Random Rants, by Thomas Andrew Olson

Thursday, April 06, 2006

America's immigrant solution: A gift from the past

I should begin by saying that – assuming the stories I was told concerning my heritage are correct – my great-grandfather would technically be considered an “illegal immigrant” by today’s standards. Fearful of not having the necessary “papers” upon disembarkation from the transport ship at New York’s Battery Park in 1888, worried that he might be sent back to Sweden, family legend has it that my progenitor, Karl Johanas Olson, literally jumped over the side as the ship docked, late at night, with what little baggage he carried. His first steps on the shore of the New World no doubt had a squishing sound, as water was squeezed out through the tops of his shoes.

118 years ago, however, it was a very different world. The great wave of immigration that characterized the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was dominated by Europeans. They sought new lives and opportunities, to be free from the political, economic, and religious oppressions raging in Europe at that time. As their parent cultures were not all that dissimilar from the dominant one in America, their biggest concerns involved learning a new language (English), earning their keep, and keeping their families housed, clothed and fed.

They knew the risks. There were no guarantees, or safety nets. There was no welfare state Free Lunch. But they made the journey anyway, giving up everything and everyone they knew for a fresh start in the New World. As the American industrial economy boomed, there was always a shortage of available hands to do all the work, ergo immigrants of that era could rise as far and as fast as their individual skills would let them. But the rules of life were more straightforward and manageable back then. There was not yet a web of strangulating bureaucratic regulations, to define and guide one’s entire existence from cradle to grave, along with egregiously high taxes to pay for it. So the rags-to-riches stories of successful immigrants, immortalized by writers such as Horatio Alger, were too numerous to describe.

There was no government run assistance program, the only such services being delivered by private church networks, so immigrants were expected to make it on their own. In many cases, they came to America at the behest of relatives that had preceded them many years before – hence the biggest “safety net” for immigrants was family. My great-grandfather’s brother-in-law owned a farm in Bemidji, Minnesota. Somehow Karl made it there, rejoined his wife and infant son (who had preceded him by a few months), got himself a grubstake, and soon had a farm of his own. Karl worked hard, owned land, and paid his taxes, although it was unclear whether he ever took the step of becoming a US citizen. But perhaps it didn’t matter, as in those days, taxes and government interference in people’s lives were still minimal, and in northern European culture, getting emotionally hot and bothered over anything, let alone political issues, was considered poor form.

My grandfather, having grown up on that Minnesota farm, set out on his own at a very tender age, along with his older cousin, at the turn of the twentieth century. Ironically, one of his first jobs was with the Canadian railroads – no one was checking for green cards up there, either, apparently. People just found work where they could, settled down and made lives for themselves, and no one asked a lot of fool questions about one’s “legal right to work here”. In fact, there was a lot of legal ambiguity concerning citizenship, much of which wasn’t addressed until after World War II. It wasn’t always the case that children born here of non-citizens were considered automatically de facto US citizens. That is a relatively recent development. My grandfather himself was born in Sweden, and brought over as an infant – but he never became a naturalized US citizen until into his sixties.

The real problem with immigration today is that we’re – once again – asking government to solve a problem that government itself created. Any government that would arrogate to itself sole responsibility to solve all the problems of crime, drugs, poverty, terrorism, and postal delivery, to name only a few, is of course going to bungle immigration completely and utterly, as it has bungled everything else it has touched over the last 140 years.

Every attempt government has made to “solve” a social problem just leads to inconveniencing and imposing unnecessary costs on the vast majority of law abiding US citizens. Remember the last time they tried “immigration reform” in the ‘80’s? The result of that was the dreaded I-9 form. This was supposed to be the totally bulletproof solution to protecting American jobs from those dreaded “illegals”. Today billions of dollars of productivity is lost by the private sector economy just to comply with the paperwork American citizens must file to prove they are such every time they take a new job. But somehow, “illegals”, and those who hire them, cleverly manage to avoid this requirement. So if the regulation is clearly a failure, why not admit such and repeal it?

But just because I’m criticizing government policy and attitudes doesn’t mean I’m willing to let everyone else off the hook for the difficulties we face. This wouldn’t be an issue, except that large numbers of Americans are themselves whining to Big Uncle to “do something” – an attitude 100 years in the making, one fostered by government itself, in the zeal of the political class to be Santa Claus. Stop whining, put down the remote and the cheese doodles, and do something locally.

