Why on earth does anyone waist their time targeting the most powerless and disadvantaged among us--unauthorized immigrants and their children--while the most powerful and unscrupulous--greed-driven corporate hegemons--continue to run our civil rights, our government, and our economy into the ground not only with impunity but with hardly a blip on the collective radar? Isn't it just possible that many who focus on the supposed threat posed by the powerless and disadvantaged are being manipulated into misidentifying who should be held accountable for our current economic and political morass?
Might it be that those who are running away with the wealth and power of this country, those who control the language and focus of the mainstream media--who know that calling people "illegals" will stir up resentment and mistrust--bank on being able to take advantage of deep-seated prejudices to distract us from the very real damage that they themselves routinely and cavalierly cause? Allow me to remind you that until very recently the word illegal was used only as an adjective, not a noun, and it was never used to modify people, only actions. Calling people "illegals" dehumanizes them, allowing us to feel that our attitudes toward them are justified.
The arguments used against the current wave of immigrants are the same as the arguments used against all the previous waves of immigrants: "they don't learn the language," "they don't pay taxes," "they don't assimilate." It's true that adult immigrants to this country find English a very difficult language to learn (think about wrapping your mind around "though," "through," "tough," and "cough"), especially because they are preoccupied with procuring employment and providing for their families. But their children never fail to learn English and never fail to assimilate and are very often tremendous assets not only to the immigrant community they grew up with but also to our country, the country that is their own, their home country in every respect.
The claims that unauthorized immigrants don't pay taxes and that they take advantage of our oh-so-abundant (not!) social services is absurd. It's next to impossible to get a paycheck in this country without taxes being taken out. And those who get paid "under the table" often find that they are not paid as much as they were promised or are not paid at all, and because of their status they have no legal recourse. The effect is that we have a subclass of cheap laborers with no rights, no legal recourse when they're exploited, and no political voice or representation. And these are the people we find so threatening? This is what causes outrage when the middle class is disappearing at an alarming rate while our civil liberties are blithely eaten for lunch by greedy fear-mongering corporate hegemons?
And what about the so-called anchor babies? Just what threat do these babies pose exactly? Unauthorized immigrants who bear a child in this country are still subject to deportation. They gain no legal advantage by having a child except the advantage of U.S. citizenship for the child, while they run the risk of having their family torn apart should one or both parents be deported. In what way, exactly, does this pose a threat to anyone, except that it means a continued shift in the ratio of nonwhite to white babies being born in this country? If these babies truly pose a threat, then it's a threat only to those invested in maintaining a homogeneous white majority.
And what would we have these children do, the ones who grow up here and are far more at home here than they could possibly be in their parents' country of origin? We should deport them to a country of which they are not citizens that would be very nearly as foreign to them as it would be to us?
When, oh when, are we going to learn that cultural diversity is a great blessing and strength, that every wave of immigrants has enriched this country in countless ways? We need these newcomers who are being reviled and terrorized because they have the temerity to want to come here to work when work isn't available in their home country. We need them, because the poor--not the rich--form the basis of our economy. The poor spend every last cent of their income because they have no choice to do otherwise. Some may be fortunate enough to have a modest amount to send home to family, but most of what they earn is spent right here. The same cannot be said of the fabulously wealthy, who make far more money than they can possibly spend and do more to weaken our economy than strengthen it.
We need these immigrants not only for economic reasons but also because many aspects of their cultures are antidotes to the most problematic aspects of our own culture, such as extreme individualism, task-orientation, and rampant materialism. We need them because the mixing of cultures and ideas results in stronger values and communities.
When I first started working with my church's Latino congregation, I would arrive a half-hour early every Sunday to practice and prepare for the service. But I soon learned that although the tasks I had in mind weren't unimportant, it was more important to greet the people who arrived early. In other words, people are more important than tasks, which also meant that I was more important than tasks. It was my presence--and theirs--that really counted, not my performance or preparation. It didn't matter if I made mistakes. What mattered--and still matters--is that I love and cherish the people of my faith community. This may be a simple lesson, but it's a profound one, and only one small example of how I've been blessed by coming to know and love my Latino sisters and brothers.
The children of immigrants are quick to see the virtues and attractions of both their parents' culture and the majority culture that surrounds them, and they're very often brilliant at interweaving the best aspects of both to come up with a fabric that is stronger and more beautiful than either of the original threads. Yet these very children--the "anchor babies"--are the ones we find so abhorrent that we would consider altering the Constitution to prevent them from becoming citizens? Not only do these children not pose a threat, but they are the bright promise of tomorrow. What does denying them citizenship accomplish? And what does it say about us as a country? If such a law had been put into effect in the eighteenth century, the founders of this country would not have been citizens. I submit that altering the Constitution in such a way would signify that we have lost our way, that we have refused to learn the lessons of past generations, and that we are a nation guided not by wisdom and compassion but by fear and ignorance.
--Mary (my first blog post in well over a year!)