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Alien Nation

More than almost any nation, the United States was built on the back of immigrants. I, myself am the child of people who were born in other countries – my dad in Cuba, my mom in Canada. They met in New York City on a blind date (who says those things never work?) fell in love, married and remained that way until my dad passed away in 1986. Both of them immigrated legally and were eventually naturalized as American citizens after I was born.

This country has been struggling with a problem of illegal immigration for some time now and I figured I had my own perspective on it. I do have mixed feelings about illegal immigration. My parents did what they had to do to arrive here legally and became American citizens the way it’s supposed to be done. My father, a staunch conservative, was very grateful to this country that gave him shelter when things were going bat crappy in his own country. Like most Cuban exiles, he hated Fidel Castro and communism with an absolute loathing that would make you think twice about bringing up the subject with him. I certainly tried not to. Part of me believes that immigrating to the United States should be done properly.

However, I also believe that the immigration process needs reform. I often wonder why so many people are unable to enter this country legally from South of the Border. Is it because they are undesirables who we don’t want? Or is it because the process of immigrating legally is so time consuming, confusing and costly that the often poorly educated people of Mexico and Central America are unable to legally emigrate?

There are those who want to close our borders tighter than Scrooge McDuck’s wallet. They want to erect a wall – which seems to be a waste of money in this economy; at least it does to me. Walls tend not to work terribly well in keeping people out you don’t want in – ask the Chinese. Walls just create impressions of barriers – and they tend to make whatever’s more attractive to the people living outside of them. Think of it this way; how much more tempting is forbidden fruit than a plain old ordinary orange you can pick off of any tree in your own country.

It also sends a message to the rest of the world – you’re not welcome here. It’s a far different message than Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We used to believe that here. Come one, come all – we needed workers to build our infrastructure. All are welcome. The railroads, the skyscrapers, all needed workers to build them.

Today we need people to wash dishes, clean toilets, pick lettuce and do disagreeable jobs that most of us would turn up our collective noses at (although perhaps not so much now). People who will work for pennies on the dollar (which makes employers happy) and are willing to work hard without whining or asking when lunch is.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the American worker, but desperate people tend to be grateful they have a job and will work harder for less without complaining. That’s ideal to someone running a business – less crap to have to deal with and more productivity. While most illegals tend to be less educated (and plenty of them are very well educated), they are willing to do anything necessary no matter how disagreeable to get work and keep it.

There has been a certain demonization of illegals, being portrayed as people who are here trying to get something for nothing, taking jobs away from American citizens and using up resources that should go to people paying taxes. They bring crime and drugs with them, and the women come to have babies in the U.S. so that they can stay with their kid who if born on U.S. soil is automatically a U.S. citizen.

While I don’t doubt that these things are true in some cases, the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants are here because the jobs are (were) here, and often their choice was to stay in their home country and watch their family starve or make a dangerous journey to the Estados Unidos at great risk to life and limb – often with tragic consequences – for the opportunity of sending nearly every cent they have back home to support their families. Most are hardworking and polite. I’ve met several while working in Southern California back in the day and none struck me as particularly interested in destroying our way of life. If anything, they wanted to catch some of that for themselves.

I agree with most conservatives that illegal immigration is a problem, particularly in the Border States. I don’t necessarily agree with their solutions – then again I don’t believe in blanket amnesty either. U.S. Citizenship shouldn’t be something given away in a Cracker Jack box. It is something worth having, worth fighting for – and worth doing it right for.

That doesn’t mean that things are fine the way they are, or we should start building gigantic walls with machine gun towers. I’m saying we should look at the process, and make it less confusing, less time-consuming and allow people who want to come here and work get work visas. This might not sit well with business owners – they might have to pay illegals a little bit more and submit W2 forms and pay taxes on them. I’d even be amenable to giving documented workers a tax status that allows them a living take-home wage but doesn’t require employers to raise their bottom line unduly. If it means we have to pay a little bit more for lettuce, oh well.

The ramifications behind illegal immigration are wide-reaching and will in part define our country going into this new century. Will we treat them with wisdom and compassion, or with fear and rejection? Is America still the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave? Or is there a giant “Closed” sign in our window?


3 Responses

  1. Carlos, Great article. I live in San Diego, very near the border and I also live in an immigrant neighborhood. Historically, at one time Mexican laborers came here as migrants and after the work was done, they went back home. Some mook in the government felt that the dollar was being drained from the economy so they decided that the workers had to do more than just pay the regular taxes and got the bright idea to prevent them from taking the cash back home, by penalizing them by not being able to return for work, as needed. Real bright, huh? I find that many Mexicans would RATHER go back home, but they are trapped between making the dough but if they leave they cannot come back; again, historically they were able to come and go. Who do you think picked the cotton after the Great Migration? The Southern whites? Wipe that tear of laughter out of your eyes and get up off the floor. To come to a point, I think that now that we have effectively trapped many of these folks here, that they we have to create a way for them to keep working; EVERYONE pays taxes, so they have actually paid at least a part of their way. If we stop calling it “illegal” that would make a difference, because, really, are you going to do any of this grunt work? I’m certainly not! All I know is that the solution is NOT a fence, unless it’s to keep the Texans in. I also lived in Miami and my question is this: Why do some people think that mentioning their intent to reclaim the old family plantation is going to endear them to American black people? I have Cubano friends and they look at me crazy when I ask them this…no, really, they do!
    Keep up the good work!

  2. Good article, good thoughts. Since I live in Texas I can tell you I do not really understand the fence. As the element I understand we need to keep out of this country is gang related and terrorist related I am sure a fence will not change that. As in Israel, the fence defines a terrirorial line, that is about it. We still have borders, highways, waterways and air. Great article Carlos and it really makes me think, what the heck are they doing anyway? I appreciate the people I have known whose origin is “South of the United States Border”.

  3. Thoughtfully written. I believe overpopulation, too few opportunities,and the basic desire to have a better life, all over the world drives the migration of people, ( In my case get away from the cold and see the world). Then we see world maps changed. Building walls and demonizing people is a hateful response, certainly not thoughtful, and that is what is needed.

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