Friday, April 14, 2006


With Congress attempting to come to grips with immigration reform, and highly visible protests and counterprotests taking place around the country, immigration is a subject that has pushed it's way to the forefront of the public consciousness in the last month or two. I think it's a bit like the age 60 issue: both sides have some good arguments, but neither side is entirely correct. I think the best solution would probably make both sides upset. Unlike the mostly civilized debate over the age 60 issue, debate over immigration tends to draw out some unsavory characters and dark prejudices that end up unfairly tainting the "good guys" in the debate.

My own position could be summed up as the following: I am pro-immigration. I think it's the lifeblood of this country, one of the things that make it great. I do believe, however, that there is a limit to how much immigration the country can absorb and still make it work. I believe that the country has a right and a responsibility to enforce it's borders. I don't think of illegal immigrants as criminals, although I think that their illegality creates a submerged culture that allows criminal elements to thrive. In short, I think that the US should make legal immigration much easier, with realistic procedures and quotas, while securing our borders and cutting down illegal immigration to a manageable rate, while at the same time looking hard at some of the issues that create a need for illegal immigration. It's not a position that fits well onto a protest sign, but is just right for an off-topic blog post [grin].

I think that the majority of Americans are generally pro-immigration. Most of us can easily trace our family trees to where we came across from "the old country." My dad's family, for example, is comprised of ethnic Germans that immigrated from the Ukraine in the late 1800s, settling near Napolean, ND. Right now I'm learning to speak German, partly because Dawn and I are visiting German-speaking areas of Europe this summer, but also as a way to connect to my heritage and understand where I came from. The descendents of Italian and Irish immigrants not only continue to celebrate their roots, but these celebrations have also permeated the larger American culture. It is in this context that most Americans realize the value of immigration to our country, and welcome new arrivals with open arms.

There is an anti-immigration movement in this country, although considerably smaller than in most other parts of the world. Some believe our country is too crowded already; others fear that immigrants will take "American jobs." Some are simply racist, whether it's conscious or unconscious. The racist element has tainted the entire immigration debate, to the point that anyone who opposes immigration is accused of racism. For that matter, the charge is often made against people like myself who are pro-immigration but leery of a laissez-faire border policy.

Right-wingers also sometimes make characterizations that amount to "guilt by association." Because many of the rallies of the last month have been organized by suspect organizations such as Communist-front International A.N.S.W.E.R., commentators may assume that the participants share the same radical ideology. Yet for every person chanting Marxist or Reconquistadora gibberish through the bullhorn, for every person screaming their demands at the American people, there are many more who are simply saying: "We're here for a better life, don't forget about us, we want to join you as American citizens."

I have a lot of sympathy for illegal immigrants, the majority of which come from Mexico. They are often the poorest citizens of that country, with little hope for them there. There is opportunity in their prosperous neighbor to the north, but the obstacles to legal immigration are almost insurmountable to a person of limited means. So they take the best route for them: they slip across the lightly guarded border. Does this make them criminals? They've broken the law, but they're not the same as thiefs or assailants. All the same, the fact of their illegality means that we have a huge subculture that is laying low, below the radar-scope of the law - and criminal and dangerous elements thrive in that environment. Consider, for example, that several of the 9/11 hijackers procured false I.D. through a criminal network that forged identification for mostly innocent illegal immigrants. You can see why most Americans, even many who support immigration in general, disapprove of illegal immigration.

But like it or not, millions of illegal immigrants are in this country. What is the solution? A mass amnesty? It seems as though this would encourage future illegal immigration, as happened after the 1986 amnesty. Step up enforcement and deportations? It would guarantee a lot of animosity from the immigrant community and drive it futher underground, again catering to the criminal elements that survive there and exploit the community. President Bush's guest worker proposal is an attempt to forge some middle ground, but I think our goal should be to assimilate our immigrants and turn them into U.S. citizens.

