Saturday, February 05, 2005

They're Coming To America:

Part 1: The Long Tradition of Immigration

AMERICA
Neil Diamond
Written by Neil Diamond


Far
We've been traveling far
Without a home
But not without a star
Free
Only want to be free
We huddle close
Hang on to a dream

On the boats and on the planes
They're coming to America
Never looking back again
They're coming to America


First off, let me tell you that I have not read the President's entire proposed policy on guest worker cards or amnesty or anything related to it. All I've heard so far is exactly what I wrote in the first sentence. But, I decided to talk about it in economics and security from my perspective.

Everywhere you read on conservative blogs, you pretty much get the feeling that people want to stop illegal immigration. They also may believe that we are allowing too many immigrants of any form into the US. I'm not sure what anyone believes is appropriate in terms of numbers or how they are supported.

The first thing that I think we need to recognize is the obvious: people enter the US illegally every day. We have thousands of miles of border either linked to other countries, like Mexico and Canada, or open to the sea. Every day, people pay thousands upon thousands of dollars to be led into the shining city on the hill. They come here because there is freedom and there is work and there is money. Some people actually indenture themselves to what amounts to sweat shops and slave labor, just to have the chance to come here and live the American dream, the dream that we talk about as being the grandest ideological and economic scheme on the entire planet. Is it any wonder that people want to come here?

The second obvious fact is that many people enter the US, perfectly legal, and remain in the US past their legal limit. Why? Are they all a bunch of criminals and possible terrorists? No. It's that dream factor again. It's the American Dream. So grand that it reaches people in the darkest corners of the world, beaming into their minds and luring them to the bright shores of hope.

In the latest diatribe against immigrants, many have now taken up the cry of possible terrorists entering the US through these back doors and that, of course, makes immigrants even more suspicious than they were before. You think anyway.

Before I go on to the core of what I believe is one hell of a grand scheme in controlling immigration, I want to talk a little about the history of immigration to the US and my own family's personal story.

Think back, way back into the annals of the American saga. The United States did not exist. It was a continent with great powers vying to settle it first. The pilgrims we so revere were in a very real since, illegal immigrants, if you want to cut the cookie just so. There were some people that lived on the continent long before the pilgrims and we call them Native Americans or Indians. You know, they weren't really all that happy after the first couple of boat loads of strange people, with strange clothes and strange customs and strange language, started landing on the shores and building fortified towns, taking up their good hunting and farming land. I believe there were many instances where the existing people actually took up arms and tried to force those new immigrants off the shores of this great land.

But those pilgrims were a hardy bunch and weren't going to be denied their first taste of real freedom and opportunity by a bunch of "savages". I bet you, way back in the day, there were some tribal elders sitting around pondering what the hell they were going to do with all these new people flooding into the country. They would take up the land, force them, the natives, to live in ever smaller spaces. Some apparently decided that they could bargain with these folks. Sell them a plot of land and write a treaty telling them that they could go this far ___ and not a step farther. Funny how those new immigrants just didn't listen and kept on coming as the word spread about this new land of opportunity.

Certainly, the tribal elders were right in many respects. The land that they controlled and used for their own got increasingly smaller and the resources that were so abundant got increasingly smaller and their culture became increasingly changed from their interaction with the new immigrants. Of course, the immigrants were quick to adopt some of the native habits and practices since they worked here so well.

The tribal elders were right. Their way of life changed irrevocably and nearly disappeared except for the names of places, the techniques of farmers even today like irrigation and soil conservation and the plants that they grow. You can even see their style of dress that influenced the immigrants even to this day. Yet, we hail those first immigrants as the founders of a great new nation. The movers and shakers of their times.

After the great protestant immigration came the Catholics particularly, the Irish. They were a despised lot of immigrants. The now long-standing Protestant "natives" thought they were a bunch of savages. They complained about their ignorance, taking up space, taking up resources and generally changing the society and culture around them. Then came the Italian and the Chinese and the Germans and the Swedes. Entire peoples and with each new wave, those that had come before them and established a beach head of their own either in existing communities or moving out and settling "unsettled lands", always claimed that they were better than the new comers. They were here first. Those new comers were going to ruin everything these folks who had come before had established. They would take jobs and land don't you know.

It's been the lament of every generation and every population group that came before them. This land isn't big enough for the all of us.

As a noted Brit used to say: Poppycock.

