America’s Undocumented Saving Grace
What “These People” Contribute
If anyone doubts that bigotry is enjoying a Great Revival of its own in the United States, the spectacle of the past week’s “crass roots” banding up across the land to defeat what they called a “shamnesty” immigration bill in the U.S. Senate should kill those doubts. The bill was enormously problematic—except for the winding road to citizenship it gave some of the country’s 12 million undocumented immigrants. And that’s what killed it. The defeat is attributable to one thing: Americans don’t want more Mexicans and other brown-skinned people here.
“These people came in the wrong way, so they don’t belong here, period,” was how one Monique Thibodeaux, whose name suggests her American origins don’t quite date back to the Jurassic, summed it up in the Sunday paper.
These people. It’s as if the civil rights era never taught us anything. Welcome to Brave New America, where a nation of immigrants is re-engineering its once broad-hearted traditions to ape those of nativists, xenophobes and selective supremacists. It is, after all, the 75 th anniversary of Aldous Huxley’s classic. “Progress is lovely, isn’t it?” as Lenina tells Bernard when the pair is, appropriately enough, traveling through New Mexico in the 26 th century.
Let’s not look that far. By 2050, the population of the United States by one estimate is projected to reach half a billion. The 200 million increase is twice the current population of Mexico. Accommodating that many more people doesn’t seem to be the issue. More people means more consumers. In a nation that consumes more than it produces, and where two-thirds of the economy depends on consumption, immigrants are a double boon. They’re ready-to-work employees in whom the state doesn’t need to invest a cent in education dollars. And they’re ready-to-buy consumers. They also explain why the economy since the early 1980s, when this latest immigration boom started, hasn’t stalled. Immigrants, including—if not especially—undocumented immigrants, have been its saving grace (see fact box). Without them, the economy would collapse.
At no point in this country’s history have immigrants, involuntary or “illegal” included, hurt the country nearly as much as those exploiting them. Undocumented immigrants aren’t hurting the country now—not as we’re constantly reminded of record stock gains, record corporate profits, low inflation, low unemployment and low interest rates. That rosy economic profile hides serious fissures, to be sure. But inequality is top-driven, never bottom-driven, and certainly not immigrant-driven. The country is profiting on the back of undocumented immigrants and treating them like dirt in return when it should, without question, offer them legal status up to citizenship on a silver platter. Instead, we have the Great Bigotry Revival: Yes, the country will fill up with two more Mexicos over the next 50 years. Just don’t let it fill up with Mexicans and these people. Why not, considering how much this country owes the neighbors to the south it has so derisively neglected when it hasn’t invaded them?
The bigotry isn’t limited to white reactionaries of the Thibodeaux variety. Vernon Robinson, a black Republican running for Congress from the Winston-Salem, N.C. area, called immigrants flag-burners, tax-dodgers and child molesters before calling incumbent Brad Miller their enablers last November (Robinson lost). T. Willard Fair, the Miami civil rights activist and Jeb Bush protege, was featured in recent ads in The New Republic and the Washington Post saying: “Amnesty for illegal workers is not just a slap in the face to black Americans. It’s an economic disaster,” and eliminating distinctions between “legal” and “illegal immigrants.” Disturbing, how a civil rights leader can embrace such a divisive us-and-them mentality.
As for undocumented immigrants supposedly jumping the line, it’s difficult to see how braving extortionist coyotes, bandits and rapists preying on easy victims, river currents, fences, walls or desert heat, border cops on both sides, arrests, humiliation, and an eventual life in half shadows can be called jumping the line. Those who make it across, especially in light of miseries they’re leaving behind, have more in common with refugees than line-jumpers or lawbreakers—refugees willing to integrate and make good on a new life. They should be welcomed as such. (Even worse is the suggestion that “legal” immigrants came into this country through the front door, unless you consider the gate to the colonial genocide of Indians a front door.)
So it bears saying one more time, for those who think America’s immigration history is bunk. Just as “illegitimate child” is, morally speaking, an oxymoron—a child is by definition legitimate for being innocent, regardless of his parent’s choices—there are no such things as illegal immigrants or illegal aliens. There are immigrants. Some are documented. Some are not. Both contribute. Both make this country work better than it would without them, as they always have. The difference is details. The country’s debt to immigrants, legal, undocumented or involuntary, isn’t. It’s larger than America could ever repay. If all those immigrants have the right to say one thing to Americans lobbing all that sham legalism and moralizing at them, it’s this: Save it for yourselves.
