Sunday, June 17, 2007

Warning: Divisive Post Ahead!

I know this will be a divisive issue so, as usual, I'm going to request that you be polite in your comments. I'm not pretending to be an expert on anything or to have all the answers. I'm just writing about issues that are on my mind and you are welcome to disagree.

The topic today is immigration. I know! Scary!

It's funny because I was thinking about writing this post for a couple of weeks and then I just got off the phone with my grandfather and he brought it up. We were having a perfectly pleasant Father's Day chat (for instance, I learned that his first car cost $25!) and then out of the blue:

Grandfather: "So, what do you think about what's going on down at the border?"

Me: "I don't know; what is going on down at the border?"

Grandfather: "All these illegal immigrants are sneaking across."

OK, to be fair, we actually had a pretty reasonable discussion about it. I disagree with my grandfather about almost everything but he's generally pretty open to listening to other people's opinions.

A fellow blogger Big Ass Belle had a post recently about how her politics are completely different from those of her family. I was raised by liberal parents thousands of miles away from my conservative extended family in rural Illinois (several thousand miles; I was raised in Hawaii)and I don't actually have a great deal of contact with them so I don't have to worry about it too much. But it does make the occasional family reunion awkward. For instance, at my father's memorial service a couple of years ago I somehow ended up in an argument with my uncle about gun control. That was really the last thing I needed right then. I finally just said, "Fine, all schoolchildren should be given hand guns. Then we'll all be safe. Whatever."

Anyway, back to illegal immigrants. My grandfather pointed out two of the non-facts that are often brought up: that we have pay to educate their children and that they are a major cause unemployment. First of all, most illegal immigrants actually pay taxes. I'm sure people will dispute this and I don't have exact figure on it, but from what I understand most illegal immigrants either have payroll taxes deducted because they've provided a false social security number, or (and I just learned about this recently) they voluntarily pay taxes by setting up IRS accounts that don't require social security numbers. Illegal immigrants do this because it will look good if they eventually apply for citizenship. The IRS does this because their job is to collect taxes and not do the work of the INS. And, obviously, illegal immigrants also pay sales tax. You can argue that they don't pay their fair share (I would argue that many US citizens don't pay their fair share) and I don't know whether they do or not; like I said, I don't have the exact figures; But the point is, you can't argue that they pay no taxes.

Secondly, the United States has very low unemployment compared to most of the world, anyway. But most of the unemployment we have is probably due to outsourcing of technology jobs to India and manufacturing jobs to China. Most unemployment in this country is not caused by Mexican immigrants coming into this country to pick strawberries. Now, I'm using generalizations here; I know there are illegal immigrants who are taking some construction and manufacturing jobs that US citizens might want. But there are many manual labor jobs in this country that US citizens don't want and there are people risking their lives coming to this country in order to do them. There are some growers, for instance, who have crops rotting in their orchards because they can't find enough workers. Some argue that these growers would be forced to pay higher wages that would attract US citizens if it weren't for illegal immigrants who are willing to work so cheap. But if field workers got $15 an hour and full benefits, consumers wouldn't be able to afford to buy American fruit. Obviously, this is a complicated issue because I think people should be paid a living wage; but I also know that if wages are too high, the jobs will simply go to other countries.

Let me add here a quick discussion on security: terrorism is, of course, another issue brought up when it comes to illegal immigration. But, as far as I know, we don't have a major problem with Islamic terrorists illegally crossing the border from Mexico. Most terrorists have no problem getting valid visas and flying right into JFK. Spending trillions of dollars on a stupid border wall would not stop terrorists from getting into the country. So I think the security argument is a ruse.

The major issue seems to be economic. It's apparently based on the previously mentioned ideas that illegal immigrants cost us so much money because they take our jobs and we have to pay to educate their children. As I've already pointed out, I think these ideas are questionable if not completely false. But let's assume for a moment that they are valid points. Then my question is this:

If we are so concerned about how much illegal immigrants cost us by coming into this country, why are we willing to spend unlimited amounts of money trying to keep them out?

That just doesn't make economic sense to me. We could actually use some of that money to try to improve people's lives instead of wasting it trying to keep people from taking jobs that need to be done. Since opposition to immigrant workers doesn't make financial sense, what is the real motivation? My first instinct is to think that it's racism or the irrational fear that soon we will all be forced to speak Spanish as our primary language. But, of course, that probably isn't it. I actually think it's just one of those wedge issues, like flag burning and gay marriage, that is used to distract the American people from the real problems in this country.