My maternal grandfather came to this country ILLEGALLY. In 1921, at the age of 16, he stowed away on a cargo ship with another friend, bringing nothing but a few momentos, clothes and a bible in German and landed some where on the east coast. He never did pass through Ellis Island. He made his way to North Dakota where some other family and friends lived and established himself as a fine upstanding citizen of the US. My great grandmother on my father's maternal side came to the United States with her two sisters around 1889. The potato famine was not yet a distant memory in Ireland. There were still rebellions and economic problems. Katherine, Kitty and Mary Murphy sailed from Munster in 1889 and landed in the US at the height of immigration.

Katherine married a Cherokee named Own Mae (English spelling) who had taken the last name "Howard" from the people that he worked for in Tennessee. They literally drove across country in a covered wagon to a little place called Nevada (Ne-vay-da), Missouri where they brought their seven children, the youngest, my great grandfather.
I could go on and on about each of my relatives and how they got here. The point is, they were a bunch of immigrants, for the most part, and, for the most part, they were illegal. And, for the most part, with each wave of new immigrants they were shunned and blamed for everything from the rising crime rate to the rising cost of bread. And, all they did was fornicate and have children, those savages.

Many people claimed that the continued immigration was going to be the ruin of this great land. They formed committees, sponsored laws and, yet, those darned immigrants kept coming. Instead of being the ruin of this land, they were the making of it. If it weren't for the Irish and the Germans filling up the ranks of the Union Army, we'd have two countries on this continent: the United States of America and the Confederate States of America.

Immigrants, both legal and illegal, brought their skills and knowledge to this country and shared it with others who took some of their skills, knowledge and even technology and turned it into the biggest and most successful industrial revolution of all the nations. Aside from innovation and technology, the immigrants brought something else to the table that fueled this great industrial and economic boom: cheap labor.

They were scorned for it, too. There were already too many people here looking for job, people said. These groups had a tendency to move into communities that were like their own from back home and not assimilate, people said. It caused untold friction and sometimes, outright wars.

Yet, here we are, over 150 years later and the nation did not fall, nor falter, but kept right on growing and the immigrants kept right on coming. These immigrants filled our factories and filled the ranks of our military in times of crisis. They contributed to the growing American Dream and to the economic growth and stability of the country. Where would we be if those immigrants hadn't come before us? One thing's for sure, we'd still be singing, "God Save the Queen" instead of "My Country Tis of Thee".

And, here we are, listening to the same complaints of many about the new flock of immigrants, whether they be Asian, Philipino, Latin, Arab, African, Russian, you name it, they all want to come to America and everybody who's been here for awhile want to talk about them, just like their ancestors were talked about so long ago. It's almost ironic. It is, in a very real sense, the test, the right of passage for each group of immigrants that come and finally pass muster and become just another group of people in the melting pot of America.

Stay tuned for the second half of our post: Economics and Security where we'll discuss the economics of improved immigration and the impact on security.

7 comments:

Kender said...

Immigrants have always made this country stronger. Once they get here and have a child they are entitled to stay under the "Anchor Baby" clause, and alot of them do. I understand about making the illegals here now legal and contributing to the tax base and such, however it boggles my mind that these people have broken a federal law and will get away with it, whereas if I break one I go to federal prison.

Healthcare for illegals in America equals billions of dollars, a drop in the bucket considering we spend over a trillion dollars on healthcare in this country, but we are still talking billions here. And that is alot of money. Add in education and incarceration, (hey, I think I may have a song in this comment) and the cost is rather high. What can be done about it? I don't know. but illegal immigration needs to be seriously curtailed.

Just last week the Mexican Authorities caught to midle eastern men using fake Greek passports, being led my a man with an American passport heading to America. The man had hired himself out to these guys to lead them into the US. Perhaps the people that worry about terrorists sneaking in aren't that wrong. This needs my closer attention and more research. I need to read that entire proposal of Bushs'.

BTW, tracing back my paternal grandpas side I have found goes back to the revolution. I am sad to say it goes back to a french sailor that came with Lafayette, but I consider him a smart and noble frenchman, as he stayed here and became a citizen.
And that is one of my favorite Diamond songs.

Jamie said...

I, too, am the child of immigrants. My paternal grandparents immigrated here from Greece (grandfather) and Italy (grandmother). My grandfather worked in the steel mills here and eventually opened up his own restaurant. When he came here he went by a different name because no one could spell, much less pronounce his Greek surname (Zackithinos). He eventually shortened it to an Americanized spelling and pronunciation (Zanthos). My mother is German. She met my father during the occupation of Germany after WWII and she came here to marry him in 1947 and eventually became a naturalized citizen in 1963. So I don't have anything against immigrants who come here to better themselves, who come here to make money to support their families, etc.

