Politics & Media
Apr 02, 2009, 06:54AM

Let the Immigrants In

The United States has to recommit to an immigration policy worthy of our history.

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Photo by wwarby

My girlfriend’s Israeli father is constantly hassled about his accent, asked where he is from, given dirty looks, made to feel unwelcome in his western Michigan city. He once told me that it has never felt like home and it never will. We have failed him. I may be an idealist, but I am not foolish—I know it is impossible to make all feel welcome, and I know that despite past rhetoric, we’ve never even really tried. We must as a people embrace more intensely our new neighbors, our new colleagues, our new citizens. This is what makes us who we are and what makes us the most we can be. We must break this trend and turn it the other way.

I have a friend who will be deported in a few weeks. He has worked in this country for several years, settling here in Michigan a few years ago, working at a nonprofit. He owns a home, has a mortgage, car payments, and a girlfriend. He pays taxes here, in a cash-stricken state. Or rather, he did until his visa was declared inadmissible a few days ago. You see, he was the accidental beneficiary of a clerical error by the U.S. government. He mistakenly applied for the same visa twice and was incorrectly granted it a second time by the U.S. consulate in his home country.

When he recently returned from a trip to do relief work in South America, he was detained as part of a new government-mandated investigative crackdown on religious worker visas. The error was discovered and now he has no job, no way to pay the mortgage, and a black mark on his international record. He’s lucky that he hasn’t been banned from the country forever and was given time to take care of things here. He is from a European country that is one of the wealthiest and most developed in the world. He is paying for our clerical mistake.

I am frightened. We build our walls higher and higher, peering over the sides as the hordes grow larger and larger—some desperate to get in, some desperate to destroy our way of life. I am frightened because when I stop looking out and start looking around, I see our population fixated, cautiously staring over the wall with the same angry and terrified expression. We have come to a standstill, too frightened to look anywhere but outward. We see nothing but enemies and backstabbing allies.

I never saw the world from the top of the Statue of Liberty, watched the sun set over Manhattan – the same sun that my family must have seen 150 years ago. I never will. It is no longer open for business, no longer open for entry. You can only sit at her feet looking upward, fear barricading the doors.

I admit to naiveté. I believe in this country. I believe what I have been told by teachers, read in books. I believe we are safe from within because we are accepting and dynamic. We are countrymen first, no matter where our fathers came from, no matter where we came from. I believe there is no other population in the world that so readily accepts others as their own. I may even be right about this. But that is not enough. I am still wrong.

There are places here where you will be welcomed, more warmly, more thoroughly than anywhere in the world. I like to pretend everywhere is like this, but it can only be pretend. It hurts me because I love every nook of this country as if it were mine, defend them to outsiders as if they were my home. But there are neighborhoods, towns, and cities where we do not accept these outsiders. We have stepped up our antipathy.

I am dumbfounded. We have cast aside the very thing that brought us prominence that we now cower in fear of losing. In his powerful book The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria traces America’s historical strength to its openness to people, cultures, goods, services, and ideas, despite the contentious, partisan, and static government. While European and Asian nations watch their populations age and stagnate, America’s continues to rise on the back of its immigrants, its native-born white fertility rate already having slowed to the low European levels. Immigrants and foreign students account for half our scientific research, and half of all Silicon Valley start-ups have at least one founder who is an immigrant or first-generation American. Immigrants, Zakaria writes, bring with them a hunger for success and a drive to create that keep America vibrant in a way that few developed nations can maintain.

Yet our government continues to be the weak link in our national character, casting an even greater shadow than the unwelcoming citizens among us ever could. Our policy is this: impossible to get in, impossible to stay, and easy to get out. The devastating economic climate has allowed a surge of anti-immigrant discussion and legislation to mash its way through our domestic policy.

A friend of mine works for an investment bank bailed out by TARP. Two incoming bankers, offered jobs last summer, had their offers rescinded in the past few weeks. The problem was not that they didn’t perform, not that they did not graduate, not that they got in trouble with the law. Their mistake was being born in a different country. As has been publicized, the bailed-out banks can no longer hire foreigners.

Why? Why would we, the champions of free trade, of capitalism, of competition, disallow the hiring of the most competent employees? Are we afraid that these investment bankers will hoard their salaries and remit them back to scary places filled with people that have colored skin? If we are trying to rebuild the banking system, trying to make the best use of government money, then why wouldn’t we want the best people working for us?

  • I'd be interested to know what region in the US your girlfriend's father lives in. I find NYC to be exceptionally diverse and understanding of foreign cultures. Everything ain't perfect, but if I were an immigrant and had my choice of places to live, NYC would be the place.

