Immigration, politics and hope?

Today’s column is on immigration, its importance to the country, the humanitarian side of it, how it’s being politically exploited, and hope for the future.

We are a country of immigrants, from the Mayflower onward, waves coming from every corner of the world, always in search of a better life. Seeking religious freedom, economic improvement, searching for gold, fleeing famine, or fleeing tyrants, these are our citizens. Even forced immigration, i.e. slavery, was a migration. And every group faced challenges when they arrived, and every group made us more diverse, brought greater strength to the nation, and has made us who we are.

Immigrants bring economic health to our country, from the labor force that works the less desirable jobs (the farm fields, construction, restaurants, packing houses, maids, et al) to the cream of the intelligent tech workers and students from diverse countries. They pay taxes (and Social Security that most will never see again), buy groceries, rent homes, buy cars, send their children to school, etc. And by being a willing labor source, they allow entrepreneurs with new business ideas to create new jobs and hire workers.  Remember, its hard to be a boss if you can’t find any workers.

The diverse cultures they bring make our country an exciting, richer experience for us all. Think of all the foods, music, color, clothing, and history that just wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t welcomed immigrants. The Hispanic Culture, in particular, is a wonderful part of the world, and if we reject it, we are shutting ourselves away from so much.

Our most important industry, producing food, could not exist without available labor. The farm fields, the ranches, the fishing industries, and the food processing centers all need labor. These are jobs most of us don’t want, and we should welcome those who do. And they have been welcomed for many years, as our businesses gladly hired them, ignoring with a wink and a nod any laws to the contrary, because they couldn’t function without them. And so, these workers came to America, fleeing violence, crime, and poverty in their home countries (violence and crime largely brought about by our drug wars), and made new lives for themselves here.

The unnecessary humanitarian crisis of the DACA kids being rounded up is a total disaster. They were brought here as kids and this is the only country and home they know, but there are also many cases like the mom in South County just deported after some 20 years here, leaving her family behind and in tears. These are our friends, neighbors, co-workers, the folks that live and work around you every day, minding their own business and trying to make a better life for themselves. They hide in the shadows, fearful of the ICE, and like the Jews in Nazi Germany, a knock on the door can signal the end.  Is this the America that so many have worked and died to create?

There is a political basis for the racist, anti-immigrant positions the GOP has taken.  It has been very effective for the GOP to rally their voters around the flag of Immigration, but the problem for the country is that we have created this divisive culture of hatred for immigrants/others and it has grown out of control. Immigration has been converted into a political football, and while it is dressed up in polite platitudes and nice sounding law and order newsbites, it’s just plain old basic racism at its core.  I doubt the GOP planned for any of this to happen, many of them are also upset with the current chaos in DC, and many are honorable people, but once the anti-genie of gut-level racism is let out of the bottle, it’s very difficult to put the stopper back in. When the leadership is rotten at the head and encourages racism for its own political ends, rotten followers will be unrestrained and here we are.

But there is hope, from both sides. On the GOP side, there are many who admit they were swept up by anti-immigrant “bad hombre” fever but now see the ICE comes for the easy pickings first, your friends and neighbors, and now realize the instability and danger that Trump offers.

On the Democrat/Progressive side, there has never been such energy and determination, from Nanas to teenagers, from one end of the party to the other, to stop this attack on core American values and protect our country and environment. Many are becoming involved for the first time, and women are finding places of leadership. There is a revitalization of political involvement that is sorely overdue, and the country will be stronger and better for it.

America has problems, but also great strengths. I’m sure immigrants will continue to be an important part of our lives, and that they will contribute to our economy and diversity. I hope that the humanitarian crisis we are now in will be dealt with fairly, and not turned into a political talking point for racists to toss around. These are our friends and neighbors we’re talking about here, not some numbers in a ledger book. And I am ecstatic that so many new faces, so many women, are stepping up to become involved. There is strength. 


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