Coastal Post Online

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September 2001

Immigrants

"For the poor shall never cease out of the land. Therefore I command thee, saying thou shalt open thy hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor and to thy needy in thy land." - Deuteronomy 15:11

"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-tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

- Emma Lazarus

(Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor)

My father, a Presbyterian minister and once Secretary of a Foreign Missionary Board, observed that the ladies of his church would work night and day assembling clothes and funds for some far-off African child they would never see, but he couldn't get them to walk a block to help a local foreign-born family in need. Foreign-born were OK, if they stayed away.

Like those European rodents, the lemmings, that on occasion stampede en mass over the cliffs into the sea, Americans can be stampeded into self-destructive behavior. Our history records bitter campaigns against one immigrant group after another: the Irish, the Polish Jew, the Chinese, and within our memory, the Japanese during W.W.II. In each case, we have looked back on our behavior with shame.

In times of depression when jobs are scarce, some politicians have resorted to racial immigration issues, which have at times threatened to bring our "melting pot" to a boil. In the mid 1990s, various political groups, championed by Governor Pete Wilson, bombarded Californians with a campaign of lies to support Proposition 187 which undermined the medical and educational programs for immigrants. Proposition 187, which has never been fully implemented because of court and legislative challenges, was followed by Washington's miserable Immigration Bill and an equally vicious Anti-Terrorist Bill.

A 1995 study by the Washington National Immigration Forum and the CATO Institute, and signed by more than 20 interest groups reported the following statistics:

1) The average immigrant family at that time was receiving $1404 in welfare services in its first five years in this country. Native-born families on welfare received $2279 in the same period.

2) The number of illegal immigrants in the US, estimated at 3.2 million, had not changed significantly in the past ten years.

3) Immigrants on the average had a year's less education than natives of the same age. Unchanged since the 19th century.

4) New immigrants represented a young labor force and were contributing considerably more to the public coffer than they were drawing out.

Since the beginning of history, peoples have immigrated to foreign lands to escape wars, famines, religious persecution, or to give themselves and their children a better life. Religious persecution brought the Pilgrims. A potato famine and English colonialism, the Irish, while economic and political upheaval in Europe before and after W.W.I brought the Polish and Russian Jews.

Washington's political and military meddling in Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico, our military devastations of Korea and then Vietnam, and our bombing destruction of those ancient kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia, forced thousands of these people to seek asylum in the United States. Our ongoing war against the indigenous Indians of Columbia plus pesticide spraying (a replay of Vietnam) is already edging those people north into the US.

Add to these tragedies, those maquilladoras south of us in Mexico where a slave population, underpaid by multinational corporations while laboring 12 to 14 hours a day, exist in the squalor of plywood and corrugated-tin housing of dirt floors and upon sewers, wherewith children, denied a decent education, sleeping three to four to a bed, arise to play in streets of alternate dust and mud.

The idea that we can change history and exclude from our shores those seeking a better life here is an insanity. We have thousands of miles of shoreline plus extensive borders with both Canada and Mexico. Those San Diego County fifteen foot steel fences topped with razor-sharp wire, patrolled by police and the military with dogs, helicopters, infrared detectors and even satellite surveillance have simply shifted the border crossings east into the Arizona desert where those who don't make it die of thirst amongst the mesquite. While the Coast Guard patrols our coastal waters day and night, container cargoes of bodies dead of heat and oxygen lack arrive in our ports. Corpses of the drowned float ashore on our southern beaches, while to our north, native Iroquois Indians charge $700 a head to shepherd refugees across from Canada.

All Americans, save for a few native Indians, are either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. Uncounted millions of immigrants enter the US every year and many leave, yet in 1996, figures showed that only eight percent of our population was born outside the United States. In contrast to the early 1990s, when most of us were white and European, today most immigrants are Asian, Latin-American, and Caribbean. The latest available figures from the US Immigration Service show that in fiscal year 1998, 1,679,439 illegal (deportable) aliens were identified at entry into the US. Of this group, 172,547 were forcibly removed (many for criminal status) whereas 1,569,817 left this country voluntarily.

