The United States of America, the great melting pot, the land of opportunity, the quintessential example of democracy and religious, cultural and personal freedom - that's supposed to be us.
>From the beginning of our history as a nation, immigrants have been >arriving in droves. Early on there was inexpensive land, and plenty of it, in a new country of both freedom and opportunity. There was a constitution offering "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Then, as now, events in other countries dictated which groups would be coming at any given time. The potato famine in Ireland comes to mind as an example. Lots of Irish arrived in those years. Each wave of immigrants experienced criticism, discrimination and, sometimes, even persecution here. This was not dictated by the government, but rather by the fact that people are fearful of strangers and can be really cruel. Immigrants were referred to by far worse epithets than "Lace Curtain Irish" or "Dirty Eyetalians" before they blended in.
Discrimination probably bothered them, but, as do immigrants now, they banded together, shared living space, worked like dogs at menial jobs, saved their money, prospered and contributed to the enrichment of America. All of us who are not Native Americans descended from them.
Immigration was a hard, dangerous undertaking. One had to give up everything familiar, break all ties, come up with the money to travel in steerage, live through the trip and pass the Ellis Island tests, to get in. After years of struggle, and maybe the passing of a generation or two, he or his children could blend in and become full-fledged Americans.
Now people have to win the lottery to get in, as legal immigration is very limited, or sneak across the border. They're still coming anyway, walking for weeks in the rain, as one young woman told me, sneaking across the border, dying of heat and thirst, all in the quest for a better life.
Before, our government welcomed immigrants and invited them to become Americans, part of that famous melting pot. Now, we're doing a couple of really baffling things.
One, we're allowing and tacitly encouraging illegal immigration. There's big talk about this and what to do about it, but no one ever talks about eliminating the rewards for successful arrival-jobs, free schooling for the children, free medical care, legal protection from being asked your status, citizenship for anyone whose mom can sneak across the border in time to give birth here, free translation (a requirement for hospitals) in any language.
We don't need to build a fence! We need to stop the rewards program!
At the same time, legal immigration and amnesty are extremely difficult to come by in a country whose strength comes from immigration and diversity. I have a good friend who is Salvadoran, a delightful, hard-working man. When his wife was dying of breast cancer, her 60-year-old, married, home-owning sister was not allowed to come to help with her care and provide support to his two young daughters because of fear that she might stay beyond her visa. How cruel!
I have a Turkish friend who is not being allowed to come. This time it seems to have to do with Homeland Security and extra federal background checks, which take months. (This is the same Homeland Security team that couldn't figure for three days that there were still patients in the ICU of the Charity Hospital in New Orleans after Katrina.)
At the same time, illegals are streaming across our borders. I don't believe for one minute that our government is truly against this. Illegal immigration saves foreign aid because of the money sent home by these illegal workers. It helps with the solvency of our Social Security system, as people with fake ID's pay in, but don't collect.
Most of all it helps businesses who can pay very low wages and provide no benefits. If our government really wanted this to stop, there would be a lot more happening here than talk about a fence.
My friend Eileen says all they'd have to do is to require (or maybe reward) every employer in the country to pay social security on every employee. I say, all they'd have to do is require proof from all of us of legal status, to go to school, write a check, rent a house, buy food, etc.
The second mind-boggling thing happening here is that separation is being encouraged, in the name of excessive zeal for individual human rights. People not only don't have to learn the language of the country, they are encouraged not to, by free translation, mainstream school classes in foreign languages, bilingual signage, even government documents in foreign languages.
I read an article in National Review Online from 2001, written by a principal in English First, an organization founded by a Hispanic immigrant to promote English as our national language. The author correctly asserted that this behavior is a way of saying to immigrants, "You'll never be a real American." You'll always be separate.
The perils of separate languages are exemplified in the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. A group of people decided to build a tower to heaven, but "God confounded their tongues." They could no longer understand one another, so they were unable to work together and complete their project. That's going to be us before long.