I was fortunate to know both sets of grandparents, people who immigrated from Russia and Italy. It was not until they had passed on and I was older that I realized that they never spoke of their nations of origin. In the late 1800s they were nations that offered little opportunity and America was all about opportunity.
In the “Atlas of Human Migration” it says that “The message of this book is so important that it bears repeating here at the outset: migration is the history of the world. Humans are born migrants; human evolution is linked to the very act of moving from one habitat to another and then adapting to that new environment.” Migration scholars have called the last twenty years the “age of migration.”
“Some people—mainly the residents of the rich countries of the world—are allowed, even encouraged, to move. Others—the nationals of poor countries—are not. This exposes the stark social inequities that result from globalization and migration control policies.” The result for the United States and Europe has been the rise of “illegals”, people who find a way to access a better life in a better place. Some, however, have brought with them a variety of social problems. Some—Muslims—have demanded changes to their adopted nation’s laws to accommodate the oppression they experienced in their home countries. Quotas worked in the past, but are rejected today.
Since 1986 when President Reagan signed an amnesty act—which he regarded as one of the worst mistakes he made—America has been grappling with a migration of illegal immigrants that includes not only those from Latin America, but also from Islamic nations.
As a recent Wall Street Journal editorial noted of the previous effort to address immigration that the reform “offered citizenship to (then) current illegal immigrants but it failed to set up a process for future legal immigration to meet the needs of fast-moving labor markets. Thus it created an incentive for foreigners to arrive illegally and never leave lest they never be able to return to the U.S. if they did go home. Avoiding that mistake should be one of the main goals of this or any other immigration reform. On that point, the Senate framework has promise, but also has a long way to go.”
The current bipartisan bill owes much to the fact that Hispanic immigrants voted three-to-one against Republican candidates in the last election. Politically, that changing demographic cannot and should not be ignored. The Republican sponsors of the proposed bill are the now-classic “RINOs”—Republicans in Name Only—as comfortable with Democratic initiatives as any of their own party.
As just one example, the Huffington Post recently reported that “Hispanics for the first time will become California’s largest ethnic group by the end of the year, according to a report on California’s shifting demographics contained in Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2013-2014 budget proposal.” Hispanics now represent 20% of California’s electorate. There were 5.9 million eligible Hispanic voters in 2012. As reported in The Hill, “Comprehensive immigration reform could make millions of people suddenly eligible for assistance under President Obama’s healthcare law, assuming a final deal paves the way for undocumented immigrants to receive papers.”
What was true in 1986 is true today. Illegal immigrants will continue to come to America and clearly legislation to address this is likely to fall short of deterring them. The expansion of the federal government to address the problem has failed and we’re told that a larger one will be needed to process the newly empowered illegals with a means to work here and gain citizenship.
There is little discussion of building a fence long enough and high enough to deter the traffic across our southern border and even less of the well-worn trails and areas that are known to provide access.
The cliché is that “America is a nation of immigrants”, but those who arrived before and since the 1800s were different in ways than today’s. They were eager to assimilate, learn English, and to prosper. They brought skills and labor necessary to the expanding industrial base of the nation. They did not have a panoply of government programs to provide them with healthcare insurance, food stamps, financial assistance for housing and other benefits. Today’s do and that puts further pressure on a nation that is already in serious financial trouble.
The reality is, however, immigrants—legal and illegal—will keep coming and some effort must be made to integrate them into our society. We cannot send eleven million people back to their home countries. We cannot export their children who have been born and grown up here. We must address the problem of “anchor babies” born here for the purpose of securing citizenship for their entire families.
As the Wall Street Journal editorial says, “A path to citizenship would also assist the process of assimilation that has been one of America’s historic strengths. The U.S. should not want a permanent class of residents who can never be citizens and thus have less incentive to adapt to U.S. cultural mores, speak English, or move out of segregated ethnic enclaves.”
With or without immigration reform, history demonstrates that people will migrate, so are response to the current population of illegals and some kind of reform is now a priority.
© Alan Caruba, 2013.