Just go away

Posted on July 29, 2010


When I was young, I loved to play in the water, building dams and watching little streams cut through the dirt. At one end of the pond on our farm in Missouri, the dam was marshy, and during higher water level times it was the pressure valve for the pond, spilling water down around the west side. I used to dig and pack and build communities around that little spillway.

I noticed that if the pressure was high, I could pack a dam and the water would build up behind it until it found a way to either push the dam over, break out through a weak spot, or just go around it. I could repack all I wanted, but the price for maintaining my dam was constant vigilance. I used to believe that the lesson in that was that if you want to hold things back, you better watch, constantly replacing bulwarks and shoring up weaknesses.

If the water is a bad thing, I still think that’s true. But everywhere the water went around my little dam, things grew. And that’s not a bad thing. So I’m more inclined to believe that if the water is a good thing, it’s more important to guide its path to where its needed most than to just hold it in a reservoir where it grows fetid and is constantly threatening to destroy the dam and wreak havoc on my little community.

I don’t do this so very often anymore, because I honestly believe it’s more important to work on our own Christian development than to harangue about right and wrong, and that in the end, it does a whole heck of a lot more good. But I believe that sometimes, even in the public sphere, it’s not any more about intellectual vanity and public posturing but about right and wrong. Courageous people must speak, and there will be courageous people on both sides of an issue. Statesmen operate in the graceful zone where courageous people work together to hammer out solutions. And that’s where we all need to be.

I have watched from the safe sidelines of the immigration issue for as long as I’m going to. This anger, this public outcry, this bandying of propaganda is divisive and it’s wrong, and many good people are being enveloped in this frenzy because they are afraid. We can fight being duped into stupid policy by examining our fears and examining what’s really happening.

1. Illegal immigrants are not responsible for a higher proportion of violent crime. The only data consistently available regarding country of origin is in the State penal records, and the numbers are right at the same percentages for persons of any nationality, with respect to the population as a whole. I will say it every time I hear someone say that illegal immigration is increasing crime. It’s not. Illegal immigrants are no more murderers and rapists than is your next door neighbor, and the stats back it up.

2. Illegal immigrants place no more burden on the public assistance system than do our own citizens. You cannot qualify for assistance if you are not a citizen. Your children may, but the numbers are a fraction of the overall rolls, and in citizen families where children receive assistance, parents also often receive assistance. Illegal immigrants draw less on the public than do our own citizens, and as a group are much less likely to approach any government entity for fear of deportation. Individual examples are there, but are no more prevalent than individual citizens who are willing to take advantage of the system. I can tell you a lot more harrowing stories of faith and hard work than I can relate of lazy Latinos.

3. Illegal immigrants do not place a significant burden on our medical system. Emergency care is provided by hospitals to all without respect to citizenship or ability to pay, by federal mandate. Illegal immigrants can only avail themselves of emergency rooms or pay for private care with cash in order to receive medical treatment. The cost of “the people’s insurance” (ERs) is borne by hospitals, not the government, nor does it come out of anyone’s paycheck. And hospitals are the first to say that they do not see a disproportionate number of illegals in the ER. If they aren’t complaining, why are we?

4. Illegal immigrants pay taxes. Communities in Arizona, in which illegals and those who are legal but do not wish to be swept up in the government’s net have departed, are noting as much as 25% reductions in sales just in the last weeks. The one public service that illegal immigrants utilize in large numbers is education, and education is a State function paid for out of State funds. That money comes from sales taxes and a hodgepodge of different taxes … it does not come from income taxes. Illegal immigrants pay for the services they use by adding their buying power to the areas where they participate in communities.

5. Increasing the pool of participants in an economy strengthens, rather than weakens it. There is always an initial backlash against immigrants, because there is a contribution curve. In the 70s there was an influx of southeast Asian refugees and people were sure they would increase crime (because they came from lawless lands), take jobs (because they were willing to work harder for less) and water down culture (because they were different.) Newsflash: the culture is still here, there’s no more crime among people of Asian descent than any other, and the children of Asian immigrants demand the same wages everyone else does. We benefit from the contributions of immigrants through all ages, but it takes a short time of helping them get on their feet before they can give back in the form of increased entrepreneurial energy, income taxes paid, and the general shakeup that stirs a society out of its comfortable complacencies.

So, if illegal immigrants do not bring increased crime, burden our public or medical systems, steal our culture, or do our jobs, then why are we so bent on laying those things at their feet? We have crime, burdened public and medical systems, a declining culture, and fewer jobs. Whose fault is it then? We have no further to look than our own past.

What if there were a people within our borders who made us nervous; who were different in appearance, heritage and lifestyle; who didn’t really belong here. However, they had been here for a long time, and it wasn’t feasible to send them back. We could make separate places for them, and try to live in peace together, because we needed their contribution to our labor market. We could ensure that they knew that they didn’t really belong, that they were of a lesser citizenship, and that we could justify our different treatment of them. We could make them go away, while still enjoying the benefits of the labor they performed for us.

I am so grateful to be part of a generation that finds the poor treatment of African-Americans in America abhorrent and values the contributions made by brown people, as my friend Anthony calls himself, equal with all other races. I have grave difficulty understanding the difference between African immigrants and Mexican immigrants. At least the Mexican immigrants came here by choice.

Broad-based amnesty is obviously not the solution, but like it or not, we are entwined together culturally and economically, as deeply as we were with former slaves, and mass deportation is not the solution either. We need creative solutions that address the real problems in our society without making another culture or people the scapegoat, and that also address the real problems with immigration as it currently occurs. Nobody denies the flow of drugs north across our borders, and that increased federal attention to the issue of appropriate immigration processes is necessary. But why is there such a demand for drugs, and whose fault is that? By all means, let’s investigate the problems with prosecuting drug crimes. We don’t have to make it an immigration issue.

And finally, do we really want to equate a desire for a better life of work and contribution with criminal behavior? What happens when you criminalize people? Are we willing to live with the consequences of that brand? We can police the dam, and call it law and order, or we can use the water.

Immigration is good water, and it needs channeled, not dammed. That cannot begin to occur among policymakers until their constituents become better educated, lay down their fearful slogans, and place their support behind statesman who can then be creative. That is the power of the people. To know the truth, and to work to remain free. Our problems are not going to just go away.

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