This comment was written by Marie, one of our regular posters. For me, this post cut to the heart and common sense analysis of a complicated issue. Thank you Marie!

Someday the true cost of the war on illegal immigration will be realized. I do not mean in dollars and cents. The true cost is to the national identity: the sense of who we are and what we value. It will hit us once the enforcement fever stops.

It is my belief that we are a nation of immigrants and one nation of immigrants is holding another nation of immigrants in bondage, exploiting its labor while ignoring its suffering, condemning its lawlessness while sealing off a path to living lawfully. The evidence is all around that the WELCOMING spirit at the American core is slipping away.

The campaigns to raid homes and workplaces has spread indiscriminate terror among millions of people who pose no threat. After one of the largest raids in Postville, hundreds were swiftly force-fed through the legal system and sent to prison. Their civil-rights violated. Lawyers complained that workers had been steamrolled into giving up their rights, treated more as a presumptive criminal gang than as potentially exploited workers who deserved a fair hearing. Immigrants in detention suffer without lawyers and decent medical care even when they are mortally ill. Counties with spare jail cells are lining up for federal contracts as prosecutions fill the system to bursting. Police all over are checking papers, empowered by politicians who are itching to enlist in a federal campaign.

Legal paths are clogged or do not exist. Some backlogs are so long that they are measured in decades or generations. A bill to fix the system died a year ago and there is a strategy is to force millions into fear.

There are few national figures standing firm against restrictionism. Senator Edward Kennedy has done so, but his Senate colleagues who are running for president seem by comparison to be in hiding. John McCain supported sensible reform, but whenever he mentions it, his party starts braying. It is unknown at this point how Sarah Palin stands on the issue. Hillary Rodham Clinton has lost her voice on this issue more than once. Barack Obama might someday test his vision of a new politics against restrictionist hatred, but he has not yet done so. The American public’s moderation on immigration reform, confirmed in poll after poll, begs the candidates to confront the issue with courage and a plan. But they have been vague and have not risen to the challenge. I write letter after letter to them. I feel fortunate if any reply.

The restrictionist message is simple — illegal immigrants deserve no rights, mercy or hope. It refuses to recognize that illegality is NOT an identity. Unless the nation reduces its pressure to enforcement, illegal immigrants will remain forever THEM and never US, subject to whatever abusive regimes the powers of the moment may devise.

I have said many times before the Federal Gov’t needs to do more to beef up security at our borders and ports but in the interim there are over 12 million undocumented people here and we need to do something. The restrictionist approach is not and will not work. There needs to be a path for all the hard working, tax paying immigrants to become documented. You see for me it has always been about the God given rights of ALL HUMAN BEINGS and for me It is about being treated with dignity and respect.

Every time this country has singled out a group of newly arrived immigrants for unjust punishment, the shame has echoed through history. Think of the Chinese and Irish, the Italians and Jews, Catholics and Americans of Japanese ancestry. Our grand children will study the immigration panic of the 2000s, which harmed countless lives, and mocked the nation’s most deeply held values

23 thoughts on “Immigration, reduced to its most basic form, the soul of a Nation

  1. SecondAlamo

    It’s called deterrence:

    Specific deterrence focuses on the individual in question. The aim of these punishments is to discourage the criminal from future criminal acts by instilling an understanding of the consequences.

    General or indirect deterrence focuses on general prevention of crime by making examples of specific deviants. The individual actor is not the focus of the attempt at behavioral change, but rather receives punishment in public view in order to deter other individuals from deviance in the future. The argument that deterrence, rather than retribution, is the main justification for punishment is a hallmark of the rational choice theory and can be traced to Beccaria and Bentham.

  2. Marie

    Thank you, Elena. I wish I could take credit for all the thoughts and comments in my post, but they are a compilation of the research I have done over the past couple of years. I have taken copius notes and have tried to compile many of the ideas into this post, which are the heart and soul of what I believe.

    For me it is about human dignity and human rights. Those rights are guaranteed under the Constitution of the U.S.

  3. Moon-howler

    Yesterday I watched an interesting program about Italian Immigration. The heaviest time of immigration was 1890-1920 and it was during this time that Italian immigrants faced the greatest amount of prejudice. Leading national figures said horrible things about them. I could have easily had the word Mexican or Hispanic inserted into the script and never missed a beat. Same vermin comments that we hear nowadays. Same lazy, drunk, dirty remarks.