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  • You're right, of course. But add Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago to that list.

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  • The second half of this article hits the nail on the head. In-migration is the key to America's success, as it brings smart, motivated people to the country who start businesses, pay taxes and bring ideas. For the government to be shutting them out is a monumental error. They've even slashed the temporary work visa program that provides short-term visa for seasonal (see: tourist-centric) work. As a result, many tourist areas, like Mackinac Island in Michigan, has struggled to find qualified workers to run hotels, restaurants etc. The United States needs the best people here to succeed, and if we can't make them ourselves, let's bring them in. Their strength makes the whole country stronger.

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  • No-on-Twenty-Four! No-on-Twenty-Four! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AziJW9p2amM&

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  • I'm sorry to hear about the author's friend. He sounds like an immigrant of older times, not of today. But the immigration of then is not the immigration of today. Then the immigrants coming to America assimilated into our culture. They learned our language. They lived in our neighborhoods. They learned our laws,our customs, our mores. They paid their way. Today, obviously the great majority are illegal. They break our laws with their first action. They do not learn our language. They do not accept our customs, but live apart from us, keeping to their own customs, but then protest that it is we who have to change our culture and customs to accomodate them. They bring here the same practices, mores, and actions from which they left their mother country to escape. Obviously, most of them do not pay their own way as we can see from rising costs in schools, medicine, and other services, a great portion that are directly attributable to these illegal immigrants. I suspect the author supported all the past legislation and actions that were enacted that spoke to multicultural diversity. It's too bad his friend got caught up in the very change of which the author was a cause. It's assimilation, not multicultural diversity separation that made immigration then a success as compared to its failure today. Point the finger at you, not others.

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  • I can see, living in Michigan, why you might be naive on this topic, but living in California, a border state, I can assure you that we have plenty of immigrants coming in and that, in this state, a great many of them are illegal. These people immediately sign up for any social program they can upon arrival. School districts are overcrowded, thanks to an influx of the children of illegals. Emergency rooms and even hospitals are closing, because they are unable to sustain the cost of the illegals using the ER as their primary health provider, when they have no money to pay. If the illegals were removed from California, a huge chunk of our budget problem would be solved. Perhaps they could go to Michigan.

  • I have the answer. New immigration policy called Close the Borders and Open the Gates. We can nickname it the Open Gate policy. Everybody will love it. We secure the borders and let everyone who wants in in. We document them all fingerprint them, DNA them, and register them to make sure they are no threat and let them proceed to follow the rules to become Americans. No more illegal immigration and more secure borders. We can finish the fence, have control, and eliminate the problem of illegals. Everyone will be happy. If anyone complains, we remind them that they were once immigrants, too, and they can cut the hypocracy.

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  • This is a fantastic article all the haters have to offer is the same stupid staff all the time which have been proven wrong,immigrants did not create the welfare state if i remember correctly and they are not allowed to take any benefits inspite putting into it,and if u were worried about the welfare stata=e why harrass people willing to work,this contradicts every single stupid argument that the above haters present over and over again.Thirdly who told you government has a rught to your private property and can tell u who to hire and fire and how much you can pay them.The proper role of government is to protect individual rights not usurp them.Next time you come to this forum to argue aganist liberty and laissez faire capitalism read a couple of AynRands books,then maybe you might have one of those damascus conversions.

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  • It's true that cities on both coasts get the majority of our immigrants, both legal and illegal. Immigrants move to NYC, Miami, LA, San Fran, etc. because they have large foreign populations and are generally more welcoming than the heartland. Immigration reform is definitely needed, certainly to more evenly distribute our immigrants and make the middle of our country less homogenous. I don't believe illegal immigrants are a problem - like you said, the economies of many of our biggest cities and arguably our country as a whole are founded on the labor of illegal immigrants. Although it may sounded cliche and trite at this point, it is remarkable how strongly these workers represent and embolden the American spirit, working for little more than nothing and working harder than most of us. I don't see what's wrong with someone wanting to come into our country to live a better life and contribute positively to our society, and I completely understand forgoing formal legal integration into our country because of the bureaucratic hell it is.

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  • I don't think the writer is naive, Bug. Michigan isn't exactly Kentucky--it's a huge state with a lot of immigrants, legal and illegal. As a resident of CA as well, I agree that hospitals can be filled with illegals, but so are places of work. Like where I work. And in the houses of LA, where ladies from Mexico and other countries are nannies and maids and tend to gardens. And in the fields of this wonderfully fertile state, where almost all the workers are from another country. Want to bankrupt CA even worse than now? Deport the illegals. Instead, why not push Congress for an immigration reform overhaul; it's not as though this issue isn't tied to the economy.

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