Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Welcome to the Ever-Changing, Ever-Same Face of America

As America becomes more diverse, there are edgy calls from talk-show-radio hosts to save the country for white, Christian (mostly) males . . . as though they had done something (other than kill off the natives) to deserve preservation. It’s interesting, to me anyway, that these Limbaughs and Coulters are a couple generations in from Ellis Island themselves and want almost desperately to slam the door on anyone and everyone else.


Limbaughrush As America becomes more diverse, there are edgy calls from talk-show-radio hosts to save the country for white, Christian (mostly) males . . . as though they had done something (other than kill off the natives) to deserve preservation. It’s interesting, to me anyway, that these Limbaughs and Coulters are a couple generations in from Ellis Island themselves and want almost desperately to slam the door on anyone and everyone else.

America is, in their minds, a gated community.

(Amy Chua, Washington Post) If you don't speak Spanish, Miami really can feel like a foreign country. In any restaurant, the conversation at the next table is more likely to be Spanish than English. And Miami's population is only 65 percent Hispanic. El Paso is 76 percent Latino. Flushing, N.Y., is 60 percent immigrant, mainly Chinese.

Chinatowns and Little Italys have long been part of America's urban landscape, but would it be all right to have entire U.S. cities where most people spoke and did business in Chinese, Spanish or even Arabic? Are too many Third World, non-English-speaking immigrants destroying our national identity?

For some Americans, even asking such questions is racist. At the other end of the spectrum, the conservative talk show host Bill O'Reilly fulminates against floods of immigrants who threaten to change America's "complexion" and replace what he calls the "white Christian male power structure."

Oreillybill Complexion? Power structure? O’Reilly sounds suspiciously to me like an Irish name and there was a time, not all that long ago, when ads (even for household help) stated ‘Irish need not apply.’

Bill O'Reilly gets a lot of kicking around as everybody's favorite wingnut, but his broadcast and educational credentials are extensive. Power, on the other hand, may be problematic for Bill.

My own name, Freeman, harks back to the Magna Carta, when freed serfs became 'free men.' My grandparents (grandpa English, grandma German) emigrated from Canada in the late 1890s. Mom’s side (exact same ethnic mix) boasted her own paternal grandfather serving as a corporal in the Illinois Militia during the Civil War. Great grandfather Craven lost a hand in that war, but that’s still not a very deep tap-root for an American heritage.

No matter, we Craven-Freemans are damned glad to be here. Chua continues . . .

But for the large majority in between, Democrats and Republicans alike, these questions are painful, with no easy answers. At some level, most of us cherish our legacy as a nation of immigrants. But are all immigrants really equally likely to make good Americans? Are we, as the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington warns, in danger of losing our core values and devolving "into a loose confederation of ethnic, racial, cultural, and political groups, with little or nothing in common apart from their location in the territory of what had been the United States of America"?

Profhuntingtonsamuel Well, there has to be a Harvard and, if there is a Harvard, then certainly it follows as sunshine after rain that there must be a Harvard political scientist to apply the white, male, Christian litmus paper to a loss of ‘core values.’ I don’t know what the good professor (much less Harvard) takes to be core values, but Samuel Huntington is a pretty WASPy name and one can make the undocumented case that his core may merely have predated O’Reilly’s by a century or two.

And yet Ann Coulter, with whom I seldom agree on anything, writes,

America has a seller's market in immigration, but thanks to Teddy Kennedy's 1965 immigration law, we no longer favor skilled workers from developed nations, but instead favor unskilled immigrants from the Third World. Kennedy's bill promptly cut the number of European immigrants in half and increased Third World immigrants to 85 percent of the total.

Not surprisingly, post-1965 immigrants have sharply higher levels of poverty and welfare dependence. Europeans may not seem like ideal new immigrants, but the truth is, if what they want is welfare, they'll stay in France.

Anncoulter1 and it’s a good point, or at least a bit more specific and arguable than O’Reilly or Huntington.

Silicon Valley makes much the same point. We are simply unable to visa the skilled of the world who want to come here and whom we wish to hire. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, as middle-class jobs slide inevitably toward the bottom of the hiring scale, bringing the poorer in to work looks less and less ‘melting pot’ and more and more a threat to workers. We are not the 19th century America that welcomed all comers.

My suggestion will be disagreeable to both camps, unlikely to satisfy Teddy Kennedy or Ann Coulter:

  • Overturn the Kennedy legislation
  • Offer open-visas to the North American continent.

Mexicanworker If that sounds counter-intuitive, it may be, but it’s worth debate. With six billion people in the world, immigration without education priorities is just no longer practicable. Equally impracticable is walling ourselves off from historic neighbors Canada and Mexico.

Prioritizing is defensible and a needed response to an absolutely clogged immigration system. Walls are so unsympathetic to the American image of freedom and opportunity as to essentially Balkanize our own citizenry into disparate camps of varying degrees of racism.

America is more than a gated community among the world’s nations. We are better than that, but what we have in place is no longer working, immigration-wise. So I propose a two-level solution to a multi-level problem:

First, an immigration policy toward the world outside our continent based, as the rest of the world bases immigration, upon needed skills and individual circumstance; essentially, those whom we value for their talent, be it technical, artistic, economic, etc.

Second, open work visas for all North Americans. Canada is not and never has been a problem, it’s Mexico we’re talking about in this discussion.

  • A huge number of Mexican aliens are trapped in our country because of their lack of documentation. They simply cannot go back to Mexico for fear of not being able to re-enter the U.S. An open visa policy would solve that, taking an enormous welfare load off our hands.
  • The undocumented are ‘black’ workers, an underground underclass. Among the ‘unders’ are under-paid, under-taxed and under-repatriated. Documents (visas) are the key to both taxing and keeping track of this spectral society.
  • Mexico, desperate to not lose its access to American jobs, would be required to provide state-of-the-art passports to all who apply. America, desperate to solve the economic and social disaster that has dogged Mexican migrants seeking work here, would be required to visa any Mexican passport-holder appearing at the border.

Visas would be for workers, not families. Visa-holders must hold jobs, pay taxes, have health insurance and remain felony-free in order to remain in the U.S., just as in other nations of the world. Emerging from the shadows of an alien existence should allow sufficient levels of income to support those requirements. Undocumented Mexican workers now hidden in America would have to return to Mexico for appropriate papers and any found not to have done that would be deported without return access for two (?) years.

Fencemexicanborder This will not satisfy everyone. But it will raise wages (both Mexican and American), provide tax income, reduce the load on welfare and education systems and allow Mexicans and Americans to look one another in the eye with a degree of pride and evenhandedness.

Paraphrasing Ronald Reagan, the hero of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, “Mr. Chertoff, tear down this wall.”
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