    I did sit up and take notice when one of the speakers said they didn’t think of themselves as Americans when they first got here. They thought of themselves as Italians. The ‘Americans’ were the Irish, the Jews, the Germans, the English, etc. The later generations thought of themselves as American Italians, then Italian Americans, then just Americans.

    Is this just part of being an American? Being a nation of immigrants who is just meaner than hell to those newer immigrants coming in? Is this a rite of passage for us as a nation? I hope not. It is an ugly one.

  4. TH

    I have done some research on the Italian immigrants and it took them a while to get assimilated. It was a big deal in the early 70s when Scorsese portrayed the lives of Italian Americans in “Mean Streets”. They were still considered a “exotic” group after 50-60 years of the arriving of that large wave of immigrants from Italy.
    I don’t think it is a right of passage but our demons condemning the “Other”. There is this great scene in the movie “Bobby” when the chef of the hotel(Laurence Fishburn) tells a Mexican worker that it is not by yelling and anger that you get respect from White people. He tells him that when White people feel cornered they attack so he says that in those situations the minorities need to make feel the White majority comfortable by make them believe that they are accepting you and giving you rights. In other words, you cannot demand rights you have to be “qualified” by the majority. This is not a new idea. It was proposed by the beloved patriot teddy Roosevelt. He appeased White people by telling them that there were some “exceptional” individuals within the minority groups that deserved and have earned full rights in the system. The problem with that way of earning your rights is that it is always the majority deciding how the “certification” process works. Jewish, Italians, Blacks and many minorities bought into this idea. They fought in WWI (that included giving most of their salary to buy bonds) and those who stayed here supported the world effort in different ways. After the war, it took years (more than 30) to end segregation and for other groups (Jews) to get recognized. Read the “Lost Battalion”, you will get a sense of how minorities and immigrants were perceived then. Marie was right, you substitute Hispanic for Italian and it was the same thing.
    If you are more interested in the topic, just go to your public library and try the new York Times archives and type “immigration” in your search. You will be surprised.

  5. Ishimoto Sakamuera

    You should not forget that we are a nation of laws. Society cannot exist without laws and is in great danger not only from those who break the law, but from those who tolerate lawbreakers as well.

    Also, those who have chosen to tolerate lawbreakers, and worse, those of you here who actively aid the lawbreaker, are in danger of waking the Diamajin. He has slept for a time, but is starting to stir. Should you awaken him, you will experience his anger. Be warned.

  6. Poor Richard

    Marie stated “For me it is about human dignity and human rights”.
    That I understand, but it is ALSO about economics.

    Suggest reading “The Vanishing Republican Voter” by David Frum on the
    New York Times website.

    – “It’s widely understood that abundant low-skilled immigration hurts lower
    America by reducing wages.”
    – “It is also clear that immigration thickens the ranks of the American poor.”

    As for earlier waves of immigration, they came to an America where you
    could still get a decent middle class job even without a high school education.
    Those days are gone.

  7. Marie

    Posters: I see on my post of September 7 at 14:38 a line is missing. At the end of the post should have been a statement that said after the word values “These thoughts combined with my own come from and editorial posted in the New York Times editorial section” I guess that is what I get for copying and pasting and not taking the time to re-read my comments before posting. Please forgive my oversight in not re-reading my post. I did not realize the line was missing until I went back again and read Elena’s post the second time this morning.

  8. Moon-howler

    Poor Richard,

    I don’t believe that the early immigrants, especially the Italians, walked in and got middle class jobs. There was a great deal of prejudice against the southern mediterranian immigrants, the eastern european immigrants, and the Irish.

  9. Marie

    Moon-howler,
    Correct observation.

    My grandfather immigrated from Greece in the early 20’s because of the political turmoil there. Even though he was educated and a man of fair means in Greece, he did not walk into a middle class job when he arrived. As a matter of fact he met with a great deal of prejudice upon his arrival and it took him many years to make a good life for himself and his family.

  10. Poor Richard

    Nobody generally just “walks in to” a middle class job including the native born.
    My point is that groups that arrive with low skills and education had avenues
    to the middle class years ago that today’s immigrants do not have. The economy
    is no longer mainly based on hard physical labor but knowledge.

  11. Johnson

    Our true identity as a nation is American, with no hyphen in front of it. You will all be Americans when you put your nation before your skin color, gender or creed.