So, again, I don't have a simple solution; just writing down my thoughts. I'm not theoretically opposed to a guest worker program, though I think it could cause a bureaucratic nightmare and I don't know if it would actually solve any problems. I was surprised to hear that many Republicans who opposed Bush's immigration bill actually think we should use a point system for allowing immigrants into the country. Apparently other countries use a system that awards points to an immigration application based on how skilled or educated the worker is. This seems like a particularly strange suggestion coming from the same people who are supposedly worried about immigrants taking all the good jobs. I don't get it.

Several months ago I heard an interview with a man who studies immigration patterns. He said that in situations where countries have more open border policies, workers cross temporarily and then move back after a few years. A closed border actually creates a situation where workers cross a border and then try to stay permanently because they don't want to risk leaving. This certainly makes sense. We've created our own immigration problem; by trying to keep people out we actually keep them in.

So one radical solution is simply to open the border (while maintaining security, of course). It's just a wild suggestion, but one that needs to be seriously discussed. Think of all the good things we could do with all the money we save by not building a wall around the country. Think of how much more secure we would be if all the energy put into catching illegal immigrants (and also recreational drug users) was instead put into catching terrorists and other real criminals.

After I started writing this post I read an interesting financial page in the New Yorker about the current guest worker bill (James Surowiecki, "Be our guest!" New Yorker, 11-18 June 2007). First of all, it recommends the bill as an imperfect but good solution. It points out that we already have small-scale guest worker programs and most of the immigrants involved do not overstay their visas, which is one of the concerns. What I found most surprising in the article was that there is very little evidence to suggest that immigrant workers actually drive down wages. The article cites a recent study by the economists Gianmarco Ottaviano and Giovanni Peri, who found that "between 1990 and 2004 immigration actually boosted the wages of most American workers." The explanation is that immigrant and native worker skills actually compliment each other instead of being in direct competition. The article also reiterates the point I mentioned above about the fact that most immigrant workers would actually prefer to work a job for a few years and then return home. They don't all want to stay here permanently.

Again, I welcome intelligent discussion; I just don't welcome insults and rants. Thank you!

31 comments:

kbryna said...

why are you so smart?? I didn't know that about the IRS non-SS# accounts - interesting, weird and useful in combatting pointless and racist arguments against immigrants.

thanks!

Anonymous said...

My objection to illegal immigration is not the immigration part, it's the illegal part. Consider that everyone who moves here illegally denies access to someone else who is following all the rules and procedures and filing all the forms and waiting for the OK. That's a bit harder to justify.

BigAssBelle said...

i'm not sure how someone swimming the river at night denies access to another person seeking to immigrate legally . . . but onward . .

one of the things i've noticed about the difference between the people who are obsessed with immigration and those who are more laissez faire about it: the obsessed seem to be people who are rule followers, black & white, absolutists; while the others seem to be more flexible on the rules, tend to see more areas of gray, and not particular rigid about things.

the other thing i've noticed is that the anti-immigration people are very, very, very worried about the "muslim horde" which is taking over the world even as we speak (they say).

as the granddaughter of folks who came here in 1893 from Russia, my family history of immigration is fairly recent. my folks were not welcomed. they were denigrated, blamed, denied access to certain rights. they were legal, arriving through ellis island, and they obtained citizenship in short order, a fact my grandfather never made peace with, missing his home as he did.

none of my kin who arrived here in 1893 ever learned to speak english. they insisted on speaking german in the home and their children were only able to learn english in school. but as is typical, two generations later, none of us speak german at all. we have assimilated. this is the american dream.

my fear is that the major problem people have with immigration now ~ the unspoken thing, because it's politically incorrect ~ is that the current crop of immigrants are varying shades of brown.

that's my view of the immigration problem. if they were white europeans, they'd likely be welcomed with open arms.

that being said, i think that learning to speak english is critical to becoming a part of this country. i am with the anti's when they oppose, for example, a mexico within the US.

i am fairly confident of the power of the US popular culture and its ability to seduce almost any individual. so i suspect that the children of immigrants and their children will assimilate fairly well over time. but speaking english is key, and that's where i'm with the anti's.

cdelphine said...

hmm...not sure where I stand on all this but I do think that building a wall around the US is a stupid idea. I also know that I don't think that we should kick out the people who are already here.

