Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fall Festival and an Immigration Debate

Yesterday we had a Fall Festival in our neighborhood. It was a typical fair with Funnel cakes, boat rides, stalls, stilt walkers and singing. I wanted to buy a bottle of water and found a stall selling it at $1 (very reasonable). As I glanced the table I got confused. I saw a book "Hiroshima", a bestseller on the bombing of Hiroshima, leaflets in Spanish, buttons saying 'no stinking paper'. I asked a guy at the stall what the "no stinking paper" button meant. He replied "what do you think of legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants?". I said "Well, I am an immigrant and I've no problem with legal immigrants but illegal immigration is different".

The guy then started off "we prefer the term undocumented immigrants". I just gave a smile that he understood. He continued "I understand you think its just semantics, but the word 'undocumented' carries a better connotation than 'illegal'". I told him "if somebody breaks into your home would you call him a 'thief' or an 'uninvited guest'". He said "of course "I'd call him a thief". Having understood the implication of what he just conceded he pressed further. "this country is engaged in illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan". I knew where he was going with this patently idiotic analogy. I replied "if you think this is a dishonorable country why not choose some other country that would conform to your ethics for these demands". I also saw a book on economics on the table. He then changed tack "do you know how immigrants 'contribute' to the economy". I demurred "hhmm thats debatable". His repartee was "oh you are watching Bill O'reilly and Fox News". I said "you are now assuming my television watching habits". Incidentally I watch more of CNN than Fox. I've seen immigration rallies with placards saying "no human being is illegal". I felt like screaming "the question is not about your legality of being 'homo-sapiens' rather about how you entered the country".

Take a step back and reflect on the greatness of USA. Nowhere in the world can an ethnic community put up a stall in a community fair and brazenly ask for illegal immigration to be accepted. No other country in the world would accept an ethnic community with a stall that uses a language different from the local language. To rub it in the stall representative has a dim view of the country's foreign policy displaying books that cast a dubious light on the country. No other country in the world gives citizenship by virtue of being born on its soil. No other country in the world makes it illegal for any agency, law enforcement or otherwise (schools, libraries etc), to ask the immigration status of those who seek service or help.

What completely angered me was not just his criticism of Iraq war but bracketing Hiroshima (Pearl Harbor) and Afghanistan (9/11).  Most Americans think Afghanistan is justified war. Even if one were to agree with his very malicious reasoning, US will be out of Iraq by 2011 so what do we do with the 14 million illegal immigrants at that point, what rationale will they cling to then?

The economic contributions of illegal immigrants is a very contentious debate that rests not just on 'economics' but in a very swampy land. John McCain, god bless the Maverick, in a speech for Immigration reform that would help provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, bravely asked his largely White American audience, "who amongst you would do the jobs they do". This is what is called as 'contribution'. But who pays for illegal immigrants going into Emergency Care and availing themselves of medical care? Why is America held to impossible and convoluted logic of human rights and compelled to provide education to children of illegal immigrants? Who pays for that? We are told children should not be victimized for the fault of their parents. Very laudable objective but get real. In a country where schools depend on property taxes its no wonder this causes friction. And we are not talking few tens or hundreds of children. No Emergency room attendant can ask an incoming patient for status of residency or even ability to pay. Who pays for that? In states like California, Texas, New Jersey, New York this is a big problem.

I support limiting the 14th amendment, citizenship by birth, to legal residents and citizens. The term 'anchor babies' does have a meaning. People, not many, do come here just to give birth, claim citizenship for their new born and in turn cite them as reason to be allowed to stay. I am aware of the roots of 14th Amendment but that scenario does not apply here in this debate.

The argument that I detest most is the cheeky "oh well this is a country of immigrants, they just came here before us". Yes, this is a country of immigrants but it has acquired a culture and character that has made it prosperous unlike any other country in history. We come seeking the fruits of American culture. For those who sneer at American culture and morals my simple answer is, "you are free to leave". I came to America to be American. I came to America to be assimilated not to contribute to islands of ethnic pride. Yes I love this country to be an English speaking country. There are parts of America where an American cannot get a job without knowing Spanish (knowing it would not be sufficient either). We are looking at a problem.

There are many other questions on immigration debate. What kind of immigrants does America need? Should America liberalize immigration to attract skilled immigrants? Can we reform the quagmire that the Green card process has become to retain much needed talent in USA?

America is at crossroads. A blog, as I repeatedly say, is no place for elaborate theses. This is only to tickle a readers intellect and give a flavor what I think.

No comments: