Thursday, July 25, 2013

New additions to the Great American Family


     No part of the ceremony suggested that new immigrants sworn in as American citizens should go pose by the flag. Yet many did, lining up, waiting their turn—and after all the years they've waited, what was a few minutes more? 
     Not all of the 145 sworn in Monday had their pictures taken. Some went straight to register to vote. But many did, dozens, proudly showing off their certificates of citizenship. They posed for photos by the flag in the third floor auditorium of the government building at 101 W. Congress, and downstairs in the lobby, next to the big photo of Barack Obama. Their friends and loved ones took the shots, but sometimes they called upon strangers. A family from Mongolia, whose 22-year-old wore a uniform of a U.S. Marshall cadet, pressed an iPhone into the hands of a Chicago Tribune photographer and he gamely snapped their picture.
      They had just heard Carol Cook, an immigrant from Scotland and the principal violist at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, play the Star Spangled Banner on her 200-year-old viola — I'll have more about her in the Sun-Times later this week. Then they stood, held their hands over their hearts for the anthem, then later raised their right hands and renounced "all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate or sovereignty."
     If any were conflicted about disowning their former homes, the lands of the birth, they didn't show it. They beamed. They held bouquets of flowers, or the hands of their children. They wore their best suits, or dresses that looked hand-sewn.
     The people who are conflicted about this are not the immigrants, but longtime Americans, many of them, who often forget that every last one of us, if we follow the thread of our ancestry back long enough, arrived here from somewhere, filled with hope, strangers in a strange land, trying to begin their lives anew. Not the Native Americans, of course, who were always here — though even they, if you dial back the millennia, are thought to have migrated over across the Bering Strait at some point in pre-history, though long enough ago to count as being here forever.
      You would think that, sharing this common bit of family history, there would be fewer Americans agitated about immigrants. You would think they would see the fate of nations that resist immigration, such as Japan, and the terrible demographic price they're paying, their sinking population, whole towns emptied out, and would celebrate immigration as the lifesaver it is for the United States. A nation built by immigrants, now saved by immigrants. But prejudice blinds, or rather, is clung to by the blind, the philosophy of the stupid, and they look around and see only the murky haze of their myopic fears, and not the reality in front of them. When you actually see what's here, on the third floor of 101 W. Congress, the joy and readiness, you want to cry,  a little, at the beauty of it.
    The United States of American became a great country because our fathers and mothers and their fathers and mothers came and made it great. It's a great country still because we came and helped it continue to be great. It will go on being a great country in the future because ... is this really such a hard sentence to finish? ... people coming now and in years to come will make it great. They will continue to come, and the prejudice they often find will be just one more obstacle to triumph over, and not the largest obstacle either.
      "Throughout our history, the lasting contributions of immigrants have shaped our national identity, formed the idea of the American dream and built upon the foundation of freedom and equality established by our founders," Michelle Wong, an immigration officer at the Department of Homeland Security, told the newest Americans. "The bonds of citizenship are unrestricted. Every citizen is an equal member in the American family."
    The people who most need to hear and understand that message, alas, were not in the room on Monday. 

12 comments:

  1. I still remember that old cartoon showing some Indians watching the Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock and saying to each other - "Well, there goes the neighborhood!"

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  2. In 1971, my mother and I stood where the those folks are standing today, becoming citizens of this country. We didn't get our picture taken in the lobby by the big photo of Richard Nixon, if there even was one, but otherwise the experience was the same.

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  3. I came here looking to take back what we did not have only to find out that what I thought they had, they also did not have either. So I stayed building bridges and creating so we all could have what none of us had.
    It could only be done here even though not many listen, nonetheless you are free to do it and hope someday all will listen, know, change and grow.

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  4. The only dark cloud over this is the government's unfathomable willingness to allow "dual citizenship." What the heck? If being a U.S. citizen isn't enough for someone, then he shouldn't be a citizen.

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  5. I don't have a problem with legal immigrants, my problem is with the illegal ones!
    They are being used & abused by big business to drive down labor costs in this country & destroy the middle class.
    There are already too many people here, hell, there are way, way, way too many people on this planet & every time they mention an amnesty, even more cross the borders.
    When I was born, the US population was 150 million. Now it's more than doubled. The same with the world.
    Take a look at England & Europe. They are overrun with illegals & flat out can't handle the numbers of them. There are no jobs for them, the recession means that the people already there are looking for work & the illegal immigrants have no skills, so they turn to crime.
    Italy, Spain, France & Greece have huge numbers of people from Africa coming in. England is a magnet for Romanians because there aren't any jobs at home.
    Even Israel is deporting Ethiopians back to their own country!

