Piling On – Immigration

Comment become post: Two audios demonstrate differing perspectives. The Blogosphere one gives broader context: near the beginning of the Helen/Glen podcast interview with Austin Bay/Jim Dunnigan the factors of contemporary immigration versus that of the century before are discussed. The MSM (well, NPR) take is more politicized; Melissa Block interviews former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda on All Things Considered.

When I was a kid in the middle of the last century, we felt the centrality of immigration to our sense of who we were as Nebraskans. My father talked of walking down main street in the thirties, when he could hear three or four languages. (Main street was only about three blocks long.) Towns nearby were known as Danish (Minden), Irish Catholic (Heartwell), German Catholic (Roseland), German Lutheran (Kenesaw), Swedish (Oakland), Czech (Wilber) etc. etc. The Cuban immigration after Castro influenced some of our culture as did the Lithuanian and Latvians in post-WWII movements. This was who we were – we were all these but all these were us, no more & no less than those whose ancesters had come west during reconstruction or followed the trains as they connected east & west. Out of the many came America. Now, Asian & Hispanic ethnicities add their culture & foods & voices.

If the Irish Republicans could somehow, over the years, assimilate – then why can’t modern immigrant groups? Well, it is different – but that different? The radicals of 1900 were seldom out on the plains (although Tillie Olsen grew up in Omaha). But, in more urban settings, quite radical immigrant politics was clearly a factor. Is this more or less true today? Our institutions, like our schools, have changed. But how important will that prove to be?

Jorge Castaneda describes the Mexican view of the U.S. immigration debate. Block, in typical NPR style, throws no “hard balls.” No suggestion is made that perhaps America might be less attractive if Mexico were less corrupt and its economy, education and justice systems more sensible. Certainly, one of the strongest arguments for NAFTA was a win/win – that with more open trade, Mexico would become more attractive to its own citizens. Surely, most would prefer working in a Spanish-speaking country close to their roots. Generally, we don’t choose the rigors of a new language & culture and leave our family behind without either a powerful attraction from the new country or a powerful prod from the old. (Sure, I’m unusually incompetent at languages, but I figure this is a pretty good generalization.)

Nonetheless, the interview concentrates on “anti-American” feeling in Mexico – prompted by Iraq, etc. but inflamed by some of the proposed restrictions. Sure, if a very far left president follows Fox in reaction to us, well, that will be bad–though I suspect worse for the Mexicans than America. And this may be more likely because the independent, ambitious workers that would be most appalled by such a government have already left. Besides a source of income for Mexico in terms of money sent from America, we have also provided a safety valve; immigration lets out some of the natural pressure arising in a nation that disappoints its citizens.

While many of us see immigration as generally a good, such interviews are not very useful. If any group (Taliban at Yale or Mexican at the southwest border) is anti-American, then we are not likely to open our arms and borders. Surely any society that welcomes people who despise them may need some Dr. Phil time. Of course, my experience with Mexicans in this society is not that we all form some really dysfunctional family in dire need of counseling.

The relatively lengthy Helen/Glenn pod-cast interview with Austin Bay/Jim Dunnigan hits on many topics; however, relatively early they discuss the difference between immigration a hundred years ago – before cheap air travel, inexpensive international telephone service, e-mail, etc. made “home” close. Now families (and we see it among our friends) send their children back to summer camps, to perfect their language skills and to stay acquainted with grandparents & cousins. The wakes thrown as an Irish immigrant set out for the states reflected a reality – once left, they were unlikely to return; pressure for assimilation was intensified by alienation from the old – communication was difficult & sporadic. That is not true now. Certainly, for even quite poor Mexican workers, returning regularly to renew family ties is relatively easy.

Another distinction (and I’m not sure how important) is the religion of modern Muslim immigrants. The Catholic & Protestant churches pressured assimilation: the Irish & Italians shared communion, as did the Swedes and Germans. Certainly, the Catholic church continues to provide this sacred, multi-ethnic community. But Muslim immigrants are not likely to share a mosque with those who have been here for a hundred or more years. Instead, it is likely to contain mainly those in that first difficult stage, when culture shock is hardest.