But large numbers of people in the country illegally does cause problems. What happens when they need health care, etc? Really I guess we should make it easier to be a legal immigrant so that people wouldn't feel the need to cross the border illegally.

Lynette said...

the other thing that bugs me is that the companies hiring illegals are given a free pass. they not only hire at lower wages, often violate safety regulations, and generally take advantage of a disadvantaged illegal work force, but when the roundup happens, it's a rare thing to see the company prosecuted. that irks me. but it's just evidence of our emphasis on business as the salvation of the world.

eric3000 said...

Thanks for your polite comments, everyone!

Thanks, kbryna! Isn't that interesting? I hadn't heard of that until recently, either. People are complaining that the IRS is promoting illegal immigration but the IRS just says, "Look, it's our job to collect taxes. That's what we're doing."

Belle,
I have much less of a problem with people speaking whatever language they want to speak, but I know I'm in the minority on that. I tend to think language patterns develop organically. Many languages were spoken in the early colonies and later, in smaller immigrant communities in the US. English eventually became the dominant language but I don't understand why that means it has to be the only one. And Spanish was spoken here in the Southwest long before the US took over; so it isn't like English is the original language of the land that some outsiders are trying to change.

Many immigrants, like your grandparents, come to this country out of necessity and not because they really want to be here. I think making it easier for immigrants to come and go will result in a permanent immgrant population that really wants to live here and will be more likely to assimilate, while temporary workers who don't want to live here forever will be able to return to their home countries after they've met their financial needs. That should make everyone happier.

cdelphine,
Like I said, I think many if not most illegal immigrants are paying taxes so they are contributing to the healthcare and education systems. They don't have health insurance, of course, but niether do the majority of American citizens. We do have many problems with the healthcare system in this country but they are caused by a variety of issues (insurance companies, HMOs that don't pay doctors enough to provide care, decreasing numbers of people training as nurses, malpractice insurance making it too expensive to be a doctor, doctors all wanting to go into cosmetic surgery because that's where the money is). Illegal immigrants may contribute to the problems but I don't think they are the major issue. As you say, making it easier to be legal would probably solve some problems. The guest worker program includes many worker protections, probably including some sort of medical coverage (though I don't know the details).

eric3000 said...

lynette,

yeah, that's the worst part; some illegal immigrants are treated like slave labor. Because there is no regulation to protect them, some are practically held captive and are barely paid. Because they don't make any money, they are never able to go home.

At first I didn't like the sound of the guest worker program because it seemed like it would create a legal underclass of people, who would work really hard and then be sent home. But I'm starting to think it may actually fill a real need for both workers and employers.

Laura S said...

I've seen both sides of this. My cousin used to work in a restaurant until the owner tried to cut his pay in half (under minimum wage). When he protested, the owner replaced him with an illegal immigrant. However, I blame the owner more than the immigrants in that case.

My ex teaches in a city where many of his students are illegal. They were brought here very young and only know America. If they got deported to their "home" country, it would be completely foreign to them. These are smart, friendly, good kids. There is (or was) a proposal to give children citizenship, or at least green cards, upon graduation from a US high school. However I don't think that got much support.

Maybe I am just very sheltered or naive, but I don't know that racism per se is the problem. I know many people who are not at all racist but still oppose illegal immigration. I think the issues are more around following the rules, crowding, paying for government services, etc. And they are valid points.

I agree with the poster who said we should make legal immigration easier. If someone can come and fill a real need - skilled or not - why not let them come and help improve our country? This country is founded on immigration, and I consider that a strength. However, it should be legal - make sure immigrants are paid properly, have access to government services, and yes, pay taxes, just like everyone else. Punishing illegal immigration would then become much more justifiable since reasonable legal routes exist.

Lastly, I think there is a large component of "fear of the unknown". It's not that illegal immigrants are brown or speak Spanish, it's simply that they're different. Many of us embrace those differences or at least don't mind them, but many people need more time to adjust to changes. Especially the less young among us, who have become used to things being the way they are. It's hard to celebrate the melting pot if there's not much time for things to melt. History is rife with immigrants, legal or not, being persecuted - my grandfather was Italian and had a lot of trouble because of it. While unfortunate, this is nothing new, and there is no easy fix for human nature. (Obviously there will also always be outright racists, and I have no suggestions on how to handle that - I do believe that most people mean well when given the chance though.)

I think the best we can hope for is to make the rules more reasonable so they're easier to follow, clamp down on those who don't follow the new, easier rules, and try to be more accepting both of newcomers, and those who have a little trouble with the newcomers.