You really DO need to read the Bush proposal. (I read about it here). Everyone needs to read it instead of taking what they hear from the msm as "gospel". The proposal is not perfect, but has merit. The theory behind the proposal makes sense (at least it does to me) and it could work. But it would be a major undertaking. And, as the President keeps emphasizing - it is NOT a blanket amnesty. The main thrust of the proposal is to encourage those here illegally to come "out of the shadows" and be identified. That would help us get a handle on just who and how many are here. If the workers are here legally, the people who hire them will have to pay them REAL wages and will not be able to threaten them with deportation. That will take away the benefits of hiring illegals because the employers won't be able to make lots of money off of the cheap labor, because it won't be cheap anymore. So, there won't be any monetary incentive to hire them. (Especially after they become unionized!) BUT, this will only work if there is enforcement of the laws against employing illegals. And then the only incentive that employers will have to hire them would be if they were better workers than American workers! (And from what I've heard, most of the immigrants, legal or illegal, are hard-working and dependable.) Add to that the fact that they would have to be paying taxes - ALL taxes, not just sales taxes as they do now. (That's another perk that the employers have for hiring illegals - they don't pay taxes on them.)

And, btw, there are many low-paying jobs that immigrants will take which Americans won't take, contrary to what a lot of folks say. For instance, here in Alabama there are a lot of poultry growers who require "chicken catchers" - guys whose only job is going into the chicken houses and catching the chickens for shipment to the processing plants. From what I've heard, its an awful, dirty job and does not pay very much money, so the locals don't apply. So what you find in the area around the chicken "farms" (?) are large communities of Mexicans (some legal, some not). Same goes for the areas around large agricultural farms, where you find the migrant farm workers who work long, hard hours picking the tomatoes, the peaches, etc, for less than minimum wage. And in the major metropolitan areas, they are the maids, the cooks, the bus boys, etc. I don't ever recall seeing American workers lining up to apply for those type jobs!

Kat said...

Jamie and Kender...I am going to do just that. Read the proposal and post some thoughts on it. I have some ideas that the jobs that americans won't take is just a red herring for the jobs that we want to have. In short, cheap labor for manufacturing jobs. We can't compete right now with china and india. The only way we could come close is to increase the number of young and capable workers in America. Drive down the cost of employees and stagnate the rate of inflation. That is one step. I'll write more on it.

Thans Jamie for supplying the website for me.

Jamie said...

I think that we all need to know more about what Bush is proposing, so that we can make informed decisions on what to support and what not to support. (And not just on immigration). The problem with the general public (me included) is that they want to make decisions about important issues with the information that they get from talk radio, tv news "commentary" (from the likes of Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, etc), and their local newspapers (which only print articles from Reuters and the AP). I used to be that way, too, but once I discovered the wealth of information out here on the internet, I found that I wasn't being given the whole picture. And blogging is such a boon for average folks like me, as I'm linked to more and more information!

If you are interested in learning more about the Social Security reforms that Bush is proposing, the RNC has a section of their Website up that's dedicated to Social Security. Pay special attention to the information on the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) - the Federal Employees retirement system that Bush is modeling his Soc Sec reform after. All of the info is accurate. I should know, as I am enrolled in it now and know people who have retired under it, too.

The Sandmonkey said...

Ok, here is an idea that i bound to be unpopular by the people who will claim that it isn't fair for the poor: why not give immigration priority to foreigners who went to college in the states and established strong ties within their respective surrounding american community? I am talking about the ones who actually bother making friends with the american students instead of just hanging out with people from their own country or region in the world.

Here is my logic: First of all, they are educated, so u know they can speak and write english.
Secondly, they are already asimilated in the community in a way. They know the customs, they know the people. They are familiar with the surrounding area. In short, they get it.
and finally, you make sure that the ones immigrating are actually members who are capable of contributing to their respective society and community and won;t be a en extra load on them. They will be in many ways the best that those countries have to offer the states mentally and financially, cause u know they got money, just not the million dollars required to get a businessman's visa.

How about that everyone?whatchu think?

ok, so maybe i am a lil biased here!

hmmm

Kat said...

I think that there will continue to be visa's separate from this program and I think you are right that it should be given to educated folks.

But, the guest worker pass is for those that can take lower paying wages I think so I don't think the rule will apply.

but, I know you want to come back very badly. maybe you will have to look for an american institute over there that you can work for and then get some sort of transfer or job where you come back and forth.

Kender said...

Good idea Sandmonkey. Listen to Kat. Get a job with a company that has offices here. Come back.