A Few Remarks on Immigration

I’ve been writing lots of long posts the last few days, and I’m about long-posted out. But then I come across news stories like this one, detailing how Trump and other Republicans are pushing for a bill to drastically cut back on legal immigration to this country. In a nutshell, the plan is to put up some requirements to allow someone to come to this country on a path to citizenship. They’d be rated for their job skills, ability to speak English, and their level of education. The importance of family ties to current citizens (something which is now a big avenue to citizenship) would be reduced.

This morning on my way into work, I listened to the senator sponsoring the bill talk about why it was important. America, he claimed, had too many low educated immigrants flooding into the country, taking jobs from hard working lower class citizens and driving wages down for everyone. So they’re hoping to cut the flow of immigrants in half, and ensure the ones coming into the country are educated, English speakers who will, essentially, add to the country instead of take away from it. Be an asset instead of a liability.

Honestly, I find such rhetoric disgusting, and it’s being used consistently by Trump and his minions to try and demonize immigrants the same way it’s been used by despots in the past. It plays upon the need to target someone different than most people and blame that someone (or someones) for as many problems facing voters as possible. Some politicians would have you believe immigrants were the main cause of unemployment, crime, our failing health care system, and more. That “America” would be so great if not for all “those people” holding it back.

The sad thing is, the rhetoric works. It works because people don’t personally know many immigrants. (Or if they do, they don’t recognize that they do.) Instead, they listen to politicians who describe “those people:” they speak no English. Came here illegally. Deal drugs. Corrupt “our children.” Pay no taxes. Leech off the system. You could play “immigrant hate BINGO” during these speeches. And because people don’t know immigrants well, they believe the speeches. After all, isn’t it easier to think all your problems are someone else’s fault? Isn’t more attractive to think you’d be doing swell if it weren’t for that group of people who has taken the job you could have had? It’s not your fault. It’s theirs.

But I have had many conversations with actual immigrants. Immigrants who are trying to learn English. Immigrants who are fluent. Immigrants with great jobs. Immigrants with jobs that hardly pay anything, They come here for a plethora of reasons. Each has his or her own story. But one thing I noticed in all my dealings with immigrants?

They’re hard workers. They’ve struggled and fought to do something that is far from easy. Come to another country, learn its ways, and try to succeed? That’s tough stuff. I remember speaking to one man who had come to the US from South America. At home, he had been a doctor. Here, he was a janitor. He wasn’t planning on staying a janitor, though. He was learning English so he could help his family establish themselves here. Why did he move? Because he thought he could make a better life for his family in America. The same reason most people came here from overseas a century or two or three ago.

Almost all of us are descended from immigrants these days. It’s just our ancestors got here before people turned off the Vacancy sign. Some would have us believe that our ancestors came here for “the right” reasons. That the immigrants in the 1800’s were somehow different or better than the immigrants of today. Don’t fall for that trap. Don’t let small minded people stop this country from being the beacon of hope it’s been since its founding.

One of the biggest lessons to me about immigration and the Other came while I was a missionary in Germany. For two years, I was the Other. I struggled to speak fluently at first. I felt like an idiot. I was still the same person I’d been before I went to Germany, but that language barrier was real. It made me easier to look down on. Easier to dismiss. Once I had the language mastered, it all became so much easier. I don’t dismiss people because they can’t speak English, because I know your language has no real bearing on who you are as a person.

The next time you hear someone on TV blithely blaming your problems on an entire group, recognize that for what it is. Garbage. We made our own problems, thank you very much. We’re the ones who need to fix them. And we won’t fix them by turning away the motivated, hard working people ready to come here and pitch in. Not because they want to mooch off our system, but because they want to be part of us. They want to contribute. And just because they don’t speak English or have a degree today doesn’t mean they won’t be fluent and well-educated tomorrow.

I hope this legislation is stopped in its tracks.

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