Wow this was long - sorry! But it's a very complicated topic and deserves lengthy treatment.

eric3000 said...

Laura,

Definitely a complicated topic! I completely agree that opposition to illegal immigration is not always base on racism. But I do think some anti-immigration sentiment does have an association with racism. For instance, I've actually heard people complain about Cinco de Mayo celbrations, saying, "if they love Mexico so much why don't they go back." However, I've never heard anyone complain about people celebrating October Fest, or St. Patrick's Day, or Bastille Day (I know that last one doesn't get much attention here), or any other holidays celebrated by European immigrant communities.

I know many people are not racist at all but simply don't like the fact that people are breaking the law. But I also think many people use the illegal immigration issue to conceal their dislike for all immigration from Latin America.

As you say, we simply need to create a system that doesn't encourage illegal immigration. Then, if we actually had enough legal workers, we could use our resources to go after issues like making sure the minimum wage is enforced.

Ms. Place said...

Ahem, I am a first generation American. I was nine when we came over. And we all speak English. My brother and I speak only with a slight accent. In order to survive in this country, we had to learn the language. Ok, so we're white and European. Believe me, when you come over everything is so overwhelming and different, and you experience a culture shock so profound, that you feel helpless and powerless. We were lucky. People welcomed us with open arms. Even so life was tough.

Immigrants have to work, regardless of whether they speak the language or not. Many have no safety net because it took all their resources to come over. My family was lucky. Dad was a doctor, and we were considered desirable.

Fast forward to the poor Mexican laborer who is causing such a stir among folks today. Excuse me, but who among us wants to shuck oysters all day? Pick apples or cabbages? Share a tiny apartment with two families? Purchase one car that will carpool six men to their various locations? Work 12 hours shifts?

Life is tough, and then these poor folks are expected to learn English in their spare time. How many of us could squeeze in two hours of study or even think straight during English classes after working two exhausting shifts back to back?

It's a KNOWN fact that one or two generations after coming to America, all immigrants speak English. Yeah, granpa and granma and ma and pa might have a difficult time, but their grandchildren are FLUENT. The Irish and the Italians at the turn of the century did not rush to ESOL classes. Research has shown that they assimilated into our culture slowly and naturally.

What are we Americans afraid of? My two Sudanese boys, the ones who live with me, work so hard that my heart aches for them. Due to the effects of malnutrition and years of warfare (they have no families left) they will ALWAYS lead a hard life. But these Lost Boys endure backbreaking hours and poverty stricken times because the alternative is death in their home country. AND they know life will be better for our children in this country.

A system that allows Mexicans to cross the border, work in America, and return home to be with their kith and kin is the most humane and makes the most economic sense. In fact, it makes so much sense that no politician could possibly understand it.

What a great post Eric. Can you tell I'm emotional about this issue?

Cliff O'Neill said...

Eric,

Honestly, never have I read such a well-thought out, concise, clear-headed essay on this (amazingly) divisive issue. I have to keep this essay for future reference. Kudos to you!

Ms. Place said...

I know my rant was long, but I must clarify something. American English is very hard to understand for a non native person. This is because of slang and idioms. Certain phrases are not not in school, where standard English is taught. Americans have their own way of communicating which is bewildering to someone who did not grow up in the culture.

Phrases like, You could have thrown me for a loop, are totally unintelligible. My parents still get meanings wrong. As do I.

cdelphine said...

Based on where I live I know that there is definitely racism tied up with the immigration debate. Link to a letter to the editor of our local paper. http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/opinion/display_lte.htm?storyid=61450

A highlight is where the author says that 56,000 Americans have been killed since September 11 by illegal immigrants. Obviously a problem that wouldn't exist if we would just kick them all out. *sarcasm on my part*

There was another letter that I can't find online where my jaw literally dropped because it was so racist.

Not everyone thinks that way but it definitely exists.

eric3000 said...

Thanks, Cliff! You are too kind!

Ms. Place, thank you for your personal immigration story!

cdelphine,

your comment reminded me of a recent "Ask a Mexican" (a column by Gustavo Arellano)

http://www.laweekly.com/la-vida/ask-a-mexican/ask-a-mexican-chilango-cheer/16630/

The column responds to the idea that illegal immigrants are more likely to be sex offenders. A Dr. Deborah Schurman-Kauflin authored a 2006 paper called “The Dark Side of Illegal Immigration: Nearly One Million Sex Crimes Committed by Illegal Immigrants in the United States." Apparently the paper takes the statistic that 2% of illegal immigrants in prison are in on sex offenses and then concludes that this means 2% of ALL illegal immigrants are sex offenders! Only a moron would accept her conclusions, which is probably why some government officials have repeated them.

trixie said...