Wage differentials are also affected. When immigration is heavy (as at 1900 & 2000), wage & wealth gaps appear disproportionate. This evened out during the middle years, prompted both by FDR legislation but also because by limiting immigration and increasing assimilation, the descendents of the 1900 immigrants were able to develop skills and accrue capital. I suspect we will have to wait another fifty years to know for sure how this plays out now.

Of course, it is an insult to group immigrants who spend time at the embassy and patiently wait out the long & often irritating delays with those who break the law and arrive as illegal immigrants.

And it doesn’t do Mexican illegals a favor to turn their cause into a political football nor trumpet a profound anti-Americanism when we wish to control our borders nor for radical groups to call for annexation of southwest states. It is also not, I suspect, very representative of the Mexicans who work across this country. They made a choice with their feet and I have trouble thinking of them as virulently anti-American. For one thing, they are too busy to brood. They are here because they believe Mexico offers them neither economic opportunity nor security. This lack, the implicit criticism those feet make, is an important point to keep in mind when we hear Fox and such representatives as Castaneda. We may have failed in fixing our “border problem” – but the border problem arises from the quite real problems in Mexico itself.

17 thoughts on “Piling On – Immigration”

  1. Based solely on the anecdotal reports I’ve seen in blogs and the news it seems to be the school-age children of the immigrants who are the main members of the “let’s take back the land the United States stole from us!” school.

  2. Quick thoughts:
    I again point out the distinction between California (anti-assimiliationist Latinos, some with aggressive ideologies; half a million in the streets of LA) and Texas (modus vivendi atmosphere; only 1,500 demonstrators in Dallas).
    See Spanish-language Media Conglomerate, anyone? for the trend away from Spanish among second- and third-generation Hispanics in the US.
    And see my own US an Incubator of Islamic Reformation? for what goes on in mosques in the US. A more recent report notes that American mosques are unique in terms of particpation by female congregants as well.

  3. The second generation speaks, and usually prefers, English. The third generation doesn’t speak the ancestral language. Fluency in English is a prerequisite for real success in American society and everyone, especially immigrants, knows it. Whatever personal ties immigrants from Mexico may retain to the old country, they came here for a reason and very few of them are likely to want the USA to become more like the place they left. In the long run the Mechistas won’t do better than Marcus Garvey.

  4. The biggest core problems that can be fixed are the treatment of legals vs illegals and the rules for becoming a legal immigrant. It should be easier for skilled workers to immigrate and also easier to kick out illegals and legals who have been convicted of serious crimes.

    In addition, the rules for legal immigration should be more like those for Canada or Australia in which points for education and English-speaking are given while minimal preference should be provided for family reunification. While it makes sense to bring in spouses and small children, there should be no preference to siblings, parents, or to children who are 18 and above. The current system exacerbates the Mexico problem (once an illegal becomes legal, the flood of relatives quickly follows) and is biased against bright, skilled immigrants from Europe or Asia with no contacts in the US. In addition, there should be more places for people who are educated, skilled and willing to pay let us say $50,000 for a green card. This should help fund a better INS. Finally no immigrant should be eligible for ANY welfare benefits for at least a decade and the sponsors who have to sign at the time of immigration should be put on the hook for financial obligations.

  5. nn, thanks for your thoughtful points. If I may quibble, I think we should be extremely careful about increasing funding for the INS in general, and particularly about creating new systemic incentives by earmarking funds from any “buy your green card” program. The INS is a large part of the problem in hampering legal immigration. I don’t think this is mainly a matter of funding, and I suspect that (as with the public schools) throwing money at the problem may be worse than doing nothing.

  6. NN, you make alot of sense.

    The reality is, this debate is between those who want to protect our country against an ilegal foreign invastion from the south and Shannon’s “Suckers” that relish the prospect of a new and growing constituency.

    I hope our leaders fulfill their fiduciary responsibility and apply some of your common sense ideas.