Assimilation is really at the core of this debate. A strong assimilation policy allowed the US to absorb large numbers of immigrants throughout the 1800s. Modern-day multiculturalists will argue that assimilation is a racist and inhumane concept that insists upon the stripping of one's identity to replace it with that of a foreign country. I would argue that assimilation is not about losing your identity, but retaining important elements of your roots while adding the culture of your new country, forming something new and wonderful. Assimilation is not a one way street: a country incorporates its immigrants' roots into its own culture. It takes time, and it takes a conscious decision to welcome immigrants and then incorporate them into your country, teaching them about its history, its values and mores, and yes, its common language.

One can see the consequences of failure to assimilate in Europe. In the 1960's, several European countries were suffering a manpower shortage so they opened their borders to a flood of immigration, often from former colonies. These new arrivals never really integrated into their host countries. They often lived in huge ghettos on the outskirts of large cities, with cultures that resembled rather little those of the host countries. They were never really accepted by the natives of their new countries, and often suffered discrimination and poor treatment, furthering their sense of alienation. When European economies stagnated, these immigrant communities were particularly hard hit. Among young Frenchmen of North African descent, for example, unemployment is currently over 40%. Is it any wonder that radical Islamism has taken a hold in the ghettos of Paris and Frankfurt and Hamburg and Manchester? Or that the unemployed sons and grandchildren of immigrants exploded in rage in the cities of France last year? Immigration itself was not to blame. The failure of the various countries to integrate new immigrants into their society was the problem.

In order to have a successful immigration program, one that produces assimilated and productive U.S. citizens, we need to be able to control the flow - legal and illegal. Ultimately, that means getting control over our borders. This needs to be the first step in any attempt at reform. Personally, I wish we didn't have to do it. A fenced and fortified border seems to carry the symbolism of a fearful, suspicious, and insular America - and I'm sure that's how it will play overseas. But if we're going to make life better for all our immigrants, we need to control the channels through which they arrive here. That means securing the border to the point that illegal immigration is a manageable trickle.

Secondly, we should turn our attention to the immigrants currently here, both legal and illegal. While I'm against a general amnesty, we should make it much easier for illegal immigrants to become documented. The law and order types will no matter grouse about rewarding their breaking of the law, but at this point the only real alternative is continued mass lawbreaking. Perhaps the sort of guest worker program that Bush proposed would be suitable if the borders were secured to prevent massive illegal immigration to take advantage of it, and if it was part of a comprehensive assimilation program that leads all immigrants towards citizenship.

Once we have reduced illegal immigration and are helping our current undocumented residents become legal residents and citizens, then we need to reform the system for those outside the country who want to come here. Right now it's a ridiculously lengthy and expensive process. For any hope of success, you need the money to hire an immigration lawyer, and preferably already have family here. That needs to change. We can put controls in place to reduce harmful effects of immigration - for example, those who are willing to settle in less-populous areas should jump to the head of the line. Depopulation is a concern throughout the prarie states; immigration provides a solution. And once here, there should be an apparatus in place to help our new immigrants assimilate. With these reforms made, our country can support greater levels of legal immigration than are currently allowed, and this would reduce the need for illegal immigration.

Finally, the root causes of illegal immigration need to be looked at. Primary is a poverty-striken, dysfunctional, and corrupt Mexico on our southern border. Mexico needs reform in its government, institutions, and economy. The US government needs to put pressure on Mexico to make these reforms. Trade and foreign aid can serve as both carrots and sticks. Incidently, the drug trade is a major force in keeping Mexico dysfunctional; increased border vigilance will have a strong effect on this. It will also have the side benefit of increasing homeland security.

Overall I think this is a common-sense, reasonable way of looking at the immigration issue. So, anybody wanna put together a rally for effective and fair immigration reform? Somehow I think I might have trouble coming up with a good bullhorn chant from this post....


samrocha said...

Hi I found your Blog on a search, I think the dialogue on immigration is very good and important, feel free to read what I have posted lately at my Blog:

Ron said...

"The failure of the various countries to integrate new immigrants into their society was the problem."