This was a great post and discussion. People have brought up so many important aspects of this issue that are too often left out of the mainstream debates. Just to add a few odd (in both senses) comments:

- Part of me looks at the immigration debates as an exercise in futility. It is like the "English Only" movement. We're already bilingual: get over it.

- We cannot stop people from crossing the border: not as long as there are people who are going to hire them. And our agricultural industry, for one, is built upon their backs.

- When people talk about how much illegal immigrants (i.e. Mexicans) cost us they never think about how much more expensive our food and other products would be if the laborers producing them were all paid a legal wage. That cost would be passed on to us and it would be A LOT.

- I'm shocked by the blatant forms of racism that are considered commentary or even straightforward news on this issue. You know that Lou Dobbs & the like would be wiping tears from their eyes hearing tales about someone's Irish ancestor who came over as a stowaway during the famine.

- That said, I do have serious problems with the current sanctuary movement that equates those who are here illegally from Mexico with people who were fleeing the wars in Central America during the 1980s. It is part of the Judeo-Christian mission to take in the wanderer, to provide a room at the inn -- and they are an important voice in this debate. (And shouldn't be harrassed.) But they need some serious history lessons if they think that returning people to Mexico today is like sending them back to the death squads in Guatamala and El Salvador.

- Note: anonymous said..."everyone who moves here illegally denies access to someone else who is following all the rules and procedures and filing all the forms and waiting for the OK"
I don't think it works that way. No one is counting illegals and then crossing off names on the legal waiting list.

eric3000 said...

Thanks, Trixie! You make some good points.

I agree that it's an exercise in futility. Fighting immigration is a little like the war on drugs: you're going to lose. So instead of making things illegal and then pointlessly fighting against them forever, we should try to make things work legally. I always bring up the best example of a losing battle and the pointless legal policy that only caused more problems: the prohibition of alcohol. It didn't keep anyone from drinking; all it did was leave a lasting mafia presence. I wish we could learn something from that.

Ms. Place said...

One more thought. The Europeans have opened their borders and people can move amongst countries visiting and working. There are immigration problems over there, to be sure, but there's no discussion of closing those borders. Where one can move about freely in Europe, Americans will soon be required to carry a passport to visit Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean.

Debbie said...

I think the US should invade Mexico and take the country over, (since they all want to live here anyway..it should be fairly easy) make it our 51st state. Illegal immigrant problem solved. Everyone automatically becomes a US citizens...all our products from Mexico become more expensive, we wont need a passport to hang out on the beautiful beaches AND Tequila for everyone!

Anonymous said...

I had to comment, since I live directly on the border of Texas and Mexico. I feel like the true problem is not illegal immigration, but the vast amounts of drugs that are being crossed daily. Maybe it is easier to claim that the wall is for stalling immigration instead of disclosing how many drugs cross daily.
-christina

BigAssBelle said...

i have been thinking about this very fine "divisive post" for the last 24 hours. i wanted to clarify something i said with regard to the issue of english. i believe it is important for any group coming here to learn to speak english as quickly as possible. i don't want the schools to teach kids in spanish longer than absolutely necessary to help them learn english because i am convinced it handicaps students and will create a permanent underclass. i don't want folks speaking english because "by God, if you're going to come here, speak the language." as noted above, my grandparents never spoke english. never. but the second generation was bilingual and facility in this language allowed them to truly access this american dream, to become scientists and doctors and lawyers and writers and all of that we hold up as possible for those who work hard and keep at it.

i question whether working hard and keeping at it is enough for certain ethnic groups, but perhaps my view is colored by my locale. the issue of immigration is, here, in oklahoma, vastly influenced by a deeply held racist view of mexicans and ms. place's Sudanese and other not-white individuals as less than. it is a shameful fact of life in this state that continues despite some advances.

the letters i read in our paper re immigration would lead one to believe that every individual here illegally is a rapist, a murderer, a dope dealer. not only that, s/he is diseased and highly infectious and we are all at risk of leprosy, tuberculosis and other horrors. they are sucking off the public teat and making off with taxpayer monies at every turn.