Letters Responding to “What 'These People' Contribute”
I normally agree with your articles. I don't agree with your article on the immigration bill. I am against any more immigration to the US under any circumstances except for political asylum. The reason has nothing to do with xenophobia. Part of my family is Mexican. I love them dearly. The problem is overpopulation. The only thing that mass immigration is doing, is to import the world's population problem into the United States. I recently moved about 20 miles west of where I grew up. In part, the move was to get away from the overcrowding and its consequent noise, pollution and other problems. I know that in about 10 years, I'll have to move again and so on and so and so on.
The population of the United States has doubled in my lifetime. At this rate it will more than double again with by the end of the century. Countries that have gone down this road end up regretting it. Overpopulation always results in ecological and social problems. It will be no different here.
I have just finished reading your editorial about "undocumented" (aka illegal) immigrants and find it infuriating. I have lived with, worked with, and taught people of all races, colors, and creeds. I am definitely NOT a bigot. I don't care a thing about a persons origin, sexual preference, etc. What I passionately care about is people who pick and chose which laws of our country they chose to follow - and then expect to be rewarded for their choices. The United States has a system for aliens to enter this country. Thousands of people fill out the necessary paper work, follow the time limits, learn the language, take the citizenship test, and participate in the beautiful citizenship ceremony proclaiming that they are full citizens of this country and entitled to all the rights of citizenship. How WRONG it is to equate the hard work of these people to become citizens with people who break our laws by illegally entering this country and then insist on rewarding them by making them citizens. I see these law breakers standing in the streets rioting for "their rights" and it makes me so angry. No matter what job ILLEGAL immigrants are filling, we CAN do without them long enough for it to impact them and the people who hire them. I have stayed in hotels staffed almost exclusively by people who are unable to speak English. The frustration of communicating with these people has taught me that I will never stay in those establishments again. Bottom line, I will continue to contact my representatives in Washington expressing my views and let them know that I will not vote for anyone who allows this travesty to continue.
Ormond Beach, Florida
Just read your column on immigrants posted on CommonDreams. I always look forward to reading your work because it is consistently the most humane, well written, and informative opinion on the net. I agree with you on the debt we owe to immigrants, and I'm ashamed of the despicable way we treat them. Knowing some of the history of my own people, the Scot-Irish, and how they murdered the native people and stole their land, I understand that this country has been built on the backs of people detested by the "good Americans." It's a constant struggle to help my friends and relatives to see through the lies, distortions, and racism behind 400 years of mis-education of white America, and to accept all our people as our brothers and sisters. Thanks so much for the time, effort and thought you put into your writing. It always inspires me to keep on fighting. Best wishes, keep it up!
I read with disgust your column on the so-called undocumented. Let's get the record straight. They are people who broke the law, entered this country illegally and are in fact illegal aliens - period. Why can't you just admit this? While your column is slick, it never-the less ignores, leaves out, or just strectches the facts beyond belief. Your table from the Pew Hispanic Center is at best questionable. Do you really belive those numbers, and more importantly do you honestly believe the economy would for one minute falter without illegals? Take into consideration the drain most illegals have on the economy. As it stands now, they get Medicaid, food stamps, education and a host of other things that cost us more than they contribute - espeically if they send money made here back to Mexico. While some are decent hard working people, too many are here just to exploit "the system" and our pathetic weakness to do anything about it. As to your lame attemp to tie illegals in with true immigrants and say we owe them some kind of a debt of gratitude - bull. We owe a debt to the many who came here legally and CONTRIBUTED to the contry's wealth and resources. We owe nothing to illegals who simply DRAIN our resources. Maybe we can't sent all 12 million illegals back, but I sure hope we try. That's what we owe them! Sincerely...Thomas Cuddy South Daytona Florida
Breaking the law and be rewarded for it is OK according to your article! That seems to be the gist of your article. I also believe you need to review what it is costing the American public in taxes for all these undocumented who, in may cases do not ay taxes, make extensive use of our medical facilities at no cost to them but lots of cost to us taxpayers. So, if you are going to write an article then lets include all the facts, not just those you wish to have us believe.Then I could be wrong!
WTF? Must not be any illegal presidents, either. Some of their illegalities are documented; some are not. Logically, they're not culpable, either. Cheney/Bush will be so glad; Nixon might come back!. Tough for US citizens in between, for whom it IS ILLEGAL if We DO it! Otherwise I'd be comfortably SQUATTING in Bora Bora.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for the analogy of "illegitimate child" and "illegal immigrants". My only child was adopted and I have always
bristled at the illogical label .
