Monday, December 10, 2007



While sitting in the local McDonald's over breakfast one Sunday morning with my Mexican-American wife. I overheard a snippet of conversation mocking Spanish speakers, another make disparaging references to Hispanics and yet another droppng the "n" bomb in reference to Blacks. I was embarassed by the blatant disregard shown for the people around them by the ill-mannered blockheads. I can only imagine what my wife must have felt, although she didn't say anything; I know how it made me feel.

The following is adapted from a short lecture I gave to high school juniors and seniors in CCD.

“Much of the current population of the US is immigrant. Best estimates are that some 13-14% - 40 million people - of the current population is immigrant. All parts of the country have been affected by this phenomenon, although some regions more than others. Memphis’s population, for instance, has been estimated as high as 31% immigrant and Savannah 21%. Far heavier proportions of the influx have affected the Middle West; Minnesota and Wisconsin, in particular, have had heavy immigrant influxes, leading to references to the area as Little Mexico.

While the reaction of native born Americans (not Amerinds) to this wave of foreign settlement has been varied, there has been some violence and persecution and inevitable results in the field of politics. Immigrants have been welcomed en masse in some states, like Wisconsin – to the point of allowing non-citizens to vote. Other states, like Kentucky, have been less eager to welcome them, even denying the vote to naturalized citizens.

The thronging immigrants are not only different in language and appearance from native born Americans, but their outlook and social customs are much different. Many of the immigrants are Roman Catholic, further complicating assimilation with the Protestant majority. Of the various anti–Catholic and anti-foreign organizations is the American party, which has gained control of local offices in Maryland and in New Orleans. The legislature is predominately Republican and Democrat, but many legislators are sympathetic to the American Party cause, and many mainstream candidates for president are also affiliated with the American party. An ex-President of the US has actually been nominated, and accepted that nomination, for President.

One of the greatest sources of embarrassment to leaders of the major parties is the necessity for taking a stand one way or the other for or against nativist policies; however, the need of business and the military, coupled with a low birthrate among more affluent Anglo-Americans, requires a pool of labor sufficient to meet the demands of both, and immigrants are the most obvious source of labor. To this end, the sitting President of the US has requested that due to the shortage of labor, governmental encouragement of immigration was necessary, whereupon Congress has passed laws to that effect.

While many aliens have been advanced on the road to citizenship through various amnesty programs, and others have entered the Armed Forces as aliens, most immigrants have been unorganized and working for lower wages than their native counterparts and even though the minimum wages has been rising – if, indeed, the immigrant workers are paid the official rate – the cost of living has increased even faster. There has been much friction between immigrants and natives in part because the natives believe - with some justification - that immigrants are holding wages down. There have been demonstrations for and against immigrants and even some violence.”

Now, before we continue I’m going to clue you in on a little secret. The foregoing was basically a paraphrase of a 47 year old book* about conditions that led up to the Civil War, mainly the period between 1850 and 1860. I tweaked the numbers based on the percentages and changed the immigrant problem from Scandinavian, German and Irish to Mexican. This is not the first time the nation has had to deal with massive immigration. Catholic teaching tells us that immigrants are human beings, and if we haven’t learned anything else this semester so far, I hope we’ve learned how we should regard other human beings made in the image of God.

In The Compendium of the Social Gospel of the Church, we are

297. Immigration can be a resource for development rather than an obstacle to it. In the modern world, where there are still grave inequalities between rich countries and poor countries, and where advances in communications quickly reduce distances, the immigration of people looking for a better life is on the increase. These people come from less privileged areas of the earth and their arrival in developed countries is often perceived as a threat to the high levels of well-being achieved thanks to decades of economic growth. In most cases, however, immigrants fill a labour need which would otherwise remain unfilled in
sectors and territories where the local workforce is insufficient or unwilling to engage in the work in question.

298. Institutions in host countries must keep careful watch to prevent
the spread of the temptation to exploit foreign labourers, denying them the same rights enjoyed by nationals, rights that are to be guaranteed to all without discrimination. Regulating immigration according to criteria of equity and balance is one of the indispensable conditions for ensuring that immigrants are integrated into society with the guarantees required by recognition of their human dignity. Immigrants are to be received as persons and helped, together with their families, to become a part of societal life. In this context, the right of reuniting families should be respected and promoted. At the same time, conditions that foster increased work opportunities in people's place of origin are to be promoted as much as possible.

I have written on this before. True charity would dictate that we insist the Mexican and other Central American governments do something about the sorry states of affairs in their own country and desist from depending on the US to do what they should be doing for their own citizens. Also I would reiterate that, and this is my opinion, charity does not demand that we let everyone in who wants in. They should at minimum wish to become one of us, and while we can and do welcome them, there is a process they have to go through to qualify as "one of us."

Again, this is not the first time that the U.S. has had to assimilate large numbers of immigrants who spoke different languages and had different religions and customs. One need only take a drive to Southern Indiana and see the towns and churches built by German immigrants. From place names to surnames to festivals and businesses that recognize and celebrate German heritage, their presence is indelible. Likewise, Irish, Italians, Poles and Greeks have contributed to the wonderful tapestry that is the United States.

It is a matter of fact that all parts of the world have belonged to someone other than the current occupiers at one time or another. Many conveniently forget that our Mexican-American brothers and sisters were already living in territories extorted from Mexico during the settling of Texas by Anglo emigrants that saw no need to assimilate - and their subsequent rebellion against rightful Mexican authority. As a result of the Mexican-American war of 1846, even more Spanish speaking people were added to the population of the U.S.

The "solution" to the problem of immigration is as simple as it is politically unpalatable for the panderers in Washington:

  • Drastically reduce access to social services for non-citizens. **
  • Amend immigration laws to eliminate the granting of citizenship to children born of non-citizens.
  • Set a coherent immigration policy with realistic quotas and MANAGE THE BORDERS with Mexico and Canada.
States and municipalities are limited by federal law as to what they can do; immigration is one of the areas for which the federal government is legitimately responsible, although it's no surprise the feds have screwed it up. Municipalities can enforce local codes and laws, as long as it's done universally. Locals can't enforce residency rules against a houseful of immigrants and ignore the natives next door who are in violation of the same code, for example.

Given the current political climate, I suppose it's too much to ask of the federal government to actually do it's job, and small town mayors and councils are ill-equipped to handle the problem. Demogoguery replaces reason and so nothing much changes, except for the worse. It takes an uncommonly brave politician to take on the problems at the local level.

I guess I could have made a scene in the restaurant by correcting the boorish oafs. In only one instance was I reasonably sure I knew who had said what, and I don't make a habit of upbraiding complete strangers based on overheard conversations. I think adressing the situation in class or here is more productive.

* The Civil War and Reconstruction by James G. Randall and revised by David Donald (2nd ed, 1961)

**While we're at it, drastically reduce access to services for everyone else, too!


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