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  6. My grandfather came here illegally in 1925. He became a citizen after he married my grandmother in 1938. I've always held that watching prejudice is like watching the blind lead the stupid through a field of razor blades.

    It has it's own dark humors but is never useful.

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  7. Illegal immigration is the issue where many progressives, like I think Neil does here, turn into Tea Party-types on global warming. In other words, arguing emotions and slogans rather than facts and logic.

    By the logic of this post, America should have a completely open border - immigrants were good in our forefathers era, so they MUST be good now and in the future. The only nod Neil might be making to the contrary is an allusion to the "terrible demographic price" being paid in Japan (implying that he might have a limit, but doesn't think we're near it). I know people in Japan and have spent time there: they so don't regret their immigration policy. Their economic problems are mostly due to decades of tight money policy, special interest economic protectionism (like rice farms in the Tokyo metropolitan area) and the like. If you want to compare immigration policies, I suggest Canada and Australia, whose economies have taken off (though this is for a complex mix of reasons).

    At the very least, how can one possibly evaluate the Gang of Eight/senate immigration reform bill without first answering how many millions of mostly low skilled workers you think is "good" for the nation to legalize, especially with no effective way of preventing millions more to fill jobs they leave "in the shadows"?

    Let alone moralize how evil those of us who oppose the senate reform bill are. But let's address that moralizing. I worked tutoring legal immigrants in English for a decade (I'm pretty certain there were some illegal immigrant families too, but I didn't ask or care - my beef is with the employers, not people trying to do the best for their families). Illegal immigration is a big barrier to legal immigrants coming to the nation. What about the fairness to them? Opposing reform doesn't mean opposing a robust immigration system, but it would be more like Canada and Australia - focused on high skill workers and more multiculturally diverse, and including large numbers of emigrants from impoverished nations around the world.

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  8. Continuing (yes, I'm on a roll - skip if you're sick of this!)

    Neil mentions that Native Americans are not immigrants. What about African-Americans? Are they "immigrants" in the same sense as white people's ancestors? There is a body of research showing illegal immigration has been devastating to African-Americans, both in terms of unemployment and lowering wages. (There is a study out of St. Louis University that challenges the other research and concludes there's a slight positive effect). But Young African-American unemployment is at 43%. At the risk of being obnoxious, I'll ask that you read that figure again: 43%. African-Americans in general have been the only group NOT recovering in the current economic recovery - unemployment increasing slightly while the nation's overall rate has decreased. Anyone who grew up in the 70's or 80's knows that jobs that were almost cliche for African-Americans trying to bootsrap out of poverty have attracted large numbers of illegal immigrants (food service, nanny/elder care, janitorial work, etc.) To add insult to injury, many reform advocates use coded racism to suggest that African-Americans suddenly decided they weren't willing to take such jobs (this includes aides to Senator Rubio and Mexico's former President).

    In 2006 a number of prominent progressives challenged "reform" on the grounds it would hurt the poor. The New Republic recently ran a great piece on liberal opposition to reform (and other writers who support reform at least acknowledge that the downsides are being underplayed by liberal supporters: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113651/liberal-opposes-immigration-reform

    If anyone has read this all the way through, thanks! So yes, I think Neil's argument here is pretty unfair. But what about the tough question for people who are against the senate bill? "What are you going to do with these people? ROund them up Nazi style and ship them out? Including the DREAMers?" My answer: Absolutely not - you give these people amnesty! You can forget penalties or provisional status - give them all a green card. BUT ONLY if first you have something like biometric e-verify system in place with mandatory enforcement funding and draconian penalties for those who break the law. Others have taken the same position but with "border enforcement," something I think is ineffective and a gross waste of money. The point is to have a best of both worlds compromise, not the worst of both worlds senate bill. If you want an open border, are happy with the 1986 reform experience, etc. then support this bill. Otherwise put senators Bernie Saunders and Tom Coburn in a room and let them work out something in the public's interest.

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  9. I think of the immortal line from "Stripes"

    "We're Americans, with a capital 'A', huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world."

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  10. Beautifully reported, written. And so very true. Thank you.

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  11. Good one, Dave.

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  12. Native Americans were immigrants too, 10K years ago coming over the land bridge from Asia. they didn't just sprout up here

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