ms. place said: In order to survive in this country, we had to learn the language. Ok, so we're white and European. Believe me, when you come over everything is so overwhelming and different, and you experience a culture shock so profound, that you feel helpless and powerless.

and i can only imagine such a thing, having never encountered a situation like that. i don't know that there is a more powerless group than the illegal immigrant. there's nowhere to turn for help, no one cares, abuses are rampant and as a compassionate, human rights issue, must be addressed.

people here illegally are just people desperate to survive. it's a desperation with which i have little acquaintance, privileged as i have been in my life. imagine the kind of life struggle that could drive one to leave the country of one's birth, to leave family behind, to take a risk of being killed, to risk being abused, taken advantage of, with the goal being simply that you must do this in order to live, to care for your family.

i think much of what angers me about this entire issue is that there is so little compassion and empathy entering into the argument. human beings. they live in mexico, they live in muslim countries, they live everywhere, everywhere. i would hope that we can always remember, in discussing these issues, that these are human lives we are talking about, lives just like ours, though undoubtedly fraught with far more difficulty. people, just like us.

eric3000 said...

Thanks, Lynette.

And I understand your point about English making life better for immigrants. I'm sure most people would agree with that. I just think the language issue too easily turns into an anti-Spanish and an anti-immigrant issue.

Most immigrants can figure out for themselves that they will get ahead more easily if they learn English; I'm just not sure why we need to point that out to them. Arnold Schwartzenegger just made a statement the other day suggesting that immigrants stop listening to Spanish-language radio stations. He's not a racist; I'm sure he genuinely wants to improve their lives. But it was still a stupid suggestion. If listening to Spanish-language radio stations gives immigrants a little comfort and keeps them informed about news events that they may not understand in English, then they should listen.

There are people who get upset that public signage and government forms and telephone menus, etc. are bilingual. I'm not sure why this bothers them. I think many people do have that imperialist ideology that English is the one and only official and natural language of this land and we need laws to keep it that way.

Again, I know you weren't saying that. I just worry that excessive concern about Spanish feeds into an anti-immigrant mentality.

eric3000 said...

Debbie,

I think we should invade France first, just for the hell of it! LOL!

Christina,

Thanks for bringing up another border issue. I just wonder if most of the drugs are smuggled through actual border crossings, in which case a border wall wouldn't do anything at all. I also think the "War on Drugs" has created an environment where the drug problem would be readily brought up, not hidden behind another issue. But you could be right.

bungle said...

Oh, so it's racism at the root of all the anti-brown illegal people talk.

Well I better warn these folks:

www.chooseblackamerica.com


I'll check back in and let you know what they say after I tell 'em they're being racist.

eric3000 said...

Bungle,

I don't think you have to be racist to be opposed to illegal immigration. But if your point is that you have to be white to be racist, I think you are wrong.

Ms. Place said...

Ok, I just have to put in another opinion. Our brains are marvelous instruments. We can actually learn another language while speaking our native language. In my family we switch from English to Dutch to English in such a natural way that we don't even know we're doing it. But when we communicate exclusively with Americans, we switch to speaking English only. Research demonstrates that adults and children who learn a new language and receive instructions in their native language learn that new language faster. They don't have to spend a large amount of time trying to figure out what their teacher is asking them to do, and they can concentrate on the lesson at hand.

The same goes with watching Spanish television. It does not interfere with a person's ability to learn English. The Governator must have forgotten what it was like to learn English. Perhaps not. His accent is still so thick that few would mistake him for a native American.

The point is, my mom and dad learned English in the Netherlands before the days of widespread travel, television, and the Internet. They came over speaking perfect British English, which got them almost nowhere. It's the slang and idioms and customs that stumped them. That's why English lessons must also be combined with Civics lessons. Just learning "English" per se doesn't work.

Any one who has been to the Soviet Union, China, or Japan, knows how bewildering it can be to be in a completely foreign environment not reading or speaking the language at all. Compassion is in order for these poor immigrants, regardless of whether they are legal or not. Only desperation causes an entire group of people to leave their kith and kin to seek economic security.

For most foreigners, life in this country is not easy. It is damned tough.

Linda Merrill said...

Well, my head is spinning from all these points of view. Here are my random thoughts:

- I get frustrated that those who support outright legalization of those here illegally conflate immigrants and illegal immigrants. It seems to me that we have laws that should be followed, or, if we feel they are unfair, the original needs to be changed.

- No country has open borders, so to suggest that there is inherent racism, specifically towards those who are from Latin American countries, in wanting to regulate immigration is somewhat inflammatory.

