Immigration

Finally

By now, you’ve heard about President Obama’s executive action on immigration. The plan could help as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants avoid deportation. It marks a major development in the ongoing debate over immigration, and millions of Latino families could see their entire lives changed because of the decision.

Republicans, of course, are apocalyptic. It’s amnesty, or an impeachable offense, or the downfall of America, or some combination of all those things.

No, they really don’t like it.

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Already, we’ve heard the GOP say how Hispanics are now going to overrun America and start ethnic cleansing. I’m not exaggerating. This GOP guy thinks it’s a possibility.

Now, I’ve addressed the countless myths, untruths, and slurs that have been hurled at undocumented people over the years. So I’m not going to get into it all over again.

Suffice to say, nobody really knows what effect this decision will have. But it is, as the kids say, a game changer. And it will have very real effects on myriad Latino households.

Of course, if we do start ethnic cleansing, just say that you’re a regular reader of mine. I’ll put in a good word for you.

 


What’s Not to Love?

So our good friend Ted Cruz is once again threatening to shut down the federal government if undocumented people are offered a path to citizenship… excuse me, I meant “amnesty.” Now, Senator Cruz is not too big on the actual facts of the debate, which is why other people tend to correct him in public.

As we all know, the deluge at the border has slowed down. We are apparently no longer being “invaded.” I, for one, am breathing multiple sighs of relief at that.

Myriad issues have yet to be resolved, of course, and the larger conundrum of immigration reform will continue to vex this country for the foreseeable future. And how one perceives the issue can, of course, vary wildly (ahem).

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So I’ll just throw in one fact here, among the many stats and data points that tend to get lost in a swirl of fury and accusations.

A recent study found that, rather than leeching off the social services that America provides, immigrants have actually “helped pay the nation’s bills, at least when it comes to health care.” This is because immigrants contributed over $182 billion to Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund between 1996 and 2011.

Immigrants contributed over $11 billion more than was spent on their care. During the same time period, U.S.-born citizens sapped a $68.7 billion deficit from the fund.

Yes, if immigrants had not made these large contributions, “the trust fund would likely run out of money three years earlier than it is currently predicted to become insolvent.”

Well, thanks all you immigrants. I’m sure you’re feeling very appreciated right about now.

 


Lasagna and Tortillas

I’ve mentioned before that I am part Italian. My paternal grandmother came off the boat from Naples as a teenage girl in the 1920s. She settled in New York City, like many Italian immigrants did, and lived in a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village for fifty years.

greenwich

In her old age, she developed a reputation as a cantankerous character who snapped at people for littering the sidewalk, often unleashing a string of Italian vulgarities and insults at them.

But that is another story.

The point is that many of my Italian grandmother’s descendents, including me, have achieved a much higher standard of living then she did. This is despite the fact that my grandmother was basically a high school dropout who spoke no English. As an Italian immigrant, she represented the fears of the established Americans, who were not terrible pleased at the new swarthy arrivals.

Yes, that sentiment sounds terribly familiar.

So it is most interesting that “a wealth of data suggests that Latinos, who make up fully half of the immigration wave of the past century, are already following the classic pattern for American immigrants.”

And that pattern is that immigrants arrive “in this country in great numbers, most of them poor, ill educated and, in important respects, different from native-born Americans. The children of immigrants, however, become richer and better educated than their parents and overwhelmingly speak English.”

From both Italian and Hispanic perspectives, this is true of me. And it is also true of my son, because “the grandchildren look ever more American.”

Of course, there is no magical guarantee that the descendants of Latino immigrants will completely close the gaps in education and income that separate Hispanics from other ethnic groups.

But it is certainly moving in that direction. For example, in the last decade the number of Latinos graduating from college has doubled. And second-generation Latino households are much closer in median income to other groups than their immigrant parents were.

The researchers conclude that the so-called Hispanic challenge is a real phenomenon. But rather than being an unprecedented cultural crisis, it is analogous to the Italian challenge, Chinese challenge, or Jewish challenge of the past.

Indeed, “over time, the specific challenges — legal, cultural and educational — have changed. Yet the core parts of the story have not, including its trajectory.”

 


Sucking Up All the Oxygen

The biggest story in America right now — not the biggest Latino-themed story, but the most talked-about news item, period — is the humanitarian crisis at the border. As we all know, tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants — many of them children — are massed in overrun detention centers, awaiting their fate.