  12. Elena

    Poor Richard,
    Would you please share your thoughts behind posting this comment several months ago:

    “…a large majority of them can neither read or write, do not
    understand our language and have natural tendencies to live
    crowded among their own race and to continue their customs brought
    with them. Some of the philanthropists and educated fools are
    worrying how to deal with this problem when the only sensible
    way to deal with this problem is to pass an immigration law that
    will keep them out of the country entirely, for we have no use
    for them, and they are a menace to America and American institutions
    … over a million have arrived in the past year and still
    comes the miserable horde, and the politician sells not only
    his own birthright but the peace and health of his countrymen
    for a few ballots … the nature of this filth is too low and
    vile to exploit in print … American for Americans …
    The time has come when the American people must call a halt
    to the ….. Italians.”
    Baltimore News (Nov. 7, 1906)

  13. Alanna

    Poor Richard,
    We just exited a huge construction boom? Who did that? Wasn’t the computer engineers, that’s for sure. We have had most likely tens of thousands if not more homes built in PWC maybe a hundred thousand in Northern Virginia over the past decade. Who did that? What about the fiber optic cable with the ditches? Construction of roads? Landscaping? etc…

  14. NotGregLeteicq

    Johnson, are you trying to say African Americans and Native Americans are not really citizens of this country? Do you also have a problem with Jewish Americans, Asian Americans, Muslim Americans?

    Minor news flash: you don’t get to decide who gets to “be” American, and you don’t get to decide how we identify ourselves. I am two of the above, with no hyphen thank you, and I am every bit as American as you. 7th generation, baby!

  15. DiversityGal

    NGL,

    I love what you said:

    “Minor news flash: you don’t get to decide who gets to “be” American, and you don’t get to decide how we identify ourselves.”

    When Irish Americans sport the Irish flag, wear cheesy “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” tees, celebrate the homeland of their ancestors, and have big city-wide parades in their honor, I don’t see people getting their panties in a bunch. No one accuses these people of being downright un-American for celebrating their ancestry.

    Now some will probably say that is because Irish Americans have assimilated. I will go ahead and say that although European immigrants experienced harsh prejudice when coming to this country in the past, they have the benefit of being what can be called “the invisible minority” (a term that has been applied to many different kinds of groups historically).

    What I mean by this is that because of they were Caucasian, over time it was easier for them to blend into and be accepted by society. The same cannot be said for Asian Americans, Latino/Hispanic Americans, or African Americans. Assimilation has to be accompanied by acceptance. Historically, that has been much more difficult for immigrants who did not look phenotypically similar to American Caucasians.

    It is arrogant to tell others that they have to deny their ancestry to make someone feel more comfortable. You CAN be a proud American AND celebrate your heritage from elsewhere in the world. Caucasians have been doing that since the beginning of this country, and it would be wrong to tell someone from any race or ethnicity that they don’t have the same right.

  16. Censored bybvbl

    Diversity Gal, I’m laughing because my Irish American ancestors were originally from the north and fought along with the British during the Revolutionary War. They stayed and married mainly other Irishmen/women. But somewhere along the way, they began celebrating Saint Paddy’s Day, wearing green, and listening to the Wolfe Tones.

  17. Poor Richard

    “Advocates of a more liberal policy toward illegal immigrants need to take
    seriously the discontent that the anti-immigration movement has tapped into.
    Immigration has been a blessing to the United States, but it is not an
    unmixed blessing, and the cost of our immigration policies are borne more
    heavily by some parts of our society than others. Rather than dismiss
    all immigration critics as xenophobes, supporters of immigrant rights
    need to deal with the legitimate gripes of their opponents.”
    E.J. Dionne Jr.
    (Wash. Post 5-26-2006)

  18. Marie

    I know this statement will probably raise the hair on some necks but……… Sometimes I think it is arrogant of us in the United States to say we are American as if we are the only Americans. Yes, we are American but did you ever consider that Canadians, Mexicans, Central Americans and South Americans all have the right to call themselves American. We never refer to these Americans as American but refer to them as Mexicans, Canadians, Guatemalans, Colombians, Ecuadorians and so on.

    This thought struck me when my good friend was at the World’s Fair in Japan and he met a man there who said he was an American. My friend noticed the man did not have an english accent but a hispanic accent. After an inquiry by my friend, the man told him he was from the continent of the Americas. My friend discovered he was from South America.

