In and Out


The United States isn’t the only nation embroiled in debates over immigration. Check out Israel, Mexico, Germany, Australia, Indonesia, England, most of Western Europe, etc. Civil wars, drought, failed states, terrorism, gangsterism – all these and more – have set millions, often desperate people, in motion. In the U.S. the issue is especially important because the immigrant story is the centerpiece of our national narrative. Back in the 17th Century New England Puritans wanted Quakers to leave. In the next century, Benjamin Franklin lamented the presence of German immigrants in Pennsylvania. They were, he insisted, ruining what otherwise was a most promising and prosperous colony. There’s a host of reasons why the subject once again is front and center, some undeniably contrived and opportunistic, others quite reasonable and legitimate. Here’s a rundown of what’s going on:
• The world may becoming progressively unhinged, millions more likely to become displaced, on the run, increasingly desperate. What are “stable” nations supposed to do about this? Welcome everyone? Provide support? Integrate them? Figure out how to share the burden? In the Western hemisphere, for example, certain Central American nations appear to be veritable hell holes, large numbers of their citizens determined to flee. Who gets to board the U.S. lifeboat? Better to work out strategies and policies now before the situation gets even worse. Remember, the world’s economy is currently in pretty decent shape. Can you imagine down the road if it heads south again?
• No one has ever really liked immigrants – especially when they first arrive – “We got here before them – therefore we’re more deserving.” “They don’t look like regular Americans,” plus they keep to themselves, cause problems (form gangs) and don’t seem that committed to fitting in. And yet, these days they’re quick to organize, demonstrate and demand their “rights.” Such nerve.
• Millions have entered the country illegally. We have no business encouraging violations of the law. Think of the millions who have abided by the rules, waited their turn, been patient even when formal processing consumed many years. Why reward people who jumped the line, pushed themselves forward, disregarded regulations?
• Wages in the U.S. have for many years been stagnant, with millions discouraged from even entering the job market. Immigrants, legal and otherwise replace American workers (a situation often encouraged by employers), accept substandard wages. Immigrant restrictions can restore the balance, open up jobs and fatten paychecks of American workers.
• When Americans consider racial matters, which is often, they regard the United States as pre-eminently a white man’s country, first populated and defined presumably forever after by those who arrived from Great Britain and Western Europe. (Blacks don’t count if you accept that: 1. They arrived early but didn’t choose to come; 2. were enslaved; 3. were not regarded as equal to whites; 4. were segregated and had few rights that were respected.) And other people of color didn’t fit the established mold. (Chinese and Japanese were for years denied entry.) Now that substantial numbers of immigrants of color are arriving (from China, Haiti, Africa, India, Pakistan, Philippines) racial anxieties resurface: What if these “others” grow too numerous, threaten to alter the fundamental character and tone of the U.S.? The Founding Fathers envisioned no such future scenario.
• Immigrant issues have entered the political arena big time – Democrats championing diversity and immigrant “rights,” Republicans obliged to tread carefully here but supportive of the existing racial majority. Mixed in is the issue of terrorism, calculated to impart fear and anxiety into an already incendiary debate. On the immigrant issue, each party hopes its offers of “protection” to different groups will be “understood” and appreciated.
• It’s rather unsettling to recognize that millions upon millions of people in “your” country are somehow off the grid, their actual numbers unknown, living in the shadows, fearing discovery and possible deportation. It’s unnerving for everyone; why not “fix” this? Let them stay, but make them pay. Consider the “sweat equity” they’ve contributed, but don’t overlook those who’ve waited in line.
• A nation should be able to control who cross its borders, under what terms and for how long. Accomplishing this is no easy task. Everyone likes crashing a swell party and may not leave when asked to. A wall is easy to understand and provides great photo ops, but besides being a primitive and heavy-handed response, it would probably just divert “coyotes” and their clients to other entry routes. Inevitably the Statue of Liberty would be photo shopped alongside a wall. Sad.
• Are we allowing too many immigrants to enter the U.S. legally (about a million + yearly)? How many do we need? Who really knows? Our population is aging; immigrants tend to be young. The number of workers supporting Social Security recipients is diminishing. We need additional workers contributing to this retirement fund.
• Should a nation be able to determine which skills and talents receive priority when selecting immigrant entrants? Every employer establishes relevant criteria for job applicants. It does make sense but would have to be implemented carefully, with a system that is agile and one designed to avoid favoritism and corruption. Even so, how does one assess ambition, determination, willingness to work hard and levels of commitment? Nevertheless, in a highly competitive world, specific skills are at a premium.
• It’s been more than thirty years since last we overhauled our immigration framework. Is our political system, as currently operating, capable of undertaking such a formidable task? Are we just deluding ourselves in the belief that we can provide a durable fix? Can we just plug the leak and assume others will not open up? Or will we just have to settle for the prospect of a wall and a promise to Dreamers?

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