I’m Not From Here Myself
By Patrick F. Cannon
My father was born in Ireland, and arrived at Ellis Island as a toddler in 1908. Somewhere, I have a copy of the ship’s manifest, and even a picture of the ship itself. I’m not unique in my generation in having a foreign-born parent. Just in the last couple of days, I’ve exchanged e-mails with a friend with a similar background. So, we know what it means when someone calls the United States “a nation of immigrants.”
Today, about 45 million of our fellow Americans have legal immigrant status, which is about 14 percent of the total population. Some became citizens; others have permanent resident or other status. The largely accepted number of illegal immigrants is 11.5 million, which has been fairly steady or even slightly declining over the last few years. And the influx of new legal immigrants has recently averaged just over one million per year; about 60,000 of those have been refugees.
Listening to some of our fine politicians, you would think the ratio of legal to illegal was just the opposite. Interestingly, Mexico is at the top of both the legal and illegal lists: 6.5 million of the illegal total, and 140,000 of the yearly legal list. China and India are next with about 70,000 each. They also figure on the illegal list, with 200,000 for India and 120,000 for China. Although I haven’t taken the time to check, I suspect many of these were admitted legally on student or travel visas, and simply didn’t go back when their visas expired.
It has obviously been much easier to enter the United States illegally from Mexico or Central America than it is from China. Unless you’re smuggled by sea in a shipping container, as has happened, you have to get an expensive airplane ticket and have a passport and visa if you’re coming from the Far East (or anywhere across the water for that matter).
If you live in an area with significant numbers of both legal and illegal aliens, Chicago for example, you are very likely to see and even interact with them almost daily. If you eat out, a very high proportion of the folks who cook your food and help serve it will have come from Mexico or Central America. They may have installed your new roof, and certainly have cut your grass and otherwise maintained your lavish gardens. If you’re alert, you’ve also seen them packed in vans on their way to do day labor throughout the city and suburbs.
Despite the odious pronouncements of President Trump, they seem to commit crimes at a rate less than the national average. But if they do, and are here illegally, the current law requires that they be deported. Actually, the current laws provide that anyone who is here illegally is subject to deportation. There are some legal niceties involved in the process, unless the person is more or less caught in the act of illegally crossing a border, or has done so fairly recently.
The Trump administration has pointed out that deportation hit record levels during the Obama administration, and this is quite true. As we now know, they have plans to accelerate the process. While the famous wall on our southern border may not rise immediately, a significant increase in border agents and police is in the works. While the priorities will actually be much the same (criminals, people caught at the borders, serial offenders), the numbers are likely to set new records. And all of this will be done, not through some extralegal whim of the mercurial President, but to enforce existing laws.
Who then should we blame if good people get caught in the net? The people who enforce the laws or the people who make them? Do illegal aliens who have been here for a specified number of years, and have a clean record, deserve some kind of legal status? Does Congress really think that the existing laws make sense? Are they prepared to see 11.5 million people (or whatever the actual number is) rounded up like cattle and deported?
When legislatures fail to do their duty, bad things can happen. Look at Illinois. Washington is just failure on a bigger scale. Deplore President Trump to be sure. But what has your Congressman and Senator done for you or the country lately?
Copyright 2017, Patrick F. Cannon
3 thoughts on “I’m Not From Here Myself”
When my father (1918) and maternal grandparents (1903, 1905) came over from Italy there was no illegal immigration in the US. Provided you didn’t have some fatal, contagious disease, anyone could hop on a boat to Ellis Island (or ports of entry) and enter the country. Contrary to Emma Lazarus and her mawkish, patronizing sentiments, my father and grandparents weren’t tired or poor or humbled yearning to breathe free. They were happy as clams to come here (not sure why clams are happy) and take advantage of opportunities that were unavailable back in the old country. The big difference between then and now is immigrants then went to work, even at menial and miserable jobs paying miserly wages. Still they benefited and society benefited. So much so that the national economy grew immensely.
Today the situation is more complicated. We have an enormous bureaucracy that purportedly regulates the flow of legally sanctioned immigration. Still millions of foreigners seek to bypass these regulations to come here. Illegal immigrants are entitled to receive various state benefits from health care to education to various welfare payments despite their status. Many, even when not citizens, are allowed to vote. Thus they, unlike our antecedents, represent a cost to society. Furthermore there are two factors today that were apparently not serious considerations earlier: Drug trafficking and terrorism, both of which can certainly occur even with strict immigration controls but which are facilitated by open borders.
I’m not sure who is to blame. I definitely don’t blame the people who are pouring in from Mexico and Central America seeking a better life, especially those who are eager to bus our tables, pick our crops and mow our lawns. To a great extent governments like Mexico share blame for not helping their own people, preferring instead to export their poverty and crime, and not cracking down (sorry!) on drug trafficking in their own countries. I suspect Mexico sees, in addition to smaller prison populations, an economic benefit in the drug money that flows back across the border.
I also would assign blame to our own craven politicians. Back in 2006 Obama, Hillary, Biden and other Democrats argued for tighter border controls in contrast to Republicans who favored cheap labor to help business. I certainty don’t think any of them share any humanitarian impulses or any great love of Mexicans or other nationalities wanting to come here. The Dems believed they could capture the (legal) Hispanic vote and maybe other (illegal) votes as well. It just didn’t work out that way.
Even though I seriously doubt we will see any mass deportations and roundups (schnell! schnell!) — most Americans are not xenophobic (Ann Coulter notwithstanding) — I think what Trump proposes is overkill. Walls didn’t do East Germany and China much good, and walls can be expensive. The threat of deportations may have an effect, however. I heard today that some of our millions of illegals are heading for Canada. As for criminals and gang bangers, they should be deported, if here illegally or provisionally.
Shouldn’t a country not decide who it wants to come in? Back in the early 20th century the US needed labor (just as Germany does now and Italy does not). In 1960, the largest (legal) immigrant groups (in order) were Italy, Germany, Canada, the UK, Poland, the USSR and Mexico. Mexicans didn’t become the largest group until about 1980. In 2015 Mexicans represented 27% of (legal) immigration. I sincerely like Mexicans but we probably have a fair share. The country has a shortage of doctors, scientists, technology experts and the like. Perhaps we can hope that our elected geniuses can set a few priorities.
I don’t know what you do with the millions of illegals who are productive and law-biding. Maybe establish some type of amnesty or qualifications for legal status. Shipping them back en masse to where they came from would bring us nothing but shame.
Steve, thanks for the excellent perspective.
Patrick, those opinions are yours, I do not agree with them, but you have the right to express them. The people elected Trump, now why not give him the chance that people gave to Obama, a Community Organizer, with no experience who came into office and learned on the job. Just maybe we can get the our political parties to work together it is worth a try. God help us all our Country depends on it.