I’m not all that happy with the Latino demonstrators, either, and all their waving of Mexican flags. While the proposed new legislation would criminalize all “illegals” and those who hire or even assist them in any way, and is a bit overboard in that regard, it didn’t help the immigrant cause to essentially declare that their true allegiance is to Mexico, and they don’t give a damn about our laws, our culture, or our language. So if that is the case, why should we care about their problems, either? And why are we letting them in our hospitals and educating their kids for free?

Perhaps they figure that since they trim our hedges, clean our toilets, harvest our veggies, raise our kids, build our homes and fix our cars, that we fat, stupid Anglos can't get along without them; hence they have every right to parade in our streets and demand the same "rights" that citizens get, like health care, drivers licenses, public schools taught in Spanish, and even voting rights. But, all that aside, what they're really doing is agitating for the unabashed right to stay here forever, claim all the privileges of citizens, and to hell with our laws.

I’m not a fan of current immigration laws – but for the time being those are the laws we have, and until American citizens – by way of their Congressional representatives – change them, those wishing to enter this country to work and live should be expected to abide by them. The brutal fact is there is a long line to get into this country legally, and millions are jumping in ahead of the line. Any proposed “guest worker” program would reward this unacceptable behavior.

It is argued that without such a program, and by kicking out undocumented workers, it would create huge distortions in certain areas of our economy, particularly agribusiness, construction, and service trades. I would submit that the distortions already exist and have existed for decades, hardwired in place by those same industries’ desire for a cheap labor force, unconstrained by present US labor laws covering wages, benefits, taxes, and working conditions. We would just be “normalizing” things.

I don’t want to hear nonsense that “undocumented’s” do work that Americans won’t do, or that they pay taxes and try to fit in. The truth is that most Americans won’t do work for the sorts of low wages, lack of benefits, and poor working conditions that undocumented’s have historically been willing to accept, which is actually a black mark on the employers who exploit this. Undocumented’s are largely paid cash under the table, so they don’t pay taxes either. But given the low wage rates, they would probably get a full refund even if they did pay in. And forget about “assimilating” – many immigrants from Latin America won’t even try to learn English, and the social engineers of states like California encourage this, as they pray to the false god of “multiculturalism”.

So what do we actually do? First, we need to limit or sidetrack government’s role in this and begin stepping up to the plate ourselves. If people are coming here without documentation to work, that’s one thing, if the jobs are available and the area is short-handed. But if they’re coming here just to head right for the welfare office and the free hospitals and schools, they’ve now crossed the line into “trespass”, and should be deported accordingly.

Local citizens of those areas should find creative ways to pick up the slack themselves - the INS won't have the resources. This is why I watched with interest those "Minuteman" groups who began to patrol parts of the border that INS couldn't effectively cover, capturing on camera, people running accross the border at night. It’s not right that Mexico and other countries attempt to export their own internal social and economic problems over our borders. We have enough freeloaders who were born here – we don’t need more.

My great-grandparent’s American experience, the typical experience of millions of immigrants to the US in those times, bequeathed us the keys to a potentially successful immigration “policy” today: We’ll hold open the door, if you are willing to (1) accept the dominant Anglo-Saxon-Germanic-Euro-culture of your adopted country, (2) learn its dominant language (English), (3) be willing to earn your own keep and be self-reliant, as any government-funded “safety-nets” are/should be reserved for US citizens, (4) pay the requisite taxes, obey local laws and respect local customs, and (5) have the willingness to take the necessary steps to becoming a US citizen.

That’s it. No need for walls, green cards, “guest worker” passes, Spanish-only schools, or arresting church members for giving voluntary assistance to “illegals”. By the same token, we wouldn’t be handing out goodies on the taxpayer’s dime, like health care, to non-citizens – private charities would have to pick up that slack, if so inclined. In fact, this particular policy may actually help stem the tide of Mexicans flooding over the border – once they understand the gravy train left the station, that flood may slow to a trickle.

And then smugglers like "Jose" will be forced to find a different line of work.


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