by Philip Greenspan
(Swans - September 24, 2007) From colonial days and for hundreds of years thereafter, labor was desperately craved in North America. Immigrants who could work were wanted and needed. Slaves taken from foreign lands brought handsome prices. The doors of the U.S. remained wide open into the twentieth century. In 1883, long after the land had been settled, Emma Lazarus's famous poem encouraging immigration remained timely.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
That compassionate welcoming message that greeted the lowly immigrants will be replaced with a "Keep Out" sign if the sizable numbers of protectionists have their way. Although immigration to the U.S. was promoted for a long time, immigrants have always been rejected by those already established in the country -- former immigrants themselves, or descendants of immigrants. It is sad that ethnic groups that suffered as immigrants would, upon social acceptance, become conservative and prejudiced against new arrivals.
Every month my wife and I drive over fifty miles to attend a meeting of the Caribbean and Latin American Support Project (CLASP) where a lecture on some country or issue that affects our neighbors to the south is presented. In September, the topic was the undocumented immigrants. Omar Henriquez, a strong advocate for fair treatment of those unfortunate individuals passionately addressed the issue. He has traveled their agonizing road having arrived in the U.S. from El Salvador with his family over thirty-five years ago. His forceful presentation of facts and arguments captivated most of those who attended and led to an interesting discussion.
Survival, yes, survival! That's why they become immigrants. Leaving his homeland, a country in which he and his ancestors lived for perhaps hundreds of years, is a very emotionally painful but extremely necessary decision. Harsh economic and/or political conditions force him to take up residence in a foreign land where he knows he is not wanted. He is demeaned, shunned, abused, and must live clandestinely so that he is not discovered by the authorities who will return him to the hell he fled. Jobs no one else will consider -- jobs that are dirty, dangerous, and difficult -- are jobs he must take to earn substandard wages so that he can send some meager savings to his destitute wife and children back home.
Extremely depressing is how he is designated -- "illegal." An ILLEGAL alien! "ILLEGAL"? Can a human being be illegal? The term implies a non-entity, an untermensch without any rights!
Because his very survival is at stake no legislation, walls, or other impediments will prevent the resolute immigrant from breaching its borders. He leaves his homeland where he is unable to make a living and seeks out one where he can. Why can he no longer make a living in his own country? Because globalization -- NAFTA, CAFTA, SHMAFTA, and all the other globalization schemes that the U.S. has conjured up and forced onto many Latin American countries -- have pauperized the peasants who had been able to eke out a living before the Gringos' subsidized agricultural products undercut his prices. Yes, the U.S. caused the problem. Why shouldn't the U.S. be targeted for relief? Resolve the immigrants' survival fears and the immigration problems should be alleviated.
Immigrants have much to contribute to American society. Treat them fairly, grant them rights, and they are extremely grateful. Upon acquiring the brass ring, citizenship, they become loyal, obedient, hard-working citizens. Many have joined the military to show their devotion to the U.S. with hopes of gaining that citizenship. José Gutierrez, the first GI killed in the Iraq War, entered the country illegally when he was 14 years old. Army Private Armando Soriano, 20, who died fighting in Haditha, Iraq, is now buried in Houston, Texas, his hometown, where his parents, undocumented workers from Mexico, are currently living. Three years after his death his father is facing deportation. Official statistics show that more than 68,000 foreign-born individuals are serving in the military forces of the U.S. Figures from the National Center for Immigration Law show that one in 10 US soldiers who have died in Iraq were immigrants. Five percent of those serving are illegal immigrants who joined with false papers.
On the date of the lecture, The New York Times published a story of the arrest by Israeli police of eight young immigrants from the Soviet Union who engaged in Neo-Nazi activities such as attacks on religious Jews and others ("Israel Arrests Suspects in Neo-Nazi Attacks" by Steven Erlanger, September 9, 2007). A search of their "homes revealed Nazi uniforms, portraits of Hitler, knives, guns and explosives." Israel, unlike the U.S., encourages unlimited immigration and grants citizenship to those it can designate as Jews. The Times article also stated, "Of the nearly 1.2 million immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union, more than 300,000 do not consider themselves to be Jewish, according to government figures. Many were brought up Russian Orthodox." Isn't it ironic that Israel readily grants citizenship to such unworthy individuals while the U.S. bars its land to potentially patriotic candidates?
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