Friday, May 19, 2006

Immigration - an Emotionally Loaded Subject


The immigration legislation has stirred up a hornet's nest. We have known the cost of illegal aliens to "us," just as we know the cost of all the other benefits today that are so liberally spread around. It's painful, so we don't talk about it much ... and now we are.

It's a great country, the US. Probably the best place to live on earth.

  • Everyone's teen, these days, get braces, thanks to the corporate dental plan, a quasi-health thing that's mostly cosmetic. Yes there are jaw problems, etc., but one rarely dies of crooked teeth;
  • Liver transplant ... even if you drink like a fish? Not a problem. Free clinics ... corporate health insurance;
  • Coronary bypass? At the drop of a hat. Even a new heart and new lungs. Available in ways we couldn't have even conceived of 25 years ago.
  • Child disabled? "Special needs?" Ethnic minority? Roll out the special school bus that pulls up to their door, special classrooms and equipment, more teachers and aides per capita, therapy, counseling, far more personal attention than yours and mine, if they're "normal," or "gifted" but aren't ADHD, in a wheelchair, emotionally disturbed, speech-delayed, brain-damaged, Native American ... the list goes on.
  • And while it isn't adequate, once you're a "senior" there's a break in the medicine and doctor bills and surgery, although it isn't enough, and it becomes most of the monthly income, it is available.
  • Public housing, group homes, homeless shelters and housing programs for the homeless, and that wonderful Habitat for Humanity. To me -- and I would know -- private charity is the best thing since sliced bed. Why? Because it's VOLUNTARY. Our tax programs are not.
  • Have a "learning disability" and you get to take 6 hours to take the 1-hr. final, AND have someone read it to you or write it for you ... but not if you're just an average kid who studied, but finds it very hard.
  • Food stamps ... and St. Vincent de Paul. God bless St. Vincent de Paul.
  • FREE EDUCATION and transportation to go with it
  • College and professional school grants and loans

Yes, our country, the US of A has a lot to offer, and we keep trying. Every solution brings in a new problem, and it's always been that way. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, which is getting exponential, but at least if you work at McDonald's you can get rudimentary healthcare in the US, and everyone gets a high school education, so of course it's taken for granted, so there are those who toss it aside. Folks, there are countries on this earth where education is still a luxury!!

I'm following the story of a young couple a client has told me about who are not married, but wanted to have kids, and she is pregnant with conjoined twins who have spina bifida. They're shopping hospitals all over the country for the delivery and the after-care ... which will run into the millions quite rapidly. Who is paying for this? I don't know. I don't even know who's paying for the plane trips to other states to shop for the hospital. He has a minimum-wage job. She does not work.

(If you'd like to help, email me and I'll give you their website. If you don't care to help, if you're scrambling to feed your kids and figuring out how to pay next month's rent, sorry, you already are helping, because you work and pay taxes.)

Meanwhile, the "oppressed entitled" are eating up the money in the courts. Give them a hard time in the office and they have their EEOC phone number in their pocket, a pro bono law student's card, and they've memorized sexual harassment, the age for age discrimination, what constitutes intimidation (being asked to come in at 8:00 a.m. every morning? Not being allowed to wear a nose ring?), and their list of entitlements and rights, memorized better than any of your highly-trained and beseiged HR professionals will ever know the law and the policies.

Yes, there are iniquities and injustices in the work world, that's why we made the laws. There are also those who work the system and abuse it. The two apparently go hand-in-hand.

And then there are the "teeming masses" who came to our shores to get away from something, or find something. They must, at any rate, have felt something in the US would be better than whatever they left behind ...

We have welcomed them and I use the term "we" loosely. The Native Americans who "owned" this continent didn't exactly welcome "us," and "we" all came from somewhere else -- this generation, or the one before it, or ancestors in the 1700s, but nearly everyone living in the US has roots, way back or recent, to another country.

HOWEVER, there's something called assimilation. Joining the group you invade or infiltrate, and participating fully. There's hardly anything more emotional than "culture," which includes religion, because it involves the things that matter most to us - religions, our language, how we relate to families, how we handle sex and marriage, how the elders are cared for (or not), what we eat, how and when and where we sleep and with whom. Very personal things. Things we are very emotional about.

That they are learned, we forget.

There's no particular reason why in Falls Church, Va. we eat a meal with a knife, fork and spoon. It just happened that way. If, in French Morocco, they use the fingers of one hand liberally, and if, in China, they use chopsticks, it's simply because someone thought of it, started doing it, and then -- herd animals that we are, eager to fit in, fearing ostracism, everyone started doing it. Then, as happens with those things, it became a "rule" (the Smiths, in Hoboken, do not eat with their fingers) and even a law ("the Nbumwas in Nranaway put to death a woman caught committing adultery).

So what happens when cultures collide? When the language, the religions, the customs and the laws are different? Besides war, I mean.

What happens when a person leaves the country they were born in, and moves to another one?

