By Edward W. Miller, M.D.
"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."
(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 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 two blocks to help a local foreign-born family in need. Foreign-born were OK, if they kept their distance.
Like those European rodents, the lemmings, that on occasion stampede en mass over the cliffs into the sea, Americans have often been stampeded into self-destructive behavior. Our history records bitter campaigns against one immigrant group after another: the Irish, the Polish Jew, the Chinese, and the Japanese our government during WW II ordered into prison camps ( 60% were American citizens.) Back in 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act had banned immigration of all Chinese males. Chinese females had already been excluded. In 1902 Congress excluded all Chinese indefinitely, a ban not lifted until 1943.
Some may remember President Reagan's campaign to "Free Jobs for Americans," when 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. In every case we have looked back at our behavior with shame, but our collective conscience has often required years before attempts at reparation were undertaken. When the Japanese left the camps, the government granted them $25 per person or $50 per family and train fare home. In 1948, Congress partially compensated them for the loss of their businesses or property. but it wasn't until 1988, that Congress finally apologized and granted personal compensation of $20,000 to each surviving prisoner.
As a more recent example, on September 7th, 2005 Steve Lawrence ( Assoc. Press ) reported from Sacramento that, responding to a dark, little-known chapter in American history, the lawmakers voted 41/23 to establish a state fund to pay reparations to survivors of a massive deportation of Hispanics in the 1930's, when the Hoover Administration, in an attempt to remove illegal immigrants and open up jobs during the Depression, deported between 1.2 and 2 million Hispanics to Mexico. Most were American citizens or legal immigrants, Some deportees returned to the United States, and today, less than 5000 of them reside in California. Senator Joseph Dunn (D -Garden Grove) authored the Bill.
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 emigrated to foreign lands to escape wars, famines, religious persecution, economic depressions or just to give themselves and their children a better life. Religious persecution brought us the Pilgrims. A potato famine and English colonialism, the Irish, while economic and political upheaval in Europe before and after WWI 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 drug war against the indigenous Indians of Columbia including pesticide spraying (a replay of Vietnam) is today edging those people north into the US. Add to these tragedies those maquiladoras 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, where children, denied a decent education, sleep three to four to a bed, arising 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. Today, San Diego County's fifteen foot steel fences topped with razor- wire, patrolled by police and the military, with dogs, helicopters, infrared detectors and even satellite surveillance have 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 onto our southern beaches, while to our north, native Iroquois Indians are charging $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 1900s, when most arrivals were white and European, most immigrants today 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.
According more recent statistics (fiscal year 2002-04 ) from the Homeland Security Office of Immigrant Statistics (HSOIS), total non-immigrant admission to the US was over 30 million, 23 million for pleasure, 4.5 million on business, 22, seasonal agriculture workers (H-2A) and seasonal non-agriculture workers, 86,968. In the year 2000, again according to the Urban Institute, 36 percent of immigrants (11 million people) were legally documented, 32 percent (9.9 million) were naturalized citizens, 28 percent (8.5 million) were undocumented, and 4 percent (1.3 million) were "legal non-immigrants" (such as students or temporary workers). As of 2000, the largest percentage of undocumented immigrants was from Mexico (54 percent). Other sources include El Salvador, Guatemala, Canada, Haiti, and the Philippines. Recent estimates by the US Department of Labor suggest that approximately 1.3 million US citizens migrate between states, earning their living by working in the agricultural industry. There are now between 9 million and 11 million undocumented people according to the 2000 US census living within the United States.
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 our 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." 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, with such extremes of wealth and poverty at the US-Mexican border," whenever the peso fell, each decrease in Mexican wages resulted in an eight percent jump in illegal border crossing. The identified southern US border crossings in 1995 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, 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, 2001 ) reported that between June 4 and 17 of that 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)
But the increased enforcement along the US-Mexico border, which costs more than $2.5 billion annually, has not decreased unauthorized immigration, according to a 2002 study by the Public Policy Institute of California. Instead, the study found that the number of unauthorized immigrants is increasing.
Responding to those manufactured fears of "terrorist attacks" by Bush's Homeland Security crowd in Washington, the economic chaos in Mexico produced by NAFTA and maquiladora jobs now being transferred to China, 10,000 Border Patrol Agents already serving on our Southwest border with Mexico.
Washington's "fear campaign" has encouraged a citizen group of over 7,000 volunteer MIUTEMEN to help keep aliens from entering the US illegally. New Mexico's Hispanic Governor Bill Richardson and Arizona's Governor Janet Napolitano have added to the Washington "fear agenda" by declaring states of emergency " saying that countless pleas to the Bush Administration and in particular, the Department of Homeland Security had "gone unanswered " while reporting that: " A total of 469 people were kidnapped in 2004, and 47 Americans are still missing, while their abductors are demanding ransom in excess of $100 million."
Political corruption in Mexico under more than 70 years of PRI Party reign, with privatization scams, reduced subsidies for Mexican farmers, plus the economic deprivations of NAFTA have brought economic collapse to Mexico. President 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 undermines Mexico's economy by opening the door to US Agribusiness, as our giant corporations flood the Mexican market with millions of tons of soybeans, wheat and corn, made cheap by US taxpayer's "corporate welfare."
NAFTA thus undercuts those tens of thousands of Mexican farmers whose livelihood depends on selling their own crops at local markets. Impoverished, these farming families flee the countryside to city slums in search of jobs. Or, more often, the father emigrates north to support his family. To make matters worse, as Mexico's major importer, our own economic slowdown is devastating Mexico's export market. Meanwhile, US corn growing enterprises like Arthur Daniel Midlands, Inc. are still receiving 40 percent of their income from federal subsidies and now account for 25 percent of corn consumed in Mexico. This dumping of US corn in the Mexican market at artificially low prices has forced Mexican corn farmers to abandon growing for local markets. Thus Mexico has gone from producing most of its food for domestic consumption to importing 40 percent, primarily from the US
With the merger of the US Customs and Border Patrol Agencies into Homeland Security, and with the Patriot Act in force, surveillance at both borders has not only increased, but that stream of terrorist warnings manufactured in Washington encourages agents of all three organizations to ignore the basic human rights of anyone crossing the border.
As Amtrack trains pull into stations such as Le Havre, just south of our border with Canada, Border Patrol agents have been boarding the cars and demanding identification from passengers, especially those with skin tones less than white. On April 1st, 2003, an Iraqi refugee, Abdul Ameer Yousef Habeeb, en route to a promised job, was seized by a Border Patrol Agent, interrogated several hours on camera and microphone in a tiny room, his identification papers confiscated, and transferred to the county jail where for three days inmates taunted him as "Saddam." He was then flown to a Customs Enforcement Facility (ICE) in Seattle, questioned again, brought before an immigration judge who denied him legal representation while threatening deportation. Fortunately a watchdog organization, got Abdul a Seattle lawyer and release. ACLU lawyers are suing two Border Patrol officers, and a $600,000 claim against both Border Patrol and ICE has been filed in Federal Court on Abdul's behalf. (from Terror on the Inner Border by Sasha Abramsky in The Nation Magazine 26 September, 2005)
We Americans might well learn from our European friends. Before the wealthier EU nations admitted 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, richer nations would not be inundated with economic refugees. It worked!
In addition to taking the millionaires in our Agri-Business off corporate welfare , perhaps a Marshall Plan offered Mexico, with a government-enforced "living wage" for Maquiladora workers, might prove less expensive in terms of dollars, human lives, and relationships with our neighbors, than our hunkering down behind a failing Maginot Line, supported by voluntary militias.
The Golden Rule is not only a humane but an economic statement. Americans might 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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