- Every "different" ethnic or religious group who has come here has experienced being the "other". Going back to the puritans who forced non-puritans (eh gads, the Papists!) to follow their religion in secrecy, to the time of "No Irish need apply" even to be maids or stable boys; to the swarthy Italians and Jews who took up residence in the slums of New York. All of the above were white Europeans who were just different than the then ruling class.

- I think Arnold was absolutely right, and he was speaking from personal experience, about the need to learn the native language, get educated and get ahead. I saw a re-broadcast of his talk and what I heard him say was don't listen exclusively to Spanish tv. He wasn't saying it was easy, but that it's a crutch and a hinderance to learning the prevailing language. I've always thought that if I moved to France, for instance (a personal dream), I'd have to learn the language to get a job, to make friends, etc. I don't think it's racist to suggest that people should learn the language of where they live. It's common sense and I think all too often, political correctness gets in the way of the facts of life. If I'm going to hire someone, I'll hire the person I can converse with, period. That all said, I don't at all think that immigrants should lose their first language or customs, that brings a richness that is the hallmark of our culture. One of my high school flute students, who is American born, has a mother from Serbia. They only speak Serbian at home, although her mother speaks completely fluent unaccented English. Keeping the old language is a gift - the kids not only speak two languages fluently, it's easier for them to learn additional ones.

- I lean towards the guest worker idea - but have heard that similar programs in Europe, especially Germany, have lead to a permanent underclass, second class status situation. Which isn't good or right.

- The concept of taxes is mostly a ruse - although it's confusing. Different taxes pay for different things. For instance, public schools are mostly paid for by property taxes - so, most illegals probably pay rent, and therefor are paying their landlords property taxes. The exception would be those house holds that hold considerably more people than the legal limits allow. Medical coverage is paid for by state taxes which is made up by income and sales taxes. Illegals do pay sales taxes. But not all pay income tax - although most probably do. But there is certainly a large percentage who work "under the table" who probably don't. I'm thinking of those in child care, gardeners - those who work for private households. I've never heard of the private IRS accounts, which doesn't mean I don't believe who ever said it. But, I do doubt that it's a lot of folks who do this.

Basically, I just get tired of all the "black and white" discussion on all sides of the issue. If someone wants restrictions, or at least wants the existing restrictions followed, or dares to use the word "illegal" they are called racist. On the other hand, there are those who fear anyone "different" and even tho we are all descendants of immigrants (my family came here in 1633) (and excepting the indigenous native people - which opens a whole 'nother can of beans!) they want to pull up the welcome mat.

It's a complex issue, to be sure.

"Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free..." - didn't the French write that for us? There's an open door kind of people (said sarcastically). Maybe if we invaded, Eric, I'd get to live there after all, AND speak English!

Linda Merrill said...

err... can of worms, not beans.

eric3000 said...

Thanks for your comments, Linda!

Again, let me clarify that I don't think everyone who opposes illegal immigration is a racist and none of the other comments suggest this either. I do, however, think that SOME people who are opposed to illegal immigration use the issue as a convenient way to express their racism. Just as I think racism was definitely a factor in the opposition to most earlier immigration to this country, whether it was from China, Italy, or Ireland. Yes, the Irish are white Europeans but, in the 19th century, Anglo-Saxons actually considered them to be a completely different species.

And, again, I agree with you and Lynette and the governor that it is in an immigrant's own interest to learn English. My point is just that they already know that so I'm not sure what good it does to point it out.

As Ms. Place pointed out, there are different theories on the best way to learn a language. Complete immersion is one method but it isn't the only one. And I can relate a little bit to the experience she wrote about: I went to South Korea by myself almost ten years ago just to experience something different and even though Seoul is a very modern city, almost nobody spoke any English. I went for days at a time without speaking to anyone. I almost had a nervous breakdown. I was only able to eat because some restaurants had pictures of food outside. And I was on holidy! I can't immagine what that must be like for a poor worker.

One final point (yeah, right) is that Americans and the British have for centuries and still do live permanently and temporarily all over the world and many of them expect to continue speaking English. There are large English-speaking communities all over the world and most English-speaking people find that normal. Maybe you don't; I'm sure there are people who also think this is wrong but my point is that there is definitely a double standard.

Again, thanks for your comments, everyone! They are all appreciated and I think we can respectfully disagree on some issues!

Melanie said...