I have a good example here in my hometown, San Antonio, TX. Some become fully present in their new homeland. Some do not. And I'm not an arm-chair liberal. I worked with the homeless for several years, raising funds, designing programs, writing grants, and getting in the trenches with my sleeves rolled up.

One of the interesting things I got to do was lecture the seniors honors seminars at the local Catholic college several times a year.

These youngsters were fresh, eager, and humanitarian (also mostly Catholic). I always had a free-for-all, because why lecture when you have bright young minds to listen to? Their questions were interesting.

They always used "they". They ought to provide ... and they ought to have special ... and they should find a way to ....

"Who are 'they'?" I asked.

"Them! The government...?" they weren't actually sure.

Back through it again, leading them on to use real words, 'we' established that 'they' should provide food for everyone, clothes, shelter, education, insurance, medical care, dental care, good jobs.

"Why?" I asked.

"This is the US," they replied.

"Who ARE 'they'?" I pressed.

"THE GOVERNMENT," they replied.

Dropping that for the moment, I moved along. "And what is required in return of the recipients of all these free things?" I asked.

No answer.

"Ok," I said, forging ahead, "you have a room-mate. You have more than he does. Just because, and also because you work a part-time job. He wants better clothes. He likes your Nikes and he wants your laptop, he thinks you should give him your Bronco, and take him to the Caribbean with your family on spring break. Are you up for that?"


"In fact his family can't pay tuition next term. How about giving up yours? Or asking your dad to take another job to pay your room-mates' tuition?"

They laughed. They thought I was making a joke.

"How about if you told your room-mate you'd give him some of your stuff provided he came home with you in the summer and worked on your dad's cattle ranch with you. I mean that's where a lot of your stuff comes from, right? "


Well, you see the loop here. Someone has more, someone has less. There are reasons why. It doesn't matter. Must everyone have the same? If one has more, must they give it to the other, no matter what?

Is it right that honors student Tim has more possessions than his room-mate Henry? It's not wrong. It's not right either. It's the way it is. There's no civilization not so contructed, and never has been on this planet, and those that tried "communism" are living today in ways that tell us what they tell us.

So here we all are. Some of us have been in the US longer than others. Most people in the US have more "stuff" than 3/4s of the people on this planet could even dream of ... and of course we want MORE! There are different ways we get this stuff -- inheritance, marriage, luck, hard work, smart work, work ... and taxes.

Another analogy -- the office buys a lottery ticket. 15 of the 20 buy in. The ticket wins. Does everyone in the office get part of the win? Want to give up YOUR share for those that didn't contribute?

When I worked at the homeless shelter, in this town that's nearly 60% Hispanic, it was declared a "safe haven."

The immigration officers could not pull up in front of the shelter and pick off the people who didn't have papers.

We had a housing program. We had houses to give away to homeless people. Let me tell you about it.

First of all, the houses were only for parents with kids. A single man, a Vietnam vet, couldn't have one. That is wrong, but I was the only one who thought so, and so that was the way it was.

Secondly, yeah, there were things they were supposed to do (get a job or have one, be in school, pay a minimal monthly supplement, do housework and repairs, meet with their 'team' and learn life skills), but that didn't always happen.

Thirdly, some of these houses were 1,500 - 2000 sq. ft. houses that at the time would've sold for $100,000. They were foreclosure houses, bought cheap through a grant. They were sprinkled all over town, not just on the southside. They were quite a gift, quite an opportunity. Better living conditions thatn 3/4s of the people on this planet would ever attain. Oh, and they were fully furnished with donated furniture and household items.

There came a discussion about whether those houses should be given to people who didn't have papers, people who were illegal aliens.

The staff and the Board were deeply split on this issue, along the sort of lines you can imagine. The same sort of thing we're talking about now, nation-wide.

I'm going to stop here. Might as well. There won't be an end to it. Much food for thought.

Now, here's something circulating the emails -- THEODORE ROOSEVELT'S THOUGHTS ON IMMIGRATION IN 1907 --

"In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language... and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people." - Theodore Roosevelt 1907

The person who sent me this, BTW, has a son-in-law from Iraq. He's got his papers, he works (hard), he pays his taxes. Last year he paid for his sister to fly over here (to the US) when she was 8 months pregnant. I guess nobody granting visas cared that she was 8 months pregnant and planned to stay for a while. She wanted to have her baby in the US, where the hospitals were better. Of course she had no money nor any insurance.

The hospital had to take her. I'm sure they wrote it off. Excuse me, raised their rates to you and me, the US taxpayer and solid citizen.

It's nice to help some woman out with her baby. Two things would've made it nicer: (1) She pays something for the service, or (2) YOU really want it to happen, and think it's wrong she be denied, so YOU pay for it out of your pocket.

If you want to live in the US and enjoy all the benefits, folks, come on now, ANTE UP.

And learn the language.

It's the least you can do.

With privilege comes responsiblity.

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