Posts Tagged ‘Immigration’

Once again the issue of immigration has risen to the forefront, creating yet another layer of confrontation in our already super contentious political arena. Usually the immigration argument is over handling “illegal” immigrants. Now there is a new issue, providing a limitation on legal immigration in a manner never before considered in the United States. The new proposal would institute a point system in which those who score the highest points would be awarded entry visas. The key ways to earn points are by age (mid to late 20’s), ability to speak English, having a job offer in the United States, and investing in a business venture in the United States.

Critics of this system say it is completely against traditional American values of diverse immigration and providing opportunity to those in need. They cite the words of Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus” which is on the base of the Statue of Liberty – in particular the verse, “give me your tired, your poor.” Clearly this proposed immigration system would not allow many, if any, of those to enter.

Supporters of the proposed immigration system answer that it is similar to policies in a number of other countries including Canada, Japan and Australia. They say that polls show Americans want to limit immigration in order to protect the jobs of American workers. Further, they criticize “hyphenated” Americans, saying these folks are reluctant to let go of their original cultures.

Let’s begin by looking at the history of immigration in America. First, to deny that ours is a country built by immigrants is to deny a basic truth. Very few Americans can trace their origins back to 17th and 18th century colonial settlers. Even they can be seen as supplanters of those who were here first – Native Americans. Every historical era in our country had immigrants who were hated by Americans already here. Germans, Irish, Chinese, Eastern Europeans, Jews, Italians, Hispanics all have been despised as newcomers. Yet, all of these immigrant populations have made contributions to the growth and greatness of the United States. It is important to note I have not mentioned African Americans because they mostly did not come as immigrants, but as slaves. I will also note that the great contributions of African Americans to our country, are also indisputable, despite the tragedy of slavery.

Immigration policy underwent a great change in 1921, when the American government established a quota system for immigration. This system limited the number immigrants to 3% of immigrants from a country already in the United States, based on the 1910 census. In 1924 this was revised to 2%. The target was clearly eastern and southern Europeans, including Jews, as immigrants from these countries were seen as taking jobs from American workers. This was a major argument against opening up the quotas in the 1930’s to allow Jews and others being oppressed by Nazi Germany to find refuge in our country. The exception to these quotas was if family in America sponsored the immigrant and pledge they would not end up on welfare. This is what allowed both my mother’s and father’s families to enter this country.

In 1965 the per country quota system was eliminated. There was an overall limit to visas with priority given to skill sets and immediate family relationships. Those having immediate family who were U.S. citizens had no restrictions. There was also a “special” category for those seeking refuge. None of these systems required the ability to speak English, emphasized wealth, or having a job offer in the U.S.

So what to make of this latest proposal? Its restrictions would have kept pretty much all immigrants from non English speaking countries in prior generations from entering this country. To make this personal, if these had been the laws in the 1930’s, none of my family would have been allowed into the U.S. Most likely, they would have been murdered by the Nazis and I would not exist.

I believe America’s greatness is based on three key elements. First, we have a system of government that is the envy of the world. Yes, there have been glitches and problems, but we are human and there will be mistakes. Yet, our system, which strikes a balance between the 3 branches, allows its citizens not just to vote, but to protest, to express their views, and to have their basic rights protected, is the best in the world (yes, I might be biased here). Second, our historic dedication to free enterprise allows anyone who works hard the opportunity for success. Again, there are problems and prejudices, but the opportunities provided by a free enterprise system are the best of our world’s choices. Finally, our country’s tradition is to offer the chance to live in freedom and to build a productive, successful life, to people from all over the world despite their origin, resources, or ability to speak English.

Indeed, immigrants who come here, overcome their poverty, plus learn a new language and culture, provide a strength of character and toughness that our country always desperately needs. America not only benefits financially with new resources, but with diversity of culture. The beauty of music, art, and theater from Americans of diverse origins adds to the wonder and greatness of our country.

Further, I deeply oppose the criticism of people as “hyphenated Americans.” All immigrant groups begin their time in America by hanging together. My German Jewish parents lived in Washington Heights, NY with other German Jews. Further, there is nothing wrong with pride in your culture of origin, be it Irish, German, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, African – or any other. The vast majority of legal immigrants find their place in our society – especially by the 2nd generation. Yes, there are anecdotes of immigrants who fail, but the data proves differently.

Emma Lazarus wrote these words added to the base of the Statue of Liberty in 1903. “Give me your tired, your poor; your huddled masses yearning to be free.” Yes, the Statue of Liberty was not originally a symbol of immigration, but when the words of the “New Colossus” were, clearly it had become a symbol of hope and freedom for immigrants. The current proposed change to immigration would force us to change the words to, “Give me your hired, your sure…” That would change the basic nature of our country and America would say goodbye to a chunk of its greatness.


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