Are you sure it was the failure of the country and not a failure of the immigrant?

My feeling is, immigration (legal or otherwise) is always initiated by the immigrator, the one who is voluntarily leaving his or her country to seek out membership in a different nation. Since that's the case, don't they bear a large part of the responsibility for integrating into that society?

It saddens me to see immigrants come to the U.S. and refuse to integrate into our society. It keeps them seperate. They don't feel like part of our country, and they don't get treated that way.

It's not nearly as bad here as in places like France, where immigrants are trying to overturn the millenia-old culture of that country. But still, at many of the immigration marches here, you'll see a sea of Mexican flags. I don't get it. If they really want to be here, and really want to stay, aren't they flying the wrong flag?

I, too, wrote about this issue on my site.

Sam said...

In America both the government and society as a whole have historically treated immigration as "the process of becoming American." In parts of Europe it wasn't this way at all. The populations treated immigrants, particularly from their former African colonies, as little more than temporary help. The governments built mass housing for them to live in, resulting in the neatly segregated ghettos we see today. As always, the individual bears some responsibility, but the various governments and societies did not expect assimilation and did not promote it.

Now you mention the militant Islamism seen among second and third generation muslim immigrants in France. It's worth noting that you didn't see this among the original immigrants. It wasn't until later that radical imams took advantage of the imigrant populations' lack of integration to radicalize them.

In America, I think society is more accepting of immigrants and attitudes generally mirror yours, favoring assimilation. However, several things are working against assimilation. Illegal immigration results in a large "underground" population, cut off from American society and retaining it's own culture. Of course, there are those within the US that think this is a good thing. The multiculturalist left sees assimilation as a racist concept that strips the immigrant's identity. The radical left sees potential allies in unassimilated immigrants. This is why, at rallies such as those organized by the Marxist International ANSWER, reconquistadora ideology is prominent, as is the flying of the Mexican flag and sometimes even desecration of the American flag. International ANSWER director Brian Becker has publicly spoken about his hope that the immigration movement can become "the catalyst for a broader class struggle, even possibly a revolutionary struggle." This isn't much different from radical muslim imams spreading their militant dogma among immigrants in Europe. All the more reason, then, to make sure any immigration reforms contain strong programs promoting assimilation of new Americans.

One other note on Mexican flags. Not everyone who waves a Mexican flag at an immigrant rally is espousing reconquistadora ideology or is promoting Mexican nationalism. For many, it's simply a symbol of their hispanic identity. What they fail to realize is the rest of us don't see it that way. For many of us, flying the Mexican flag is a symbol of loyalty to Mexico and disrespect to America.

EllenK said...

For what it's worth, I can't honestly blame some of the people who come here looking for jobs. Face it, the Mexican economy is only moving due to money sent back from El Norte. And the Mexican government has been oblivious to the growing needs of their population. The fact is that without the safety valve of the United States there would have already been a government or two overthrown there. But there is also a real threat, one that can be felt in the reconquista rhetoric. There are those who lay claim to the southwest, and really, even the Aztecs were part of the Bering land migration so truly they are immigrants here as well as shown through history. I don't think most people mind someone who genuinely wants to come and be a part of the American experience, but when we are all working the most hours of any civilized nation, it's hard to see someone come here illegally and demand the rights that our parents and grandparents slaved for their entire lives. And what then of those who are patiently waiting and following the laws to come here legally? Is it right for people to march in the streets and demand repayment for breaking our laws? And as for the whole job issue, there is a stagnation of wages when employers can readily find people who will work for subsistance wages. And there are Americans who do those jobs-my kids for three-who work full time to go to college. Fast food, service and hotel, all the areas that supposedly "Americans won't do". My question would be is how many employers are pocketing the excess but charging the same price while paying illegal immigrants under the table? I have heard that many of the contractors in New Orleans are getting federal funds and then cutting deals with illegal immigrants. The feds based the payments on union levels...who do YOU think is skimming from the top? We have to make it important for employers to hire documented workers first. We have to make it difficult for money to be sent out of the country. And we need to somehow maintain our sovreignty. It may seem cruel, but there are limits. And many of the Mexicans that come here have no intention of becoming part of the US. I teach a number of kids from that area, and many of them are not only lacking English, but are illiterate in Spanish as well. How can we teach them when they don't even read their own language? And how can they succeed when there is no effort towards that goal. My Korean, Vietnamese and Pakistani kids work hard to learn English and move out of the ESL programs. Too many of our Hispanic kids linger from Kindergarten through high school because there's no desire to move beyond what they already know. It's a huge issue and one that the Hispanic community doesn't want to recognize. Not everything can be blamed on racism-at some point Mexico has to answer for their lack of attention.

