A book, The Christian Examiner, warns that “ill-clad and destitute” immigrants are “repulsive to our habits and our tastes.”
A former mayor of New York City cautions that they bring disease, “wretchedness and want” to the US, and Harper’s Weekly despairs that these immigrants are “steeped in ignorance” and account for a disproportionate share of criminal activity.
Boy, those foreigners were threatening — back in the mid-1800s when those statements were made about Irish immigrants.
Once again, the US is split by vitriolic debates about how to handle immigrants, following US President Barack Obama’s executive action to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. The outrage seems driven by three myths:
‧ Immigrants threaten our way of life. Many US citizens see foreigners moving into their towns, see signs in Spanish or other languages, and fret about changes to the traditional fabric of society.
That is an echo of the anxiety former US president Theodore Roosevelt felt in 1918 when, referring to German and other non-Anglo European immigrants, he said: “Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country.”
That is an echo of the “yellow peril” scares about Chinese and Japanese immigrants.
It is true that undocumented immigrants might lower wages in some sectors, harming low-skilled native-born US citizens who compete with them. One study suggests that a 10 percent increase in the size of a skill group lowers the wages of black people in that group by 2.5 percent.
Yet immigration has hugely enriched the US. For starters, unless you are a full-blooded American Indian, if you are a US citizen you are also an immigrant.
Nations, like carpets, benefit from multiple kinds of threads, and former British prime minister Tony Blair was right when he said: “It is a good rule of thumb to ask of a country: Are people trying to get into it or out of it?”
‧ Immigrants today are different because they are “illegals.” They are parasites.
Look, people are not legal or illegal, behaviors are. If an investment banker is convicted of insider trading, he doesn’t become an “illegal.” So let us refer not to “illegal immigrants,” but to “undocumented immigrants.”
They have contributed US$100 billion to social security over a decade without any intention of collecting benefits, thus shoring up the system, according to US Social Security Administration chief actuary Stephen Goss.
At the state and local level, households headed by unauthorized immigrants paid another US$11 billion in taxes in 2010 alone.
If these migrants are given work permits and brought into the system, they will contribute US$45 billion over five years in payroll taxes to the US economy, according to the Center for American Progress.
Parasites? No, they are assets.
‧ Immigration reform is an unconstitutional power grab by a dictator.
US Senator Ted Cruz compared Obama’s executive action to the Catiline conspirators seeking to overthrow the Roman republic. US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner suggested that it was the action of an “emperor.”
Look, I have reported in many dictatorships (and been detained in some of them). Obama is no dictator.
It is difficult for me to judge the legality of Obama’s executive action, because I am not an expert on legal issues like prosecutorial discretion. However, neither are the critics furious at Obama. The US has a broken, byzantine immigration system — anybody who deals with it is staggered by the chaos — because politicians are too craven to reform it. At least Obama is attempting to modernize it.
Yes, it is troubling that Obama previously argued that he did not have this authority. Yes, his executive action is on a huge scale — but it is not entirely new. Obama’s action affects 45 percent of undocumented immigrants, compared with the 40 percent affected by then-US president George H.W. Bush’s action in 1990. Leave the legal dispute for the experts to resolve.
I see a different hypocrisy in Obama’s action. He spoke eloquently on Thursday evening last week about the need to treat migrants humanely — and yet this is the “deporter in chief” who has deported more immigrants than any of his predecessors. Taxpayers have spent vast sums breaking up families and incarcerating honest men and women who just want to work. By a 2011 estimate, more than 5,000 children who are US citizens are with foster families because their parents have been detained or deported.
The US needs empathy and humility. My father, a refugee from eastern Europe, was preparing a fraudulent marriage to a US citizen as a route to this country when he was sponsored, making fraud unnecessary. My wife’s grandfather bought papers from another Chinese villager to be able to come to the US.
So remember: What most defines the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US is not illegality, but undaunted courage and ambition for a better life. What separates their families from most of ours is simply the passage of time — and the lottery of birth.
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