Thank you ,too, for the entire article which I intend to mail to many who
are unable to reason re: the immigrants.
Thanks so much for your article. I have been psychologically and physiologically nauseous over the “discourse” concerning immigrants. Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again” should be required reading right now.
In your article, you quote a Monique Thibodeaux, "whose name suggests her American origins don’t quite date back to the Jurassic." Actually, the name, Thibodeaux, is an old, very old, Louisiana name and has probably been so well before the United States was born. This Monique is probably no newcomer, not by any stretch. I would never call her a bigot. She could be savvy to the fact that we have finite resources, and that includes our educational skills. Another 100 mil in the US will not do us very well, no matter the skin color. Why are so many Latin Americans moving to the US? One of our stupid trade deals backfired on us. Subsidized US corn has flooded Latin America, forcing the marginal small farmer off his land, which he can sell, in most cases, only to the already-rich large landowners and agribiz in Latin America. There is no safety net for these trade victims. The trade deals have left them with only two choices: 1) Go into the lucrative, deadly and competitive drug trade, or 2) Migrate to the US.
So, we are not only subsidizing our already-rich agri-businesses and monster farms, we are subsidizing Mexico's already-rich mega-landowners. Our stupid trade deal has dislocated the backbone of America, our own very professional small family farmers, and dislocated millions of small farmers in Mexico and beyond. Please consider shifting your immigration arguments to where the problems really begin. I normally like your writing, but this one article sticks in my craw. Regards,
I am a regular reader of newspapers. Rarely, do I ever allow an editorial writing effect me.
Your opinion in regards to Americans that are not supporting the comprehensive immigration bill-should actually be embarassing you.
It is a transparent snapshot, so detailed, one feels as if they personally know you. Don't gloat, this is not a compliment.
Daytona News-Journal is not a great read, but it is the best Daytona Beach has. It would not be expected that a newspaper of this average/below average, would employee the most excellent writers. By your physical appearance, you seem to be an older man, meaning The News-Journal is your pinnacle.
You prove that immaturity can be found even in the most chronologically mature people. Unfortunately, it publicly exposes your childishness and lack of panache. It is not a gleaming example of the newspaper. So, you hurt yourself and the News-Journal.
How dare you resort to name calling, just because people, such as myself, do not support this bill. How dare you call us bigots and racists. Can you not get your point across, without the immaturity. Can you not script a better counterpoint without this childishness? Obviously not, or you would. If your mind cannot expand any more than this article, perhaps you might consider retirement. However, since you enjoy writing, I will suggest to the News Journal-about a transfer to classified. I don't think your lack of critical thinking will effect classified ads. Unless, someone is selling something that you don't agree with-if so, watch yourself-you may end up calling them names, in their own ad. Think of how your writing will reflect on yourself, before putting it to public print. Don't embarass yourself or the paper.
When does it end? In 1986, they allowed amnesty for 3 million people. Laws were put in place to fix the problem. So we thought. Borders were suppose to be more secure, which they should be. It seems our government is responsible, I believe it divides us in this country, we do feel threaten at times, overwhelmed to be sure. I ask myself why? Living in Fresno,ca, where there is a large number of illegal Immigrates. I live in a neighborhood that is over whelming Hispanic. When they replaced the Von's grocery store with a Fiesta Hispanic store, they didn't want English speaking people applying for jobs there, everything was in Spanish. If we could read it, maybe we could apply for work there, but the message was clear. The want ads in the paper here, repeatedly say you have to be bilingual to work in stores, so that is out also. We also have big ads that are totally in Spanish. I would like it if they would become American and embrace our country, but I feel, like a lot of people that we have to embrace their culture instead. I am not alone and it isn't because I am white, other hispanic neighbors, who have lived in this neighborhood longer then I have, feel the same way. We feel that we live in Mexico. Also, the immigrates here, especially the younger people, don't like us. plain and simple. They say so, they won't play with my grandson, they tell him he is white, we don't like white people. They push us away, they are very united. I think that is the real problem here. It isn't much different then inviting someone into your home, and they let you know right away, they don't like you, although, they will except your hospitality, they have no intentions of ever excepting you. We become the enemy. Maybe that is what we fear. We might as well admit it. Remember, we live in an area, which I am sure that you do not, where we are confronted with this daily. It isn't because I am racist, although it might sound that way. I grew up in this town, went to schools with Hispanics, but they were all Americans, embraced the American way of life. We didn't see signs in Spanish everywhere we went. The elementary teachers did not translate everything into Spanish when we were at school functions. I think we feel threaten. Maybe that's what it is all about.