Location: Granite Falls, North Carolina, United States

I'm an ordained United Methodist minister no longer pastoring churches, a former media producer with skills ten years out of date, a writer trying to sell my first novel, and a sales associate keeping body and soul together working for the People's Republic of Corporate America. I'm married to the most wonderful woman in the world, who was my best friend for 17 years before we married.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

On Immigration

I have not posted much about immigration, because I have so many mixed feelings about it.

Of course we know we of European ancestry trace our heritage to those who came here seeking a new and better life, just as the current immigrants from Central and South America are doing now. Those whose ancestors came through Ellis Island (and other such gateways) brag about how their forbears came legally, obeying the laws, etc. Those whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower (and other such ships) came in conquest and didn't obey the laws. Of course, the aboriginal inhabitants whose ancestors came over on the land bridge didn't have immigration laws to enforce, nor the means for adequately enforcing them if they had existed. Those of African heritage, for the most part, are descended from people who did not come here willingly, but slavery was condoned by the laws at the time.

But we now live in the 21st. Century, and we European-Americans are the dominant ethnicity in this country. And our laws lay out certain standards by which a person may legally enter the country. The problem is that the corporate interests who fund the campaigns of those in governmental power have an economic interest in the cheapest labor possible. Labor is not "workers," nor even "the work force" any more. It is now "human resources." Workers are dehumanized in the modern world, so we are all so many interchangeable parts in the industrial machine.

Now, there are two ways in which companies try to minimize labor costs: First by relocating to places where labor costs are cheaper. Thus, they came south in the 19th. and 20th. Centuries, and more lately have moved production to places such as the Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, and, especially, China.

The second way they reduce labor costs is by bringing in immigrants who are willing to work harder for less money. Especially if they are illegal immigrants who they can pay less than the legal minimum wage. Thus, there is work for those willing to make the perilous journey to this country.

That added to the miserable Mexican economy with its corruption and lack of opportunity for the people there causes a massive migration of Mexican and other workers from that region seeking a new and better life for themselves and their families.

The backlash come from those of us who were already here having our way of life disrupted. I have to press "1" in order to do telephone business in English, which is the language most used in this country. I have to turn boxes around to see labels written in English. I have taken a few Spanish lessons, and my first wife had been a Spanish major in college. But I am resisting the necessity of becoming bilingual. If I learn another language I want it to be my choice, not forced on me by society changing around me.

Working in retail, I encounter language difficulties from Spanish-speaking customers, true. But I also encounter Hmong speakers and deaf customers. I expect in about ten years we'll start seeing Arabic-speaking customers if the Iraqi refugees are allowed into this country. If I were fluent in Spanish, Vietnamese, or American Sign language, I would be able to serve my customers better. In fact, it is customer service that causes signs to be printed in both English and Spanish. This is the reason I would wish to be bilingual. I just don't like it being forced on me.

Now, foreign language speakers are not that unusual in America. In Chicago, there are neighborhoods where you never hear a word spoken or see a word written in any language other than Polish. In Brighton Beach, New York the street signs are in Cyrillic. When I lived in New Mexico, I saw monolingual people getting by with either English or the Spanish of their Conquistador ancestors. So bilingualism isn't the main issue. The problem is that these other examples are in isolated enclaves. The American Southwest is the largest of these, but Spanish is an essential part of the culture there. Now, the whole country is being inundated with Mexican culture, and a lot of us are frustrated at the futility of fighting it.

Now, those in power see the profit in the current arrangement, so they keep Congress from passing effective enforcement laws. If there were no job market, illegal immigrants would have no reason to come here. So they have us fighting against our fellow victims of the system.

Instead of cracking down on major businesses and industries that employ illegal aliens, Congress passes a symbolic law to build a fence a third of the way along the border with Mexico. It's obvious how serious they are about this when you note that they appropriated only enough money to build a third of that. Big whoop.

So now I've laid out the problem, I think it's time for some solutions. We are not going to stem the tide with half-hearted measures like that symbolic fence. We are not going to change things by writing letters to the editor demanding new residents learn English. News flash: If they can't read English, they can't read your letter. We are not going to change things by refusing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. And we are not going to solve the problem by any "guest worker" measures. That has been tried and didn't work.

Now, I will admit that I engage in symbolic gestures, too. I display my merchandise English side out, and I speak English to my customers. Of course, I may take a sign language course, since that is the way my mentally-handicapped daughter learned to speak. It taught her the concept of words.

The only thing that will make a difference is improving the conditions in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and China. We need to demand that the products we buy are products of fair trade, not what is now called "free trade," which is just corporate exploitation of people we can't see up close. We need to elect politicians with the courage to stand up to the corporations and demand living wages and better living conditions for all workers worldwide, so that the products we buy won't be tainted with the blood and misery of other workers and subsidized by our tax dollars, the way they are now.


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