Friday, August 22, 2008

Immigration and Unity

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
--Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”


In case my readers can’t tell, I am pro-immigration. This entire nation was built by the labor of immigrant groups: Germans, English, Irish, Italian, Chinese—name the nation, and we’ve likely had former citizens of that nation who had a hand in creating this one.

Note I said former citizens.

I am pro-immigration, but it has to be legal. They have to become at least legal residents, if not United States citizens. Citizenship is the better option.

Why?

Simple. Unity. Our country isn’t united anymore. It’s partially the fault of illegal immigration, and partially the fault of identity politics. Whoever takes the blame, it’s true: most people think of themselves as something else first, and Americans last, if at all. Let’s start with immigrants.

Fifty years or so ago, we didn’t have the same issues as we’re facing today. We did have a few people crossing the Rio Grande every year, but they went home when the seasonal jobs went out of season, or if they were caught after the seasonal work was over, they were sent back where they came from, immediately, and with prejudice.

Thus started the problem we have today. We started to tolerate illegal immigrants on a temporary basis to do work that didn’t turn a profit with American workers that demanded higher pay. It was a short step from there to tolerating illegal immigrants year round, working at seasonal farming jobs in the summer, and cleaning houses, hotels, restaurants, and other places that preferred to pay minimum wage for work that Americans were told that didn’t pay enough for the work done. We have millions of people in this country who consider themselves some other nationality, first, last, and only. They send money, and a lot of it, home—home—to their relatives in the country they come from.

And when the illegal immigrants choose to stay, have families, and try to integrate into United States culture, we punish them. Granted, while we should not reward the initial criminal behavior, it’s still tragic when they’re rightfully deported. Often, the children were born in the United States, and are, arguably, citizens of the United States.

And it makes headlines. And it increases public sympathy for all illegals. And we have people who identify as a different nationality beginning to think that they have a right to be in a country where they have no citizenship. And these non-citizens get upset when those who are citizens don’t allow an importation of a new culture, or when citizens get upset about the government allowing those who are not citizens to have the same rights without the responsibility of paying for the privileges and services that are the citizen’s right.

Unity is broken. Illegal immigration is part of what broke it. How do we solve it? There are ideas out there, but politicians either aren’t listening because they (wrongly) think that there are more important issues to deal with, or simply don’t care that we’ve lost our national unity.

The other threat to the national unity idealized by our founders and by the author of “The New Colossus” is identity politics. Even those who immigrate legally are beginning to see themselves as something else first, and American last. Many groups refuse to assimilate, to become American first, because they don’t want to lose the native culture they abandoned for a better life here. Many groups who had assimilated have separated themselves again.

Nor are we seeing divisions only along lines of nationality. Our national unity is being broken along other lines: sexual preference, religious preference, or political preference—rather, arguments between the identity groups—have fractured national unity. People identify themselves with what amounts to a political lobby group rather than the greater nation that they’re a part of, with political leaders rather than next door neighbors. Everyone sees it. No one wants to address it, for fear of being labeled racist, homophobic, or intolerant of others in this fractured, politically correct world.

How do we change this? Can we change this? I don’t know the answers. The only thing I can think of is find a way to remind everyone that we are all Americans. We are all family. How we do that is beyond me.

Whatever the case, our country is fractured, and fractured badly, just as we need to be unified in the face of a new, possible, second front on the war we’re already fighting.

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