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Chapter Fifteen: The Downside to Immigration


Immigration has become a major, if understated, public-policy issue. Most Americans do not want their communities being overrun by relatively impoverished newcomers eligible for welfare, free schooling, and other expensive services. This country is blessed with a large land mass, many natural resources, much open space and natural beauty, as well as a well-developed economy, which we Americans, deservingly or not, are able to enjoy. This advantage would disappear if our nation’s population soared through unrestricted immigration. On the other hand, most immigrants are honest and hard-working people who do often take jobs that American natives shun. Eight million immigrants, both legal and illegal, entered the U.S. work force between 1990 and 2001 out of a total of thirteen million who entered the country.

Most Americans are themselves descendants of immigrants who ought to appreciate the plight of others now in that situation. (As a point of personal disclosure, I have myself recently brought a new wife and step-daughter into this country, taking advantage of our nation’s immigration policies.) I would feel embarrassed to look a newly arrived immigrant in the eye and tell him that he has no right to be here. We are all human beings. It is certainly not the immigrant’s fault if he took advantage of laws which others have enacted to better his personal situation. It is, however, a legitimate question of policy to review a system which seems to be out of control. The high volume of illegal immigration gives cause for concern if only because it shows disrespect for our laws and our community.

Someone told me that Lutheran Social Services was sponsoring more than one hundred AIDS-infected immigrants from a Third World country to come to the United States and receive treatment at the Hennepin County Medical Center. As a Twin Cities resident who has lived and worked here for a long time, I pondered the fact that newcomers who had not previously paid taxes could receive expensive medical services courtesy of Hennepin County taxpayers while those of us locals who lost our jobs could not afford this. How can someone make such a decision sticking someone else with the cost? Where was the justice in such policies?

A newspaper story in October, 2002, reported that, when the Mayor of Lewiston, Maine, wrote an open letter to the Somali community asking its members to tell relatives and friends not to move to that community because the swelling immigrant population was putting a burden on the city’s limited resources, hundreds of people, mostly non-immigrants, marched to protest the mayor’s insensitive request. A sign in a photograph accompanying the story says: “Love thy neighbor.” It might more honestly have said: “Let someone else pay.” Someone else, usually the general taxpayer, does often pay for decisions made by another. The federal government sets immigration policy. Once an immigrant enters the country, however, he or she is free to move to any locality and utilize the public services there.

For me, immigration becomes a problem mainly in the context of “rights” for socially disadvantaged groups. This is a legacy of the Civil Rights movement. In earlier times, new groups of people entering this country started on the bottom rung of the social ladder. These newly arrived persons worked in low-wage jobs, were verbally abused, and taken advantage of in various ways. One after another, the Irish, Germans, Italians, Poles, Russian Jews, and other immigrant groups worked their way up into the middle class. In contrast, today’s immigrants soon pick up on the fact that their situation translates into politically recognized and encouraged victimhood. They have rights which can be played to their advantage. As recognized victims, they enjoy special legal protections. Just as some blacks use “racial discrimination” as an excuse for personal bad behavior, so some immigrants use the moral and legal options available to them to demand special treatment.

When federal law-enforcement officials arrested former St. Paul resident Abel Ilah Elmardoudi and three others in Detroit for allegedly operating an Al-Qaeda cell, this action “prompted vocal protests from leaders of Detroit’s Middle Eastern community,” according to a news report. The imam of a mosque in Dearborn Heights, Mich., said: “There is a feeling in our community of being a victim, which is a painful experience after September 11.” He knew what political buttons to push.

Mortimer B. Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report, published an editorial, “Our Rainbow Underclass”, which noted differences in the experience of immigrants between this and earlier times. “What is disturbing,” he wrote, “is that the longer these new immigrants stay in the country the worse they do, reversing the history of upward mobility in previous waves of immigration. Why? Traditionally, there were well-paid manufacturing jobs for immigrants ... Those days are gone ... The original European newcomers could also send their children to high-quality urban schools. Assimilation was swift ... There was no linguistic minority to dominate any large city the way Spanish speakers now dominate Miami and Los Angeles.”

In contrast, he wrote, the children of today’s immigrants “form a rainbow underclass, caught in a cycle of downward assimilation, poverty combined with racial segregation. Often separated for long periods from their parents, especially their fathers, during the immigration process, they stop doing homework, reject their parents’ values, and succumb to the dangers of an overcrowded inner-city culture. They face overwhelmed teachers, limited social service resources, and a decaying infrastructure, and they often adopt the negative behavior pattern of their peer groups, such as academic indifference and substance abuse, leading to dropout rates three times as high as for native-born Americans. Even the stellar performance of Asian children declines - studies show that by the third generation, Chinese students no longer exceed whites in educational success.”

