Saturday, May 29, 2010

What They Are Today, Your Folks Were Yesterday

These days it seems that the rich world is trying to get rid of their increasing immigrant populations. Ireland is fed up with the Poles, for instance, so they send them packing. But the poles will come back, you’ll see. The Italians are doing the same with the Albanians, Moroccans, and Tunisians. Spain’s economy is sinking, so getting rid of the immigrants must be the solution, right? I feel for the Hispano-Americans in Spain, who must face serious discrimination, insults, dead threats, and humiliation. In provincial Spain, horrible things are yelled at them, and they are made to feel unwanted. Spain today is definitely among the worst places to be an immigrant. No wonder Cristina de Kirchner asked for respect on behalf of immigrants at the EU-Latin American Summit, which was held earlier this month in Madrid. Things are getting really ugly over there.

Of course, the United States, too, is increasingly hostile to immigrants. The State of Arizona has passed a Draconian law that clearly violates international standards for migration and human rights. But, then, perhaps you believe that undocumented (or “illegal,” as some prefer it) immigrants have no constitutional rights? Well, think again or, better still, talk to a lawyer who practices international law.

In any case, as a political phenomenon, hostility to immigrants develops for two main reasons. First, oppositional political parties use immigration as a way to gain votes or to discredit governing parties -- whether liberals, moderates, or conservatives; Democrats or Republicans. All have played the immigration card, in some way or another, expressing “concern” about the influx of immigrants. “They are invading our country!” But realistically speaking, it’s just politics plain and simple. The second reason has to do with poor economic conditions that may seem to threaten the very foundation of a rich, stable society with high unemployment, social insecurity, rising crime, government deficits, prolonged recession, etc. So, essentially, immigration and immigrants themselves are made the scapegoat.

Immigrants are not a serious threat to their host countries, however; nor are they the cause of economic malaise.

So, let’s recap, shall we? Because there are many immigrants in the United States, for example, the level of crime is high. Right? No, the vast majority of crimes are committed by U.S. citizens, not new immigrants (documented or not). Latino immigrants are certainly not responsible for the ongoing wave of muggings in my own city, Washington, DC. It is highly unlikely that an immigrant would move to another country just to rob and kill. Instead, immigrants are motivated by the desire to work and to seek better opportunities for themselves and their families. (I am not generalizing here, of course.)

Yet so many seem still to believe immigrants represent a threat to the very survival of the culture, a threat such as Samuel Huntington described in “The Clash of Civilizations.” It is all rubbish and nonsense! A decade or two ago, you couldn’t find as many Mexican restaurants as you can find today; parents were not talking enthusiastically about sending their children to a bilingual school, as they are today. And today, many more Americans are learning to speak other languages, especially Spanish. In fact, if you speak Spanish in public today, you had better be careful about what you say, because the person seated next to you may very well understand you.

America society has became much more open and diverse, and Americans have become much more interested in what’s going on abroad. And this ongoing cultural change is, in part, thanks to the Latino immigrant population. If you’re worried that Americans will be speaking Spanish by 2050, think again; the sons and daughters of immigrants prefer to talk in English, rather than in their parents’ tongue. So just relax, because the very survival of your culture is assured. America is by its very nature a cohesive yet inclusive society, a land of opportunity where anyone can become an American in a matter of a few years. This is in a stark contrast to the situation in many European countries. If you were a Turkish immigrant to Germany, say, or an Algerian immigrant to France, you would still be regarded as such as many as fifty years later.

The simple truth is the Mexico and the United States are both to blame for the worrisome crime occurring on and around the border: one country for not realizing early on that the Cali and Medellín cartels were offshoring to Mexico, and the other country for its out-of-control gun culture. Supply and demand are to blame. And when guns and cash are both plentiful, it is easy to build a quasi-army.

This is not to say that there is not a serious need for immigration reform in the United States, but not a la Arizona style and not building a wall.

Americans and Europeans, think about this: Who is going to pay for your retirement when you turn 65? Who will make up the workforce by 2050, the engine of a prosperous economy? And if you had the power to get rid of all immigrants in the blink of an eye, do you seriously think that the the native population -- the “real” citizens -- would really do the unwanted jobs? Do you think they would fill up the factories, pick the crops, perform the “menial” labor? And even if they would suddenly be willing to do it, they wouldn’t work for the low wages and under the harsh conditions of the many unscrupulous employers who hire undocumented immigrants to do these jobs. Businesses do not have hearts; they want to pay low wages, don’t want to hear complaints, and certainly do not want unions or syndicates to organize their workers.

Furthermore, the demographics are clear. The populations of the most industrialized countries are shrinking—the United States is an exception, thanks in large part to immigration. Paying citizens 1,000 euros per baby, as is being tried in Europe, or creating a holiday to send people home to make babies, as the Russian have tried, is not going to work.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that the Americas have always welcomed immigrants. When the Irish suffered the potato famine, your people immigrated to the Americas; when there was civil war in Spain and the dictator Franco was alive and kicking, you had no were else to go but to the Americas—Latin America, in fact; after the Second World War, when all over Europe there were not even peanuts to serve for dinner, you immigrated to the Americas—whether you were looking for a better future or just a place to hide. And, of course, do not forget that your people have been immigrating to Spanish America since the 1830s, when there was not even rice to eat in Japan; when you left your country con una mano adelante y una mano atras (“more than poor), your people also migrated to the Americas.

The point is this: stop what you are doing to immigrants; they are today what your folks were yesterday.

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