In his book, "The New Untouchables, Immigration and the New World Order," author Nigel Harris notes that no "host country" has ever been swamped by immigrants. "All evidence shows that large scale immigration has a single cause... people move where there is work to move to." As a corollary, when there is no work, people don't move. As an example, Harris notes, "When the oil price dropped in the early '60's, some 750,000 immigrant workers left the Gulf States. Again, when there was a small recession in the '50's, immigration to Britain was suddenly... cut in half and in the depression of the '30's, immigration to the America's dried up." Harris concludes that immigrants' impact on the "host countries" has always been beneficial. Compared with the non-immigrant population, new arrivals always "take out" less from the economies they visit than they "put in."

Some remember President Reagan's campaign to "Free Jobs for Americans," when some 6,000 illegal immigrants were forcibly deported and their then-available jobs widely advertised. However, when Americans who applied discovered what the working conditions would be ($3.25/hour for a 50-hour week), they walked away in disgust. A nationwide study by the Urban Institute bore out Nigel Harris' observations that immigrants produce a net benefit to any community. They always pay more in taxes than they consume in social services (AVA, June 15, 1994).

In 1996, SF Chronicle columnist Jonathan Marshall reported that, "No line in the world divides such extremes of wealth and poverty as the US-Mexican border," noting that whenever the peso fell, each decrease in Mexican wages resulted in an eight percent jump in illegal border crossing so that the identified southern US border crossings in 1995 had totaled 1.4 million. Marshall also reported that for every illegal caught, two to three succeeded.

With political unrest in the Central American countries, much of it US-instigated, plus the recent earthquakes and tropical storms, there is a steady influx of Guatemalans, Hondurans, and San Salvadorans across Mexico's southern border with Guatemala (a border poorly marked and policed). World Press Review (September) reported that between June 4 and 17 of this year, Mexico deported south over 6,000 illegal aliens, while the Guatemalan Department of Immigration with police help were sending back 3,666 to Honduras and El Salvador and "400 other countries including Pakistan, Indian Ecuador, Peru and Iran." The Mexican press reported, "the government of the United States has supported the expenses connected with the transportation of these people from Guatemala back to their own countries." (Proceso, Mexico City)

Political corruption in Mexico under more than 70 years of PRI Party reign, with privatization scams under both Salinas and Zedillo, plus the economic deprivations of NAFTA, brought economic collapse. Clinton extended Salinas a $6.5 billion USD line of credit, followed ten months later with another Clinton bailout as the peso tumbled again.

NAFTA has undermined Mexico's economy by opening the door to US Agribusiness, as giant corporations flood the Mexican market with millions of tons of soybeans, wheat and corn, made cheap by US taxpayers' "corporate welfare." NAFTA has undercut those tens of thousands of Mexican farmers whose livelihood depends on selling their own crops at local markets. Impoverished, these farming families fled the countryside to city slums in search of jobs. As Mexico's major importer, our economic slowdown is devastating their export market.

We Americans might well learn from our European friends. Before the wealthier EU nations would admit the economically-disadvantaged Spain and Portugal to their Union, EU countries invested more than $20 billion to raise the living standards of these poorer two, so that with their EU open border policy, the richer nations would not be inundated with economic refugees. It worked!

Perhaps a Marshall Plan offered Mexico, with a government-enforced "living wage" for those Maquilladora workers, would in the long run prove much less expensive to both countries in terms of both dollars, human lives, and relationships with our neighbors to the south, than just hiding behind our failing Maginot Line.

The Golden Rule is not only a humane but an economic statement. Maybe Americans should turn off the light in Miss Liberty's torch and inscribe on her base: "I've got mine, to hell with you," until we learn our lesson.

 

 

 

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