Although some choose not to admit it, humans are part of the animal world and have many of the same territorial instincts that other species have. Natural resources are finite and we (like other animals) will defend our own territory to ensure that we have enough for our own survival and well-being and when resources are scarce, we will invade and take over other territory in order to gain control of more resources to sustain us (and unfortunately, there are those humans who get greedy and decide they want to conquer and control more than they actually need).

This past week, I was watching a nature documentary about chimpanzees and saw a tribe of chimps viciously attack a neighboring tribe to gain more territory (cannibalizing one of the enemy's baby chimps as a shared meal after their victory, not an unusual event. Researchers are unsure why this happens, but I digress).

To say that most people who are worried about the mass immigration of Mexicans into America are racist or are compulsive about following rules ignores this fundamental issue of territorial behavior. It's in our biology and it's a key to survival.

Every human (and every animal) wants to survive and thrive and raise its offspring to do the same. We can recognize the Mexicans wish to improve their lives, but we should also realize that unlimited, unaccounted for numbers of immigrants into the US will affect our lives.

I also am concerned when I see Hispanics here illegally denying that they have broken laws, when they hoist the Mexican flag up proudly, such as during the national protests last year(we also had builder contractors in the subdivision next to our neighborhood that flew a Mexican flag from the rooftop of the house they were building), and when they tell us they are entitled to legal rights while here. Mexico's second largest source of income is money sent to relatives from family members working in America. Guest workers and illegal immigrants hoping to return to Mexico will always have their first allegiance with their native country, not with ours. This may not cause problems, but the potential for political and social unrest and upheaval is there when there are a very large number of people involved. I live next door to a mid-size city in Oklahoma (Belle, we could be neighbors). I read in the paper the other day that the city now is composed of 15-20% immigrants from Mexico. We regularly read news articles in the paper here about immigrants in car accidents without driver's licenses or insurance. A section of the city has become more dangerous and is known for Hispanic gang activity. This directly affects our quality of life and contributes to our opinions about illegal immigration.

I believe that if businesses insist on paying low wages to their workers and immigrants are the only ones willing to work for those low rates, then the laws should be changed to increase quotas for both legal immigration and temporary work permits. And then once fair and rational quotas are set, enforce the law and return people crossing the border illegally. I do think, though, as Linda Merrill pointed out, that sets up a permanent underclass in our society, which is a type of racism itself, is it not?

Also, why should Mexicans have the right to become the predominant group to immigrate into our country, simply because of geography. Do not the needy and poor and oppressed in other countries deserve to have a chance to better themselves in the US? No matter how big our hearts may be, or how well off the majority of us are now, compared to people in other countries, if we allow as many people as wanted to immigrate to the US to enter our country and live here, it would eventually reduce our country to a third world status. Our resources are not infinite. Our quality of life would suffer and we would live in overcrowded conditions.

If we were truly concerned about security in this country, we would also be concerned about who is entering our country from Mexico. While the majority of people are just looking for a better way of life, there are some people who would be best kept out because of their criminal history.

Control over immigration and entry through our borders is essential. Reform is most definitely needed to address the problems we face. Discussions like this are helpful toward reaching consensus and coming to an understanding of the issues.

Thanks, Eric, for giving us a thoughtful post and something to think about and share our thoughts on.

bungle said...

...aaaaaaanndddd this is comment # 30!

Woohoo!

This blog should've long since been having those kinda response numbers. Not e3K's fault that there weren't previously, just sayin'.

Agree or disagree with what anyone has written here now or in the past, this blog like T &L's has attracted a fine crew of Commentarians. I'm hoping FABULON, Bravissimo, Kora in Hell, B-Belle's and ms. 1st Place's joints get more exposure and visible involvement (if I haven't named yer blog no offense I haven't explored too far in depth and that has to do with blog time management :D ).

eric3000 said...

Thanks, Bungle!

Thanks for your comments, Melanie!

I agree with your comments about the natural territorial instincts of all animals.

But, as Michael Bloomberg (who is currently campaigning NOT to run for president) pointed out the other day, the US population is aging rapidly and we desperately need younger workers. We aren't procreating fast enough to keep up with retiring baby-boomers (probably because of gay marriage, ha ha) so we need immigrants. I think we can all agree that it would be better for them to be legally.

But you are right, there are people from other parts of the world who also deserve the opportunity to come here and work. I'm not entirely sure, however, that geographic proximity shouldn't factor in at all. I think it's natural for countries to have strong relationships with their neighbors.