About a week ago I was listening to NPR’s All Things Considered when commentator and economist Russell Roberts made a few remarks about his New Years’ wish that Americans would refrain from believing every piece of alarmist rhetoric spewed by the media, presidential candidates, friends, family, etc.
Amid his cautions against believing the economic sky is falling, he mentioned that immigrants are indeed, not ruining America. We don’t hear that very often, even from a “liberal” media outlet like NPR, and it sure was refreshing. Our country, Roberts went on, is comprised of immigrants — the constant influx of melding cultures, hard-working people and change is what has made us a great nation.
These comments have stuck in my head the last week as I’ve read year-end wrap-ups, struggled to write anything about immigration and listened to campaign coverage from Iowa. But a spark of reason can’t slow the waves of anti-immigrant sentiment. I haven’t written much lately because I’m pretty depressed and cynical about the whole issue.
A LOT of people show up on I2US asking – ‘should I file a petition for my undocumented spouse, or should I wait for the laws to change?’ A year ago, there was tenuous hope, on our forum and others that support the rights of immigrant workers. But these days, just about everyone replies – ‘a change in the laws that will help your spouse??? Keep dreaming – it’s not going to happen this decade.’ Sad? Yes. Cynical? Yes. True? I think so.
Listening to the presidential coverage does not help my outlook. During NPR’s Morning Edition this week, (I should wear a nerdy badge that labels me an NPR junkie, yes, definitely), hosts Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep have been “traveling” across the southern United States via I-10, interviewing people to find out what issues matter to them, how they feel the nation’s prospects are for 2008 and what they think of the presidential candidates. Yesterday morning I heard this gem of an interview with Cindy Sanders from Sonora, Texas:
When asked what issues mattered to her, Sanders said: “the immigration issue.”
Montagne pressed her to develop that comment.
Sanders: “They make it so hard for us born and raised Americans who are in struggling to get welfare.”
Montagne: “So, you feel you are competing with illegal immigrants…. (for services)?”
Sanders: “Oh, yeah, you are.”
Montaine: “Although that is your experience, there are studies out there that show that illegal immigrants don’t actually use those services.”
Sanders: “Oh, I’m sure there’s some of them that do. You’ve got all these families driving nice cars, but yet they’ve always got food and money in their house. I make too much money for my two kids to get them on Medicaid, so my kids don’t have health insurance right now.”
Of course Ms. Sanders’ opinion is just one person’s opinion, but the purpose of these interviews is to get the pulse of the nation. I realized as I listened that Ms. Sanders hit the new American attitude on the head: immigrants are the ultimate scapegoat — responsible for just about everything wrong with America.
So now, if you don’t qualify for welfare, it must be because undocumented immigrant workers are filling all the welfare rolls! (Okay people without valid social security numbers CANNOT qualify for welfare). If an immigrant has a nice car, it must be because they get welfare to feed their kids and then went and spent all their money on wheels! And how do they get all that money? They got it because Mexican ‘alien’ Juan Garcia walked into a factory that once employed 20 high-paid Americans and as soon as the boss saw Juan, he fired all the Americans and hired Juan and five of his amigos for half the money and no benefits! Juan probably smuggled some drugs while driving drunk across the border as well! Andale! And OMG, terrorists are streaming across the southern border, right? Mexicans are terrorists, right? They must be!
It couldn’t be that immigrants tend to be extraordinarily hard-working and choose to spend their disposable income on a nice car rather than clothes or dinners out. It couldn’t be that undocumented people actually commit LESS crimes on average than U.S. citizens. It couldn’t be that people of different cultures have different priorities, right? It couldn’t be that most people’s problems have to do with themselves, right? And not anyone else? Ultimately, you are responsible for you, and I’m responsible for myself.
I’m just disgusted, and the cynicism and disgust just perpetuates. Lately I feel that even if we get a solid forward-thinking liberal president in a year, we’re still going to have the same loud xenophobes and narrow-minded hawks blaming our problems on others and restricting the freedoms once so important to our country.
It would probably help if I listened to less news and tried to distract myself with spirits and frivolity like good Americans do on New Year!
Ahh… maybe tomorrow.