This past week President Obama went live on prime-time television (with some notable exceptions) and announced he was directing his cabinets to make some minor changes in the way people who crossed over into our part of planet earth were treated. Notable was that we, a culture that boasts about being a nation of immigrants, would no longer gratuitously tear apart families and deport parents of legal American citizens back to the countries they originated from. I have some thoughts on immigration.
Get A Grip
To hear Republicans and Republican-affiliated talking heads on the usual media outlets loudly protest, President Obama has shredded the very fabric of our constitutional government and gone rogue, stomping around the White House smiting his enemies with unilateral actions that defy the will of the people.
To those people loudly hyper-ventilating I say; Get A Grip.
The world is not going to end because families will no longer be ripped apart by the heavy hand of overzealous government persecution resulting from political expediency. America as we know it will not be suddenly overrun by hordes of unwashed masses streaming across our southern border as a result of our President’s speech. The President’s policy firmly reflects our noble American traditions of exploiting new waves of immigrants until they’ve been around long enough to gain some political power, at which point they in turn exploit the next wave of immigrants.
I have a unique perspective on immigration. All four of my grandparents were immigrants. My maternal grandmother was from Germany, my maternal grandfather from Holland. My paternal grandparents were from Quebec, Canada. All of them migrated to the United States for better opportunities, survived in spite of the many cultural and legal barriers, overcame exploitation both subtle and overt, and raised children who went on to have better lives than their parents. And so it goes, the same as it always has.
When it comes to “illegal immigration,” I also have a somewhat unique perspective. My maternal grandfather was technically “illegal.” The family story goes that he was a Dutch merchant sailor who left his ship and settled in New York City sometime after World War I. During World War II he had to leave his family in New York and go up to Canada for two years so he could re-enter America legally and gain his residency papers.
Personal Experience With Illegal Immigration
My first (ex-) wife entered the United States on a cultural exchange visa and stayed on when it expired. She was an “illegal immigrant” when we married in 1986, a fact I was well aware of at the time. After our marriage we filed her immigration paperwork with the aid of a local attorney who did exploit us in the process (A few months after that wife gained legal residency the lawyer was indicted for fraud). During our residency interview the immigration officer read me the full gamut of legal penalties over engaging in fraudulent marriage, then gave up when he realized I wasn’t intimidated. My wife gained her legal residency, then several years later gained full citizenship and started voting.
It was in fact a different world then.
Recent Immigration Experience
My present wife, Winnie, entered this country legally as my wife. After an Internet courtship I traveled to China, we married, then I came back home and filed for her spousal visa while she waited in China. The visa process took 20 months and direct intervention by the office of Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS). It was a brutal, emotionally exhausting process, that could have easily wrecked our new marriage. I am not ashamed to say that if I had known in advance how horrible the process of gaining Winnie’s visa was going to be I would have moved to China instead. After gaining Winnie’s visa I would never fault anybody who does not comply with the dysfunctional farce of bureaucracy that constitutes our present immigration process.
Winnie is now an American citizen who votes.
A History of Racism and Exploitation
For those people screaming about “illegal immigrant,” I remind them about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was all about banning Chinese nationals from coming to America, after earlier Chinese immigrants helped build our first transnational railway line and other early national infrastructure projects. Later immigration laws were also about setting quotas or outright bans on various ethnic groups and nationalities of people wishing to come to America, quotas and bans which reflected the prevailing public prejudices and stereotypes. First it was Asian people, then southern European people, and now Hispanic people.
No, the current wave of Hispanic immigrants will continue to take on jobs native-born Americans don’t want while being subtly and overtly exploited though wage theft; exposed to dangerous work conditions; restricted by a myriad of laws and cultural barriers that control where they can live; and they will survive in conditions of poverty by American standards but which are still better conditions than the places they emigrated from. The only real difference President Obama’s new immigration rules create is that fewer Hispanic families will be torn apart by family members getting sent back to the places they left, leaving their American-based family members in even worse abject poverty.
I can live with this change. It’s not much, but given the current xenophobia of one of our two major political parties, and the spinelessness of our other major political party, this is presently the best we can hope for. As an optimist, I still believe that someday America will live up to it’s stated delusion of being that “Shining City Upon A Hill.”
We’re not there yet.
Editors Note: Cross Posted On Daily Kos – Some Thoughts On Immigration