Garrett said...

Hey Sam, I really enjoyed your post; and it is the antithesis of the Rules For Blog Posting that Dennis the Peasant sardonically wrote about a couple weeks back. You actually commit to rational analysis, make a clear effort to avoid partisan rhetoric, and make some very compelling points.

Thank you for the excellent post.

I'm personally against "stronger borders" because of personal biases resulting from seeing the less-than-stellar economic and security results that have come from the "stronger borders" that have been increasingly "enforced" at the US/Canada border in recent years. There are communities on both sides of that border that are suffering immensely due to sheer incompetence and irrational action by the powers that be. In many instances the "increased security" has involved reducing entry points and making the reamining ones more secure. This obviously does nothing useful when someone decides to just walk/boat into the country at the now defunct entry point. It makes upstanding people that do enter at the old entry points for a soda and some gasoline felons.

Mind you, I'm not actually opposed to reasonable, intelligent border security. I'm opposed to powerful political carrots being dangled in order to generate even more funding for questionable programs.

US Customs and Border Patrol managed to kill numerous people in my home state with a interior checkpoint they purposely operated in a manner inconsistent with the agreement they had with the state DOT as far as signage/safety went. Local complaints fell on deaf ears. People had to die and Senators had to get involved before things changed. No one was ultimately held accountable for Border Patrol's capricious actions. I suppose it is not politically correct to suggest such a group should be held accountable for its actions.

Using this relevant, important issue of immigration to justify large scale increases in the size of agencies with incredibly broad powers is something that must be carefully approached in my opinion. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider whether the large scale expenditures in US/Canada border security have had a worthwhile ROI, and perhaps we should consider redirecting some of this money towards the border the current issue seems more focused on.

This is a brilliant election year issue for the GOP. As per usual, I don't see how the Democrats can possibly win goodwill with voters on this issue in a resounding way.

everyman000 said...

Personally, I think countries like mexico should spend some time making their country a place people would want to stay in??

I mean how pathetic is it for a country to be such a RATHOLE that people would be clammering to get out??

Sam said...

Hold on there everyman, this isn't a "dump on Mexico" forum. While your comments contain a germ of truth, you made them in an inflammitory and, to my mind, ignorant way.

First, your characterization of Mexico as a "RATHOLE" is insulting. I've spent some time doing humanitarian work in poor parts of Mexico, both urban and rural. It's a beautiful country with friendly, outgoing people. Many of them live in poverty, but it's not more prevelant than most third world countries. It is the stark contrast to their northern neighbor that provides the impetus for immigration.

Does Mexico need to change? Yes, it does. The corruption of it's political system has done a lot to keep investors at bay, keeping it's economy stagnant and poverty widespread. It's institutions are weak and crumbling. The country needs strong leadership that spreads reform. Right now, they don't have it.

The US is not blameless in this, however. Our illegal drug trade has fueled much of the corruption and political instability in Mexico. The "War on Drugs" seems to have done little to help; if anything, scarcity has driven the prices up and made the drug lords and smugglers that much more powerful. I don't think that legalization is the answer, but we need to look at alternate options because the current system isn't working.

And, like I said, we need to use economic sticks and carrots to help pursuade the Mexican government of the need for change.

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