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Mohammed Atta and four companions arrived at Boston’s Logan airport and paid cash for one-way tickets for a flight to Los Angeles. They carried knives and box cutters. Airport security raised no objections. Both in 1999 and 2000, Arab-Americans who had been kept off flights had sued the airlines for “racial profiling”. Some suspect that legal fears may have prompted security personnel at Logan to overlook such an obvious risk.

Three weeks earlier, Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested for suspicious behavior at a flight school in Eagan, Minnesota. French intelligence told U.S. officials that this French-Algerian immigrant was a suspected terrorist. Yet, when the Minneapolis FBI requested permission to search Moussaoui’s computer, lawyers at FBI headquarters repeatedly refused. Were they, too, influenced by political concerns? The political question arising from the terrorist attacks is whether concerns about group profiling trump the need for security, as they normally do in domestic politics, or the September 11th attacks elevate security requirements above them. I come down on the side of security.

One of my first acts as a candidate for U.S. Senate in the Independence Party primary was to send a faxed memo to Twin Cities media in which I expressed support for Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver’s new rules for issuing drivers licenses. These rules required that first-time applicants present two forms of identification (including a passport or U.S. birth certificate), that licenses of temporary foreign visitors indicate the expiration date of their visas, and that the licenses bear a full-face photograph of the applicant without exception.

The Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, Arab Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Community Relation Council, and thirty individuals had petitioned the Minnesota Court of Appeals to overturn those rules. These groups argued that requiring full-faced photographs would violate the privacy and religious freedoms of Somali women and that putting visa expiration dates on drivers licenses would stigmatize certain immigrant groups. Weaver argued that drivers licenses are used for general identification purposes and criminals often obtain them fraudulently. The measures which he proposed were needed to strengthen internal security, he said. Since I was considered a minor candidate, the media ignored my statement. Interestingly, the Republican candidate for Governor, now Governor, Tim Pawlenty, supported the rules changes in a late October blitz of television commercials.

So it does seem, at least among the general public, that some of the old phobias are losing their punch. For sure, no one wants to go back to the bad old days of World War I, when German-Americans were openly persecuted, or of World War II when Japanese-Americans were relocated to internment camps (except for one young man of Japanese descent whom my parents took in as a lodger in our Detroit home). On the other hand, more should be expected from today’s immigrants than complaints of prejudice.

John Leo of U.S. News & World Report has observed that “there is a downside in the nation’s overwhelmingly positive treatment of Muslim Americans. Perhaps out of guilt over treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the United States and its media have framed attitudes toward our Muslim citizens almost wholly in terms of hypertolerance and bias, rarely in terms of what allegiance a minority owes the rest of the nation in time of peril. The press relentlessly churned out articles about the alleged backlash against Muslim Americans and has continued that effort long after it was obvious no such backlash existed.” Marc Fisher of the Washington Post wrote that an eighth grader at the Muslim Community School in Potomac, Maryland, had told him: “Being an American means nothing to me. I’m not even proud of telling my cousins in Pakistan that I’m American.”

We (nonimmigrant Americans) are not patsies. Others may think that we are when immigration policies are so loose or when our political leaders and media people are continually blaming nonimmigrant white Americans for their hateful ways. Do we think so badly of ourselves that we will put up with that kind of talk without objection?

Jewish groups who focus on the horrors of the holocaust in Europe and on anti-Semitism everywhere in the western world should show a bit more gratitude for the predominantly non-Jewish soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy and liberated their coreligionists from Nazi concentration camps, albeit not soon enough. Some now have the gall to join a lawsuit trying to overturn reasonable security measures intended to protect Americans against Islamic terrorists who blame America primarily for supporting Israel (due to domestic political pressure from Jewish interest groups). Have they no shame?

And black Americans, even though their ancestors were brought to this continent unwillingly as slaves, should have some sense of gratitude that predominantly white abolitionists pointed out the moral shortcomings of the race-based slave system and that hundreds of thousands of mainly white Union soldiers lost their lives so that their enslaved ancestors might go free. A bit more sympathy from them for persons of other races might not be such a bad thing. And those of us who are left could perhaps show a little more backbone when faced with that type of ungenerous complaint.

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