  7. Jonathan,

    The INS is an obstacle because it wants to limit immigration but has no power nor incentives to control the illegals. Legal immigrants are a hassle. My $50K idea is to create a market incentive to encourage productive workers to migrate (a firm that wants to hire could pay this) and to have our govt take some of the dough that now goes to the illegal facilitators. Using some of the dough for the INS and perhaps for educating our poorest citizens also creates incentives for lawful immigration in the population as a whole. Moreover, it creates a constituency — legal immigrants — who will come to resent those who enter illegally without paying the fees.

    GFK: Thanks for your praise. Sadly, I think that the political class (on both sides of the aisle) benefits from the current posturing. And there is no constituency for productive legals who are not part of the system. So demagoguery wins and nothing changes.

    The most important thing is not to hope for utopian solutions, and start with common sense changes that make improvements at the margin which are enforceable. But neither anti-immigrationists, nor open borders types want to deal with this.

  8. nn,

    Everyone I know who has dealt with the INS in connection with legal immigration for a friend or relative reported extremely lengthy, extremely frustrating bureaucratic hassles. Every report I have read from someone I wasn’t personally acquainted with who was in a similar position reported the same thing or worse. I have read a number of journalistic accounts about how the INS makes business travel to the USA sufficiently burdensome for many foreigners that they decide to avoid the USA or schedule meetings elsewhere. Whatever else the INS may not be able to do, my impression is that it is very effective at impeding legal immigration, and sometimes even business travel or tourism, by the kinds of foreigners that we should want to come to the USA.

  9. I agree with nn. The current situation, with high rates of illegal immigration, benefits employers near the bottom of the wage and skill levels. Since the only sure way to increase prosperity for everyone is increased productivity, our policy should be weighted in favor of those most likely to be highly productive.

  10. Some of today’s rabble will be tomorrow’s billionaires. If we’re going to restrict immigration then we might let educated and accomplished people in first. However, I think it might be better to select for ability than for achievement, and I don’t think the government is likely to do this better than, for example, it can pick winners in industry. The world has many talented people who would flourish here but who are held back in their native countries by lack of capital, lack of education and/or stifling governments. Such people would not be allowed to come here if we let in only educated people or people who have money. Perhaps a system that selected for diverse characteristics among prospective immigrants would be better, with a substantial number of “unqualified” young adults included in the mix.

  11. This criteria from a corresondent to The Corner would choose those Jonathan wants (and I agree with him that many who aren’t doing all that well in another system can be some of our best). Unfortunately, it is not easily “testable” or “verifiable.”

  12. My father (an immigrant to the US from India) used to say that America had a way of making use of people who were ‘useless’ back home. Okay, he was joking, I know, but I’ve often thought he was getting at the idea that the best systems allow, encourage, and sort of ‘unleash’ creative behaviors, the entrepreneurial spirit being one of those creative behaviors.

    *I like the little anecdote about Nebraska. I grew up in Iowa and was utterly fascinated as a young girl with ‘pioneer’ stories: I loved to hear how people settled Iowa. You knew which towns were Dutch, German, etc. Our own little Indian community in Iowa started in the late sixties as teachers, graduate students, etc, and has blossomed. It’s small in number, but for the most part doing well, and there is even a Hindu temple in Des Moines! It’s funny to think how the ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ I grew up with created all of that.

    As for the most recent immigration, most particularly the illegal variant, well, it does seem a muddle. Having laws, knowing they are not being obeyed, yet, ‘wink-wink- nudge- nudge’ letting them continue to be broken is a type of corruption, isn’t it, and who on earth wants things more corrupted than they need to be?

    I have a soft spot for the immigrant character of this country, for obvious reasons: I’d like us to stay a pushing, driving sort of place.

  13. The anti-Americanism of Mexico City is completely different from the attitude that can be found in the Mexican hinterlands where the majority of our immigrants come from. Mexico is still essentially an empire run from the Districto Federal and until mass migration to the U.S. began, those in the hinterlands (overwhelmingly Indian) didn’t have much in the way of opportunities (or love for the Mexican government). Now, their money is paying for new roads in the little towns among other things; as well as buying them big haciendas for when they visit “home.” The great irony is that these Indians are growing relatively wealthy from their work here, but Euro-Mexicans still consider them beneath them.
    Indeed, many of these folks don’t find a real feeling of ‘Mexicaness’ until they come here and find each other. Even then, regional pride often runs more important, or the same, as Mexican; thus the so many pick-ups with ‘Jalisco’ or ‘Michoacan’ on the back window. I would bet someone from Michoacan would find more common cause with someone from Texas, than with someone from Mexico City.
    As for all those little towns with their new roads and new pick-ups being driven around by the guy wearing a dallas cowboys jersey (you know, the one who throws your dry-wall in the summer); well, I like to think of those towns of little bits of America spreading south, like dandelion seeds in the wind.