  19. Poor Richard

    Elena,
    I’ve always felt that a knowledge and understanding of history, including the
    “rough spots”, helps us manage the present and prepare for the future. (Thousands
    of lives and billions of dollars have been wasted in Iraq because Bush II never
    read his father’s book on the first Gulf War and why Bush I didn’t go to Bagdad.
    Plus, even a “C” student at Yale, should have known how a call for a “new crusade”
    would sound to Arab ears. But all that is another blo.)
    Back to your question. While I don’t think nativism is the main theme in
    our immigration debate, there are elements of it and they have been present
    throughout our history during periods of major demographic changes (ex:
    The Know Nothing Party). That said, I agree with E.J.Dionne that we must
    fairly and honestly deal with clearly “legimate gripes”.

  20. Elena

    Poor Richard,
    I am in 100% agreement with E.J. Dionne, and have expressed that sentiment many times on this blog, not necessarily as it relates to his op ed, but more speficially to concerns you have raised. To ignore the rapid demographic change and its impact is why we are where we are today……a failed county policy and a community feelings like one neighbor is pitted against the other. These community concerns required leadership that demonstrated an ability to move towards solutions that would be positive in nature, Corey and John, instead chose the alternte route, and for that I hold them responsible for the mess we are in today. Every county is suffering in the U.S., but PWC seems to be a winner when it comes to forclosures. By the mess we are in, I mean being seen as a tentacle of a hate group like FAIR.

  21. Dime

    Apple to oranges !!

    imigrants to illegal aliens !!

    Dime

  22. Former COM employee

    First of all this is not the same time. As said by dime, apples to oranges. We can’t continue to take every countries poor sick and criminal citizens. in addition, the early immigrants came here legally. I have no problem with legal immigrants, in fact I support a way to have them become citizens quicker. I will agree the hispanic immigrants whether legal or illegal are hard workers, unfortunately, too many commit crimes that are unspeakable, bring their gang activity, overcrowd single family homes (of which I have seen plenty). I will say this though, I look at the old section of Manassas Park and see what they have done with the cracker jack box houses and it is amazing. The bottom line is, I know the hispanic community has contributed to the history of America, but we just can’t keep on allowing what is happening and we have to start somewhere, because inaction is not acceptable. For anyone to say that we wouldn’t be better of with a community of legal immigrants that have a vested interest in this country rather than many millions of illegaly aliens who are only here to send their money back to the country they came from just isn’t using their brain and has their head stuck in the sand. Also, the term American is more commonly used to described people from the country of the United States of AMERICA. People from the country of Mexico are known as Mexicans. People from the country of El Salvador are known as El Salvodorians and so on. Please don’t try to equate the term American as to anyone from the North or South American Continents, that is just an idiotic comment.

  23. DB

    I’ve spent countless years trolling the records both here and in Ireland, Hungary, and Germany in an effort to discover those who came before me. Here is some of what I discovered. My maternal grandmothers family arrived in NYC, from Dublin, prior to the Civil War, settled on a farm in Manhattan. In 1905 they “made it big” by selling their farm and could then afford to build a home in the Bronx (1823 Wallace Ave). The Bronx, believe it or not was the equivalent of moving to Peidmont, Lake Manassas, etc. during the early 1900’s. When someone left Manhattan and move to the Bronx during that era, they hit the big time! They were moving up. My grandmother was one of the first graduates of Our Lady of Solace Catholic School in the Bronx. The same school the Regis Philbin later attended. My maternal great grandfather emmigrated from County Leitrim late in the 1800’s. He worked as a patrol cop in Hells Kitchen and a day laborer laying roads in the newly developed Bronx. He and his 2nd generation Irish-borne wife eventually built themselves a home on Kinsella Ave. in the Bronx. Their home was alive with frequent Irish relatives that they took in all the way into the 1930’s (according to census records). In fact up until my great grandfathers death in 1936, he sent money home to Ireland to support his siblings who remained there (according to Irish Census records). In the meantimetime, both families pushed education for their children. My grandfather graduated from Fordam University, my grandmother from the the NY State Teachers College. Both of my grandparents paid their own way. Both came from barely literate parent households. Both of their parents dealt with predujice, but moved on. My greatgrandfather NEVER became a citizen. One of his sons however grew up to be a WWI pilot and freelance pilot for the newly developed Florida Airways. If you’re interested you can find info about my great uncle’s plane crash and funeral in the NY Times Feb. 26, 1927 and the NY Times March 19, 1927. If you are wondering what the point of this whole rambling is…ALL immigrants had it hard. ALL immigrants had to make it on their own. Before the advent of Medicaid, food stamps, or TANF, immigrants did what they had to do to get buy. Yes there are immigrants that have it hard today, I agree, but are their hardships any less than the hundreds of thousands that came before them?

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