Thursday, May 6, 2010

Yearning to be free...

On our recent trip to New Orleans, we took a leisurely walk along the river one afternoon, enjoying the breeze and the gorgeous day. I took several photos, including this one:

It's called Monument to the Immigrant and it honors the memory of Italian immigrants who came to this country, many through the port of New Orleans. I didn't take this next photo but it shows the back of it:

Pictures really don't do it justice. It's a gorgeous piece sculpted by Franco Alessandrini of white marble, sitting on a base meant to represent the prow of a ship.

I'm sure the current debate over immigration had something to do with how touched I was by this piece of art. Lately I have found myself trying to imagine what it must have been like for European immigrants to board a ship and brave an arduous trip across the ocean for a land they've never seen but with the hope that it will provide a better way of life for them and their family. My great-great grandfather on my dad's side stowed away on a clipper ship at the tender age of 16, sailing from his home in England to America. He ended up in what was then Indian Territory and married a Choctaw woman. I'm not sure what the immigration laws were at that time although I rather doubt he went through any legal channels to become a citizen. Perhaps that wasn't even a concern at that time.

And then I think about the people in Mexico. I've only been there once. My family went to Tijuana for a few hours one day when I was a teenager. I remember being shocked by the poverty I glimpsed. And now? I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like for so many of the people living there. Not only are they living in poverty but now they also live in fear for their very lives. The drug problem has escalated to an almost unbelievable level and innocent people are getting caught in the crossfire every day. I try to imagine it but I really can't. And then I try to imagine what I would do if I lived under those conditions and knew that if I could just get over the border into the United States, I would be safe and have a chance for a better life. Would I risk it? If I were pregnant or had children, you bet.

I was born and raised in Southern California and my husband and I both still have relatives there. I'm well aware of the problems caused by so many coming over the border illegally. It's a drain on the California economy which is in shambles right now. And I'm sure the situation is similar in Arizona. I'm also well aware that there is a huge problem with drug smuggling across the border and that the people involved are dangerous criminals, not poor people looking for a better life for their families. But the way I see it, these are two separate issues (I'll do a post about why we should stop the so-called Drug War another day). Unfortunately both groups are being lumped together and that's simply unfair.

I don't think anyone would say we don't need immigration reform in this country. So, what's the answer? I don't claim to have that answer, or more accurately, answers, because I believe it's going to take a complex, multi-faceted approach in order to solve this serious problem. I do believe that Arizona' approach is dead wrong.

Despite claims to the contrary, it is simply impossible to believe that Arizona SB 1070 won't lead to racial profiling. (Note: SB 1070 was modified by HB 2162 in order to try to address some concerns.) The law makes it a crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying registration documents and it requires police to make an attempt to determine immigration status during police stops for other offenses if there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is an illegal alien. Now, what factors do you think are going to be used to determine "reasonable suspicion"? In addition, it allows citizens to sue if they believe an official has not fully enforced this law. I heard a veteran Arizona police officer say "we are damned if we do and damned if we don't." In other words, they are at risk for legal action for racial profiling AND for not profiling. I would hate to be in their shoes. The good ones will constantly be second-guessing themselves, while others (hopefully a tiny minority) will see this as an opportunity to act out their prejudices with the full weight of Arizona law behind them. The relationship between law officers and citizens is already strained at times. This can only serve to heighten those tensions.

So if Arizona's plan isn't the way to go, what should we do? One thing I hear all the time is that people don't have a problem with *them* coming here legally and that's the way it should be done. End of story. That sounds logical, doesn't it? I mean, we are supposed to be a nation of laws and fairness and equality and all that. So, why don't they just go through the proper channels and become a citizen ("and learn to speak English, for God's sake!")? Good question. Have you taken a look at what is involved in legally immigrating to the United States? I have.

Did you know that current U.S. immigration policy allows for only 5000 visas per year for low-skilled workers? And that the U.S. labor market has a need for up to 500,000 of these low-skilled workers? A Mexican wanting to come to the U.S. to be a waiter or hotel maid has virtually no chance of receiving a visa. If they have a relative in the U.S. who is a citizen, it's a little easier but not by much. The U.S. government is just now processing the 1992 applications of adult Mexican children of U.S. citizens. 1992! Yeah, they should just wait politely in line and wait their turn. And I haven't even mentioned the fees involved which can be close to $2000, an absolutely impossible amount for a poverty-stricken Mexican.

Now here's where things really get sticky. What if those barriers to becoming a legal citizen were reduced. Let's say we increased the number of visas available to roughly the number of Mexicans wanting to immigrate. And let's assume cost wasn't an issue. They'd be here legally which is what people claim is all they care about - just making sure everyone follows the laws. Do you really think that would end the debate? Would that settle it for the people who complain about *them* taking over our country?