  14. ElamBend, you’re definitely on to something. The euphemism “aspecto agradable” (pleasant appearance) appears in Mexican job listings and is used to discriminate against Indians.

  15. The second generation speaks, and usually prefers, English.

    And they were taught a lot of the spewage they put on those signs in American schools from English-speaking teachers, as near as I can tell.

    We have a lot of this BS here because we teach it here.

  16. Interesting comments.

    I’m posting this from Mexico (Monterrey). I’m a US citizen that’s been down here for the last two years working for a US company based here.

    Since I’m a boss of sorts (head of IT), I see the immigration issue from on the ground. I’ve tried to get many of my guys Visas so they can visit our US facilities for training. It has been a frustrating and embarrassing ordeal.

    Understand that all of my guys have no real interest in migrating to the US, they are all college educated and have families here. We are simply trying to get them Visas for continued education at our US facilities.

    The long and short of it is, the people that go through the official routes are subject to endless interviews and run-around. The types of people we should be bending over backwards to welcome – college educated with strong work ethics – are delayed and delayed. Meanwhile, the border remains wide-open for anyone wanting to pay a cayote to lead them in.

    On another note, just like Elam said, the culture of Mexico is cut more north/south than anything else.

    The north are very similar to the American Southwest. The typical ‘charro’ drives a pickup truck, wears cowboy boots, and rides his horses on the weekend.

    The south is dominated by the intellectuals of Mexico City, which are generally socialist do-gooders.

    Mexicans, in general, are very honarable, hardworking people. I for one welcome them to our country because I know they will succeed. In turn, their success becomes our success.

  17. There’s a big difference between the Chilango political and intellectual elites in Mexico City, and the rest of the Country. The immigration issue isn’t really anti-Mexican, as it is opposed to a system that is openly abused by one group of Mexicans for their local benefit far, far south of the border. (Let’s not mistake Mexicans for Chilangos, who are at least as reviled by other Mexicans as by Americans).

    Otherwise… millions of illegals are only able to stay in the US because Americans who exploit their illegal status are allowed to dodge responsiblity. Those US businesses that need migrant labor have every chance to sponsor new migrants or to hire legal aliens, and no excuse other than greed for employing large numbers of illegals under the table. Before we blame people who’re just trying to make a new life for themselves, let’s ask why we should tolerate Americans who abuse other peoples poverty and break the law doing so. Punish Americans first, as ignorance of the law is no excuse.

    Mexicans are willing to volunteer to fight for the Republic, and thus are worth WAAAAYYY more than all the various other migrant groups who can’t be bothered. I’d rather have a poor northern Mexican who’ll fight for his place as a fellow citizen than some “white” European wuss who’ll run to Canada at the first sign of trouble.

    Last. I’ve sponsored muslim migrants, and sincerely hope they decide to stay and become US citizens. Most muslim migrants keep to their own linguistic, National, or religious sect, and keep a very low profile… but it’s very easy for a couple of fire breathers backed by foreign money to bully a given communities members. Likewise, when so many Americans jump to support radicals who have only hate for the US, it’s nearly impossible for an individual moderate muslim to stand up to the agitator.

    Too many US citizens have a conflict of interest on the immigration issue. Some exploit illegals for their own benefit. Some are simply bribed by foreign financed “charities”. Some just see the issue as a way to pander for votes. And some will join any radical chic that justifies blaming their own failure and self-hatred on other Americans or the Republic itself. The bottom line is that there’s every reason to draw a serious line between legal and illegal immigrants, and to punish Americans who don’t respect it. I’m sorry, but Americans who knowingly hire illegal aliens when they could hire legal migrants should face enough of a punishment to vigorously deter the practice.

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