population being immigrants between that time- big number. Immigration in America. What did it mean? What does it mean? What will it mean? At one time immigration was considered a good thing. It was a means to a new life. It was a growing of this great nation. It was a blending of new cultures, ethnicities, races, and the like. It was families looking for a better tomorrow for the current and next generation. It was at once a continued and new lineage. It was a long and hard fought journey to these new shores, this new land, this new world. It was the creation of the Great American Melting Pot.
Okay, let’s not get too mushy here. Although on one level it was all of the above, it was much more as well. It was families at times separating, as children were loaded onto ships while adults stayed behind, or husbands and fathers leaving as wives and children stayed behind. It was the young and strong journeying while the old and infirm stayed behind. And more, still. When those who departed finally landed here, they were often met with disapproval, disrespect, and disdain. The open arms of welcome were not often embracing. There was rampant discrimination, bigotry and racism. People were categorized like cattle and treated accordingly. New arrivals were lucky to find and be welcomed by their own kind (as ugly as that sounds, but not a bad thing), and small – or not so small – pockets of peoples were created. They traditionally lived together in their neo-villages, and found strength, support, and comfort there.
They worshiped, and worked together. Dreamed and despaired together. Lived and died together. As these communities grew, more from back home (wherever that was) were sent for, and came, and on, and on. Work was difficult, and times were rough. The scratching out of an existence was not only challenging, it was yearned, and the best that could be hoped for. Everyone contributed, and did their fair share. Entitlement did not exist. It was all or none. Period. Life expectancies were not long, and leisure was rare. The adults of the current generation worked for the next generation, and on and on. Ridicule was routine, and being treated as subpar was the norm, and on, and on. So why do it? Why risk the journey? Why abandon the safe and familiar? Why risk life and limb and freedom and family?
The answers to good questions are always very, very difficult, or very, very simple. The answer here, I believe, is the latter. It is for a better life, for oneself, and/or family. It is for opportunities that are denied, or do not exist elsewhere or otherwise. It is for freedom and future, even fortune. It is for these reasons and millions of others not listed here, as everyone has their own, no matter how similar or unique. It is a dream to be fulfilled.
Now let’s take a look at what immigration has become. In this day and age, immigration has become synonymous with illegal aliens, undocumented workers, or any other spin that you like. The entire concept and process has a negative bend to it. The word immigration is almost dirty, consisting of four letters. Why has this happened? What changed? When did memory become lost? There is definitely more than just an anti-illegal immigration feeling, there is also an anti-ALL immigration wave as well. Again, what happened? Let’s see. When looking at illegal immigrants, it does not take a major leap to see the adverse effects of what “illegals” (now that’s an ugly term, regardless) would have in our country and on our society. Let’s examine this. First of all, with illegal immigrants, they are not documented.
There is no record of them here at all. As a result, they are not called upon to pay their fair share of taxes, while they look to benefit from the same protection and services as those who indeed do pay to earn that protection, those services. Whether its police or military or judicial protection, it has not been earned. Whether its educational or medical services for themselves or their children, it has not been earned. So why should they be entitled? Also, there is the fact that they work, and as such are taking jobs from legal citizens and residents. In many cases, paperwork and documents are forged so that illegal immigrants can register for more than just “cash only” jobs, so that their children can become enrolled in school, so that they can obtain medical services. Additionally, there is the crime associated with illegal immigrants to deal with as well. Finally, what do you say about people who come to this country with full knowledge of their illegal status, and attempt to stay? Where is the moral fiber?
All good questions, and without doubt very, very difficult to answer. Individual residents, community leaders, legal experts and politicians have, and still continue to struggle with this issue and the many questions that it raises. Before any kind of resolution can exist, a deeper understanding needs to be garnered. Let’s take a look at this as well. When illegal immigrants with no documentation at all do work, it is usually doing the most menial of jobs. These jobs are ones that legal citizens usually do not care for at all (when was the last time that you saw an illegal immigrant standing on a busy street, holding a sign, asking for money). The work is usually very labor intensive, with no protection from government agencies, disregard or cruelty from those offering the work, and minuscule wages. Workers are also usually exploited, as those that hire them are likely aware of either their status or desperation (or both). For those that do register illegally, via fake documents, taxes are indeed being deducted. This money goes to pay for schools, public works, social programs, etc.
