I hear Americans making many of the following points about immigrants, most of them false. They say:
Immigrants take our jobs.
The government is using our tax dollars to provide benefits for undocumented immigrants.
Illegal immigrants vote fraudulently and they usually vote for Democrats.
Undocumented workers will work for very low wages and they therefore drive down wages of American workers.
White people would not be outnumbered by minorities if illegal immigrants were sent home.
We put illegal immigrants who break the law into American jails at taxpayer’s expense.
Undocumented people have large families and all of their children are born at no cost in American hospitals and automatically become citizens.
All illegal immigrants are from South of the Border.
Undocumented and legal immigrants exclude us by refusing to learn our language.
When we see women in scarves or even long garments like burqas or hijabs we think in our heart of hearts that this is not an American form of dress. We want women to take off these garments which to us seem like symbols of female submission and enjoy American fashion. We are afraid that people with such strong beliefs will impose their beliefs on us.
They will bring Sharia law.
We will find ourselves becoming a Muslim nation.
I could go on and on. These are all things we think about immigrants, especially immigrants without legal documents.
However, if we are perfectly honest it is America’s shoddy systems that allow people to come into our country and live and work with no documents, or stolen documents, or illegally obtained documents. Last week officials admitted that we have no system for tracking people here on visas if they decide to stay when their visa expires. I read an interesting book called Americanah (it won prizes) a few years ago by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian woman who came to America and had to stay until she could earn enough money to return home. She describes what she had to do to work in America without proper documents.
Another story, The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez is about a family that came to America legally from Mexico and describes their less-than-hospitable experience here and the great tragedy it lead to.
Some of the things we think are true of immigrants, both legal and illegal, have been researched and have been found to be false or mostly false. But statistics do suggest that America will not be a majority white nation for much longer or white people may have already slipped into the minority. Caucasians do not seem to be the wave of the future and it may be too late to reproduce a way back into ascendancy.
Deep down we feel good old American guilt over all these unfriendly or even hateful feelings. We are supposed to be the great melting pot where everyone shares the American Dream, deposits a few new wrinkles that make for a tasty cultural stew, and then puts nose to grindstone to climb the ladder of success.
We have dealt with groups that don’t see owning things and amassing wealth and fitting in as important goals. But these groups have been small and scattered and have not had an enormous effect on the American work ethic or our materialism. Recent groups do not seem as interested in assimilating (although assimilation can take generations). To us it seems as if they cling to the language and culture of their nation of origin. This was true of previous groups also, such as the Irish and the Italians. I think that this time people are worried that America is not strong enough to shake off these new influences and maintain its European/Caucasian flavor. Will our grandchildren speak Spanish? Will they bow to Mecca? Some of these things we can’t know.
Welcoming people and treating them well is more likely to keep America as is than treating people with isolation and hostility. But it seems counter-intuitive to many to accept strangers and it seems just plain wrong to accept people who came without going through the proper routes and who do not possess the proper papers. Although we don’t rely much on fancy identity papers in America.
I don’t know if these new immigrant groups will take over America (given that the Dream has gotten a bit thin for all of us) or if they will blend into and enhance American culture and the only way to find out is to wait and see what happens.
How can we deport people who simply took advantage of a very lackadaisical visa system or borders that are not secured (and, my guess, cannot be secured)? We should leave these poor people alone, grandfather them in, give them papers now or after ten years, or whatever punishing delay, and then create a system that works. That probably will involve doing some very un-American thing like using an electronic tracking system or eyeball-ID at points of entry and exit.
We are a nation of people who love to look for loopholes and then use them to our advantage. These are obviously people after our own hearts. So make sure that in the future we close the loopholes (not with walls; they make me claustrophobic) and recognize that whatever system we create in this age of jets will most likely not be perfect. Perhaps we will all have to put up with some kind of chemical or electrical ID markers in the not-so-distant future. However this has one big problem – the greater the control, the less our privacy.
Our leaky immigration system is our bad; it is on us. How can we blame those who use our mistakes to seek material gains or to find a better life for their children? We would do exactly the same thing if we had to.
By Nancy Brisson