Meanwhile, whole towns of god-fearin’ Americans are making it clear that they don’t want no stinkin’ illegals in their neighborhood.

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Yes, this is the latest, most impressive imbroglio over immigration. And in the minds of many Americans, all immigrants are undocumented, all undocumented people are Hispanic, and all Hispanics are undocumented immigrants. It’s a nice little A=B=C theorem.

But the funny thing is that there are 11.7 undocumented migrants in the U.S. By comparison, the overall U.S. Hispanic population is 53 million. Although “immigration is the issue most associated with Latinos…it is not necessarily the most interesting issue to Latinos.” One could argue, in fact, that “most Latinos would probably love not to have to deal with it.”

Indeed, Pew Research says that the top issues for Hispanics are education, jobs and the economy, healthcare, the federal government debt, and (in fifth place) immigration. Even among Hispanic immigrants themselves, only one-third say immigration is an extremely important issue to them personally.

The discrepancy between immigration’s status in the media and its actual importance to the Hispanic community has provoked some Hispanic leaders to say that immigration “occupies almost all the Latino policy agenda, sucking up…all the oxygen on Latino issues.”

Latino leaders say that Hispanics “need to strike a better balance” and not allow immigration to stifle “the Latino agenda for the 21st century. We have to get to the point where we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and focus on other things like discrimination, education, and the infrastructures in our communities.”

It’s a fair point. But immigration is not going away as a media hot topic anytime soon. It’s been pointed out that whether “we are talking about health care or voting rights, there are those who keep inserting immigration into the mix, whether it pertains to a particular issue or not – and normally in a detrimental way.”

And let’s not forget that the media “tends to reduce our diversity down to one issue [and] treat us all as perpetual immigrants.” 

But just you wait, someday soon a national Latino leader will be invited to a Sunday morning news program, and he or she will be asked about the deficit or the Israeli-Palestinian problem or guns in schools or whether the president should be impeached for wearing white after Labor Day or whatever.

And nobody will mention immigration. And it will be pretty cool.

 


Instant Karma

Although I was raised Catholic, I’m not a religious person. I’m more of a quasi-secular humanist, borderline atheist with Buddhist tendencies and Judeo-Christian influences (I mean, as long as we’re labeling here).

About the only supernatural concept I believe in is the idea of karma. Even that comes with a qualifier, because I think karma is more the result of our human decisions, good or bad, and less of a vague, mystical force.

yingyng

I’ve been thinking a lot about karma since reading Susanne Ramirez de Arellano’s article on the Murrieta protests. She covered the war in El Salvador in the 1980s, and she theorizes that the legacy of that war “is sitting on buses in Murrieta. The violent street gangs that now plague Central America, especially El Salvador, were conceived during this dark period.”

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


A Shining Moment

This past weekend, people all over America expressed patriotic fervor. After all, we live in a free country, full of natural beauty. And we strive for lofty goals of democracy and fairness, while extending a heartfelt welcome to immigrants of all types.

Ha-ha. Just kidding about that last part.

CALIFORNIA-FAMILIAS INMIGRANTES

You’ve heard, no doubt, about the demonstrations in Murrieta, California, where protesters blockaded busses carrying undocumented immigrants to a detention facility. The immigrants, “many of them unaccompanied children, were being brought from overcrowded Texas detention facilities for processing in California.”

The protestors waved American flags and chanted, “USA! USA!” They also indulged in some, shall we say, less-than-classy behavior (including the occasional slur). In any case, these uber-Americans forced the busses to turn around.

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Now to be fair, it must have been a bit shocking for the fine people of Murrieta to learn that 140 undocumented people would be dropped off on their doorstep. And the protesters were quick to claim that it wasn’t, you know, a racist thing. Of course not.

But the imagery is hard to downplay.

All I’m saying is that is that it is not exactly courageous to terrorize busloads of traumatized women and children. And heckling poverty-stricken people is not the stuff of patriotic legend.

However, for all those people in Murrieta who still think they were standing up for America, well, let’s put it in perspective.

The Founding Fathers won independence. Lincoln freed the slaves. The Greatest Generation defeated the Nazis.

But you held up a sign and screamed vulgarities at little kids.

Clearly, it was hero time.

 


Born in the US of A

Not so long ago, life was easy for xenophobes. They could slander Latinos and immigrants simultaneously, because they were thought of as one and the same. Also, there weren’t that many Hispanics around, so one could spew within the comfort of an imposing majority.