Let's pretend for a moment that the Canadian government decided they would no longer provide universal health care for its citizens. And this part is harder, but let's pretend the U.S. really got its act together and was providing excellent health care for all. (Come on, use your imagination.) And then let's pretend that there was a big influx of Canadians crossing the border illegally into the United States. Do you honestly believe they'd be treated with the same hostility directed toward Hispanics? After all, they look like us and they talk like us, that is, until they say "about" or "out".

Am I claiming that everyone who is in favor of really cracking down on illegal immigration is racist? No. Do I think racism plays a role in this debate? Absofuckinglutely. And the fact that I just used that word will tell you how I feel about it. Those who don't know me in person are probably unaware of my reputation as "The Queen of Squeaky-Clean Language World".

When people say things such as "I want my country back" and "They're taking over" and "Speak English!", don't kid yourself. They don't simply want everyone to go through proper legal channels in order to be here in this country; they don't want them here. Or at least not very many. We don't hear those comments directed toward illegal aliens from Canada or England, now do we? Hmm?

I am saddened by the fact that in the year 2010, 147 years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and 46 years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act Of 1964, race is still an issue in this country. If anything, racial tensions have actually increased lately, in part due to the events of 9/11, the immigration issue, and following the election of a black president.

As Bob Marley sang:

Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
and another inferior
is finally and permanently
and abandoned
everywhere is war
me say war.

That until there no longer
first class and second class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man's skin
is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes
me say war.

I don't know how we get to that place of which Marley sings but I do know some things that hold back progress toward that goal. Making jokes about the Obamas raising watermelons on the front lawn of the White House, publicly declaring Islam to be "wicked and evil", or purposely fomenting discord by wearing clothing with the American flag to a school with a 40% Latino population on Cinco de Mayo only serve to increase racial tensions. Just because the 1st Amendment guarantees the right to free speech doesn't mean we should use it to disparage other races. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying the right to free speech should be abolished. Not at all. In fact, I've recently joined the ACLU in part because of their history of defending free speech, even by those I disagree with. What I am saying, however, is that people should really think about their words and actions. Do they inspire unity or divisiveness? And what are we teaching our children? What message did those boys at Live Oak High School receive at home that caused them to wear those particular clothing items on that particular day?

I hope I live to see the day when people are judged solely by their personal character and not by race or religion. I hope I live to see a time when people live in harmony and with compassion toward their fellow-man. I hope I live long enough to tell my grandchildren stories about how people used to treat others differently according to the color of their skin or the way they spoke and have them say, "Really???" in total disbelief. I hope...

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
' With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"



Karyn said...

Excellent post, Deanna. Did you read this by any chance?:
If not, I think you'd find it interesting, and also heartbreaking. I don't know what the answers may be, but that post has been haunting me since I read it.

sharon said...

Fantastic Deanna. Thanks! I pray for that day too. Sometimes I think we are getting closer and then we have major set backs.

Racism is a normal, natural pat of the human condition. Like any other form of sin.

Why do you think we interned Japanese Americans and Not those from Germany or Italy?

Xenophobia is always there.

I like that you mention that you suspect that your great great grandfather didn't have any process to enter legally. I doubt mine did either. Those who came from elsewhere that is.

Something people are forgetting is that when someone emigrates, they are not the only immigrant, all of their descendants are too. So, if you aren't one hundred percent Native American, you're at least partly an immigrant.

And, a lot of the Mexicans here are a lot more Indian than anything else. Most likely their ancestors walked back and forth over that land that now we call a border and they aren't really immigrants at all.

Piglet said...

You should read Desmond Tutu's response to the new Arizona law:

drlobojo said...

The woman in the flowing robes is reminiscent of the 18th centuries depictions of America's Columbia who was always a welcoming figure and advocate of expansion.

Solutions will be found.

The xenophobes are always with us.
The nativist "Know Nothing" party was there when the Irish showed up in the 1840-60s. Now it is the same 20% that want their America back. They can't have it. It is mine and I am going to keep it and share it.

JoAnna said...

You are rising to the top of my hero list very quickly.

Amanda said...

I do agree that AZ isn't handling the issue well. (That's my understatement for the day.) I disagree with illegal immigration, mostly for the economic reasons you mentioned. And, no, I don't care what color they are or where they come from. The *legal* immigrants I have talked to over the years are absolutely disgusted by all the illegal immigrants being allowed to stay. People from Germany, England and yes, Mexico. People who have paid all those ridiculous fees you mentioned and waited years to be granted the rights of American citizens. Spending those years under a spotlight, knowing that if they do one thing wrong, they'll be sent back to their country of origin with no return option.
Those that I've talked to all feel that by "doing the right thing", they're getting cheated because of all those who are here illegally and apparently not being punished in any way.
BTW, I'm one of those who think that if you're going to live in a country, you should have basic understanding of the language. I don't think that's racist. I think it's common courtesy. If I were to move to France, I would not expect everyone to cater to me just because I refuse to learn some basic French words.

Deanna said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I know this is a controversial topic and we won't all agree but I do appreciate rational debate.