An Electronic Magazine for Thinkers
My Immigrant Relative
It wasn't that my first ancestor in America was thoughtless by nature as much as it was his belief that emigrating from the country of his birth to America was going to open all sorts of opportunities for him. He didn't care he couldn't speak the language used by most Americans. As far as he was concerned they could damned well learn to speak his language if they wanted to communicate with him. His main goal was to better himself through hard work in this glorious land of possibilities.
I have no idea what Americans thought when they saw my ancestor and his shipmates come off the boat. "This looks like a whole new culture we'll have to get used to," they may have said, "and they certainly dress funny. What sort of gibberish are they speaking?"
Community leaders may have held some meetings about it and decided that if the immigrants didn't try to muscle into their living standards and attempt to take over the management of the social system it might work out okay. "This is a big country. There's lots of room."
Ever since my ancestor arrived others from distant lands have been pouring into America seeking the good life. Emma Lazarus even wrote a memorable poem about it which is embedded in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. She has Miss Liberty saying,
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
My ancestor slipped into New England before the stream of wretched refuse got out of hand, so he didn't have to get permission from anybody to enter the country and settle down. Eventually immigration controls became necessary and there are plenty of rules on the books about it. Unfortunately, enforcement has been lax for years and millions of people now live in the United States without benefit of official permission and federal documentation. The glut of illegal aliens here has become a topic du jour, competing with Mid-east unrest and Hollywood gossip for space in the newspapers and on television.
Mexico and several South American countries mismanage their affairs so badly their desperately poor citizens are eager to come north of their borders to get jobs and live what to them is a life of near luxury. Heretofore there's hasn't been much standing in their way, but now Americans have had it with the demands the immigrants are making on the social infrastructure, not to mention the competition for jobs, and they want government to do something about it.
President Bush's claim that the immigrants are doing jobs Americans don't want has brought a flood of rebuttal. One commentator said, "There is no job Americans won't do. However, there are certain jobs they won't do for the low wages that are paid." In other words, Americans will happily pick peaches all day long for good pay, but they are not willing to work at the rates the Mexican "visitor" will. The fact that paying high wages for peach picking will drive prices far above what consumers are willing to pay doesn't enter the debate. However, an excellent way to destroy a market is to raise prices substantially above what the market will bear.
So, once again a knotty political issue comes down to basic economics. Immigrants are unfair competition, undercutting the wage requirements of Americans. They infiltrate the U.S. in such huge numbers Americans are beginning to worry about being outnumbered. They didn't worry about that when my English ancestor showed up at Ipswich, Massachusetts. The year was 1633 and the native Americans could not imagine that European immigrants would eventually overwhelm them and take over the country.
Present day Americans, especially the descendants of the old European immigrants, can't visualize being eventually displaced, but they aren't breeding nearly fast enough to fend off the changing demographics. English is still the dominant language of the United States, but Spanish is competing in the American southwest and is being accommodated by soft-hearted government agencies everywhere.
It was the soft-heartedness that got us to the present dilemma, of course. It's hard not to acquire a superior ego when you're the richest, most powerful nation on the planet. So you're happy to open your doors to welcome the unfortunates from other countries looking for a better life. Share the wealth, we called it. Now our generosity has risen up to bite us.
We're not rich enough any more to offer charity to all comers, and it was a mistake not to strictly enforce our immigration laws for so long. The rational thing to do is begin immediately to enforce the law and impose heavy fines on all business operations that hire illegal aliens. This will, of course, benefit the multi-million dollar document forgery business, but we have to start somewhere.
The downside to getting rid of all the low-wage undocumented workers is higher consumer prices. There are certain jobs Americans will not do, at least at the prevailing wages. To fill those jobs after the illegals are sent home employers must pay higher wages to replace them and the cost must be passed through to the buyer of the goods and services involved. Either that or the employer must close down.
I recommend we take a chapter or two from a North American nation that has very strict laws concerning immigration. The government there does not let people from other countries just walk in and settle down. That nation is MEXICO.
April 6, 2006
The Eloquent Pogo