Well, the Pew Research Center just made everything more difficult for the narrow-minded among us. The organization recently announced that the U.S.-born Latino population is growing at a faster rate than the immigrant population. This means that Hispanics are now more likely to be born and raised in America, as full-blooded American citizens.

This also means bigots will have to supplement their rants about undocumented immigrants with plain old racist tirades, thus doubling their effort.

At the very least, when told to “go back where you came from,” Latinos are likely to deflate the assertion with something like, “You mean, go back to Wisconsin?”

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To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


Fight the Bad Fight

Sometimes, people just don’t know when to quit. For example, the town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, recently discovered that “after spending eight years and half a million dollars fighting in the federal courts,” it can’t become its own tiny version of the INS.

Hazleton had passed ordinances that penalized anyone who employed or rented housing to undocumented immigrants. However, the U.S. Supreme Court said the laws “were unconstitutional and could never be enforced.”

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So now, Hazleton’s leaders don’t have “the will to try again — even if a new law could be crafted that would pass constitutional muster.” So that was a lot of wasted time, money, and effort, all in the service of pissing off the Latino newcomers to “what long had been a Caucasian town.”

But of course, “these days…the town is more diverse,” and residents “are realizing that the Hispanic community has to have a voice.” As such, Hazeltonites (Hazletonians?) are more likely to say, “My bad” and just go about their business ‑– after wasting that aforementioned half million bucks and most of a decade. “Oops,” doesn’t quite cover it.

In this way, Hazleton’s experiences mirror the United States as a whole. Americans are saying they no longer want to crucify every undocumented person and slander Latinos nonstop. In fact, a recent poll “indicates that many Americans have shifted their priorities when it comes to immigration reform.”

According to the Gallup survey, “44% of those surveyed say it’s extremely important for the United States to develop a plan to deal with the large number of undocumented immigrants.” That’s just higher than the 43% who say the top priority should be “beefing up border security to halt the flow of undocumented workers into the country.”

This is part of a trend, in which “Americans of all partisan orientations have come to view border security as less important,” while support for a path to citizenship has remained consistent or increased. And some polls indicate that a majority of Americans believe the government’s main focus “should be legalizing the status of the undocumented rather than border security.”

We’ve spent a lot of time and money trying to kick out people who just turn around and come back, rather than trying to help them to make amends and become part of the culture. Maybe we’re learning that there is a better way.

 


Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

So once upon a time, and by that I mean just a few months ago, it looked like comprehensive immigration reform was going to happen, and soon. After all, you had Democrats fresh off an election triumph. And Republicans had finally caught on that you don’t repeatedly insult the fastest-growing demographic in America (Latinos) and expect to win.

But then government shutdowns and botched healthcare websites and Ted Cruz all happened. And now we have reached the point where people are asking, “Hey, whatever happened to that whole immigration reform thingy?”

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The answer is that all that forward momentum was “no match for the absurd illogic of today’s Washington, where political imperatives, voter preferences, and even the desires of moneyed interests are powerless to move House Republicans off a default stance of ‘no.’”

So there you have it. I’m glad we spent all that time and energy on something so very, very doomed.

 


Animal Kingdom

By now you’ve heard GOP Rep. Steve King (a longtime friend of the Hispanic community) insist that “among young undocumented immigrants in the United States, ‘for everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who’” are essentially drug mules.

laughing mule

 

King, “an Iowa conservative who has come under fire for comments about immigrants before,” has stood by his remarks, insisting that he has “seen it with my eyes and watched the data and video that support what I say.”

I think we would all like to see the video that shows 100 Latino drug mules ganging up on one Hispanic valedictorian. That would indeed be persuasive to the immigration debate.

But all these references to mules have me thinking about another anti-immigration zealot who was obsessed with animals. I’m taking about Cordelia Scaife May, an heiress who, “before her death in 2005, devoted much of her wealth to … curbing immigration, both legal and illegal.”

Scaife May “never knew poverty,” unlike so many of the immigrants she despised. Ultimately, she became a crazy recluse and alcoholic. She also was obsessed with birds.

blue bird

 

Her millions continue to fund right-wing anti-immigrant groups to this day. So here we have a rich person who never worked a day in her life. She was a virulent xenophobe and racist who held her fellow humans in contempt simply because they were born in another country. But she had a soft spot for the little birdies.

And who can argue with those priorities?

Basically, some conservatives don’t think of Hispanics as animals. They think of Hispanics as less than animals.


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