lundi, avril 03, 2006

The National Immigration Debate

It finally happened over the weekend.

I heard an average citizen interviewed about the immigration conversation underway across the nation.

She said “immigrants are dirty, and they have diseases.” Yep, it was right on NPR.

At last, and intelligent viewpoint that eschews the low road and emotion to have a rational discussion on the best approach.

So, we have 11 million or so people here who should not be here. If I understand the conservative argument, it goes a little something like this (hit it):

Immigrants cost us money
They often work illegally (for cash sometimes)
Immigrants are dirty and carry diseases
They consume social services
Immigrants are a threat to our safety
English is our national language!!!
Xenophobia + Homophobia = Republican Majority

Here’s my take on the whole thing.

The immigrants we’re talking about are largely from the Americas.
They are here doing jobs many of us do not want.
They are the new wave of a long-standing tradition that has made America great.
Their children inherit a greater future by being here.
Even excluding practical considerations (how WOULD we remove 11 million people?), the removal of 11 million people from our workforce would shock our economy.
There is no merit to the claim that if the 11 million left then their jobs would go to Americans. Deep down we all know that we have entire industries (meat packing, some agriculture, cleaning, fast food and others) that are either propped up by or exclusively staffed by hard-working men and women who were not born in the United States and aren't exaclty here by persmission.

Three quick anecdotes…

First, on Friday I was watching 20/20 or some such show the topic of which was “up from nothing.” It was ridiculous in many ways (Jon Bon Jovi was said to be up from nothing because he grew up in a home (his family owned) in a working class neighborhood! – hardly nothing) but not without merit. One family featured two Mexican immigrants who supported three children by collecting recyclables at night. Their eldest child attended M.I.T. and is now an Engineer at Raytheon. The middle child went to UC Santa Clara and is in an Executive Training program for a national car rental company. The youngest child is at another UC school and seems destined for success. This family used no social services, even after the parents lost factory jobs.

The second is from my days as a pizza delivery driver. At the end of some shifts I would take our cooks home. All the delivery drivers did it. In exchange, the national pizza company I worked for would give me a few bucks, and the cook would usually give me what they would have paid for a bus ride. There was no refusing it. Believe me, I tried. I always enjoyed giving those rides, struggling to speak Spanish to wonderful hard-working, amazing people who struggled to speak English to me in reply.

The third is about a remarkable woman – Santos Marina who cleans our office suite every day. She is uniformly admired by everyone who works here, and she is teaching me conversational Spanish. She does not speak English, but she is learning. I’m not 100% sure she is here “legally.” In fact, I’m pretty sure she isn’t. I know she sends money home to Honduras to help her family there. I know that on days when work is kicking my teeth in, her smile and “Buenos dios” can improve my outlook quite a bit.

All of these are anecdotal and would have very little value for the national debate, but I hope they will humanize the conversation a bit. The couple from 20/20, the cooks that I worked with when I was a pizza delivery driver, and Santos Marina…well, they’re all folks that I’d like to stay here with us. My guess is that within the 11 million there are the good, the bad and the ugly. But I’d guess further that, on the whole, we’re better off with them than we would be without them.