However the funny thing is that since these illegal immigrants are indeed illegal, they do not qualify for social security. The contributions into social security from these people go into what is called the Social Security Administration’s Earnings Suspense File (look it up). Other things go into this as well, but they are tiny in comparison to what illegal immigrants contribute. Sources say that over $200 billion went onto that file in the 1990’s, and since 2000, an average of $50 billion annually has been deposited. Amazingly, Stephen G. Goss, the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary, stated to The Washington Post recently that the windfall of Social Security wages from illegal immigrants has saved the retirement system from insolvency. Again, amazing…and ironic.
Another deeper issue needs to be explored. Regarding the illegal immigrant who is recently discovered, well that’s currently a pretty straight forward resolution. But what about the illegal immigrant who has been here for years, starts a family, and actually contributes to society? What about those who are brought here as small children, grow up here, become educated here, and go on from there – becoming educators, healers, councilors, protectors, and the like? What do you say to the cop who started this way? The fireman? The soldier? The teacher? The doctor? Go Home? Go Away? Vanish? Disappear? Again, very, very difficult questions.
More and more action is being taken to confront this issue. In Arizona they have enacted a law that compels law enforcement to detain and question potential illegal immigrants in hopes of greater enforcement of the law. This actually fails on two fronts. Firstly, it does not curtail the act of entering the country illegally in the first place, and secondly it reeks of racial profiling. In so far as the former is concerned, it is indeed important to endeavor to capture those illegally here, however as the latter goes, it is blatantly obvious that only a certain “looking” group will be targeted. As long as they look a certain way, the current law states (even compels) that law enforcement make this population show proof that they belong here. While some may champion this as the end justifying the means, it is indeed not. It selectively focuses on an ethnic group as already being guilty until proven innocent. Completely unconstitutional! How does a young teen walking home (or wherever) show law enforcement that he belongs here? How does a middle aged man or woman who was born in this country, but raised in an environment of poverty or minimal education show proof that this is their home?
What happens if proof is not readily available or worse is dismissed by those who sought it initially? How far would this go? How deep? This new law fails on its face. This country is better than that. This country was largely built by immigrants. Unless one is of Native American decent, we are all immigrants or born of such. What is occurring and driving the illegal immigrants now is the same thing as a century ago, with “legal” immigrants. They come here via a dangerous and difficult journey, often leaving loved ones behind. Once here, they are disrespected, and looked down upon, even dismissed. They are exploited and abused. They are welcomed only by their own, and live in their own communities. They barely maintain an existence and sacrifice for the next generation. So tell me, what is the difference between then and now? Between the Italians, Germans, and Poles of yesterday, and the Mexicans, Cubans, and Haitians of today? Between us all?
So what do we do? Again, a very, very difficult question. Change needs to happen, on a large and broad level. There was legislation proposed that would have provided a good deal of resolution to this situation. It was called The Dream Act, and was attached to the defense authorization bill. It provided a path to legal residency that was not free, but that did make sense – exchanging education or military service for permanent resident status for those who as children were brought here illegally. It did not pass, mainly on procedural grounds, and so has been stalled. There is the possibility that it can be reintroduced, but hopefully with enough support to stand its own. Perhaps with the eventual passing of this bill, more changes can take place. Ironically, if the same rules that exist now were in force a century ago, most folks who sought that better life, that golden opportunity, that American Dream without ever setting foot on her soil, would have been turned away and pushed along back home. And this country, your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents would never have had the chance to live and work so hard for what we cherish (or so many so easily take for granted) today.
I am a firm believer that the boarders need to be protected and patrolled. This is paramount, especially given the day and age in which we live in. I am a firm believer that the people of this country need to be here legally. We are a nation of rules and laws and that is how we maintain structure and order. I am a firm believer of the punishment fitting the crime. This is the purest definition of justice. I am also a believer of evolution and change, as this is how we mature and grow. I am also a believer in compassion and mercy, as this is how we maintain our humanity. I am also a believer in equality and inclusion as this is who and what we are. The illegal immigration issue will not be solved here, on these pages, in these words today.
As a result the entire immigration concept and process, even for those going thru the system completely legally, will remain tainted and subdued as opposed to something that should be heralded as a good thing, a positive endeavor. Should we grant a blanket amnesty? Should we start recognizing everyone’s contributions to our society’s well being? Should we start protecting everyone, regardless of origin? Should we forgive? Difficult questions, indeed, and not easily answered. However, perhaps a dialogue can be started. One of openness and tolerance. One that recognizes people, all people, for what they are, for what we are, as one. Now, how does that whole inscription go? Oh yeah…
“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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
by Emma Lazarus, New York City, 1883