Obama’s immigration announcement a blow for justice
By JONATHAN WOLFMAN
It’s a small blow for justice, what the president did the other day, and it had me thinking.
Despite the fact that everyone reading this is a descendant of immigrants (and are in some cases immigrants themselves), the word has become a pejorative. Now that the word rarely evokes the East-West journeys of our grands and great-grands but conjures the more longitudinal movements of our contemporaries, “immigrant” has lost among American majorities any claim to widespread popular romance, ideas of individual or family fortitude, making-a-better-life, flight from political and religious oppression.
We know, though, when we’re thinking honestly, that those who come here, legally or no, do it for largely the same reasons our people did. We also know that they work extremely hard and do not ‘steal jobs’ from otherwise hard-working people.
The reality is that more settled Americans no matter what their immediate economic circumstances and despite the vicious rhetoric from the Right, just do not and will not:
- line up every morning at 5:30 a.m. along dusty roads to scramble onto the back of landscape trucks in the suburbs of Denver and Buffalo; or
- Get hounded out of avocado fields in Salinas or Temecula; or
- get shoved off the floors of knock-off jeans factories near Laredo or Bogaloosa; and
- they’re not pushed from construction-site pick-ups in Atlanta or Nashville by Mexicans, Hondurans, or Guatemalans.
We all also know, or we should, that both major national parties and most corporations are, whatever the rhetoric, content with the status quo for a variety of economic and political reasons. No one’s going to remove the 11 million and few corporations and small businesses will refrain from hiring them and no group of politicians is going to soon ”reform” this. It’s in none of their interests.
And yet President Obama’s border enforcement of the law is, in fact, a significant improvement over the former president’s and by one million in the last year alone. The 11 million who are here, embedded, are here, period.
Before you decide that our own ancestors were all here properly having stood humbly mute in dutiful lines do some research and you’ll find that they were not nearly all here in ways that complied with the law and you’ll also find that our government suspended rules between 1880 and 1920 whenever it wanted more cheap, non-union labor in targeted industries and regions. You’ll discover those truths despite the comforting mythologies successive generations and better-situated ethnicities tend to believe about their own people and past.
And ask yourselves too, please, if all those you hire for your housekeeping and grounds, those you pay at your salon, those you pay to watch your kids or grandkids: are you paying a very good person who is not here legally? Maybe you don’t know. Many of us don’t know.
What we can do is to continue to try to bring the border into compliance and acknowledge the broader realities of our ancestors, the Irish, Eastern European and Near East Jews, Scandinavians, Germans, Italians, the Chinese, the Koreans and Africans of dozens of ethnicities. And while we do, deal on a personal level as best we can with new immigrants, legal or no, in the ways we wished our own ancestors, legal or no, to have been routinely treated, group-to-group, one-to-one and celebrate the small move toward decency, justice and economic and political maturity an example of which we witnessed last week.
Jonathan Wolfman blogs at http://open.salon.com/blog/jlw1.
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