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If You Love The United States, Thank An Immigrant

Immigration Politics Top News US White House

If You Love The United States, Thank An Immigrant

Immigrants, United States

It’s a sad day indeed when 13 percent of the population has to pretend to disappear, just to be seen.

Thursday was a Day Without Immigrants — an event organized via social media to focus on the 40 million foreign-born people in our midst, of whom about 10 million are undocumented.

For one day, a fraction of the immigrants in the U.S. didn’t show up for work. Many classrooms, too, were empty. Landscaping crews didn’t work, cooks didn’t cook, and servers didn’t serve. Tiendas didn’t open. Even a few McDonald’s restaurants had to close.

Alas, it was but a blip.

The following day, Friday, America’s longstanding cognitive dissonance about immigration was on display. The Associated Press reported on a leaked memo by a source in the Trump administration discussing plans to use National Guard troops to round up undocumented immigrants. The administration immediately branded this a lie and “fake news,” but it sounded like a fine plan to some.

Now is a good time to admit why crackdowns on immigrants sounds good to large portions of America. We cling to a good amount of “truthiness” about our own immigrant pasts.

Americans derive from a remarkable and yet troubling stock. For the most part, we’re a bunch of mutts from elsewhere. This we regularly celebrate in everything from stump speeches to TV commercials. It’s even engraved on a national monument: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses….”

And yet we love to rewrite history — especially family histories — to rationalize why it is OK to view newer arrivals, especially those assumed to be illegally present, as somehow less worthy.

You know the drill. In America, no one past the second generation truly believes that their ancestors arrived struggling to learn English. Nope. We imagine our great-grandparents came here out of a desire to be American rather than in search of higher wages or cheap land or to escape hunger or for a shot at getting rich.

Oh, and they arrived legally. Don’t forget that. That’s the biggest farce. Everyone who never actually met their immigrant ancestor believes that their family tree was thoroughly vetted, checked, and found mentally competent and physically topnotch.

In fact, the level of vetting past immigrants underwent greatly varied depending on when they arrived, where they were coming from and how many coins were in their knapsack. States rather than federal government controlled migration until 1890. And only 2 percent of the migrants who came through Ellis Island were turned away. It’s not because they were all stellar proto-Americans; it’s because they didn’t go through particularly stringent screening. For those who arrived in steerage, it was a six-second physical.

If we hadn’t built such false narratives about the past, we might be more willing to understand how the current political tumult over immigration is but a latter-day re-enactment of nativist outbursts of the past. It turns out we have a long history of favoring immigrants of certain nations, races, and religions over those of others — and of erecting selective barriers to legal passage.

The U.S. can do better. A large portion of the undocumented population could have been prevented not by walls, but by policy and law that actually allowed migration to be flexible with labor needs, be it low-skilled or more highly skilled.

Immigrants are now and have always been a self-selected class. It’s typically not the undisciplined who choose to uproot themselves from native soil and venture off for a new start.

It’s a commonplace to say immigrants built this nation. They settled the prairies and dug the canals and laid the rails and mined the coal and worked in the steel mills and factories and slaughterhouses that made America rich.

They continue to contribute a great deal at all levels of the economy. We can continue to enjoy this benefit, while clearing up the murk that is American immigration policy. Demonizing immigrants is not the way. Cruel police or military action is not the way. Reason, justice, and a clear grasp of our national interest are the values that must guide us.

IMAGE: Ludovic Bertron / Flickr

Mary Sanchez

Mary Sanchez has spent years covering immigration, schools, and other volatile beats for The Kansas City Star. She is now an editorial columnist for the Star, where she continues to offer insightful commentary on immigration, culture, and politics.

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  1. Phil Christensen February 20, 2017

    Immigrants become Settlers. That’s how a nation is created and maintained. Thank you, Settlers.


    1. JPHALL February 20, 2017

      Actually the original immigrants were rarely accepted. Ask the Mormons. Their descendants, if White, were for the most part. Don’t you remember the ethnic jokes of the past? The hatred expressed toward the Jews, Irish, Italians and Eastern Europeans continues to this day in many quarters of America.

      1. Phil Christensen February 21, 2017

        Don’t see us disagreeing here.

  2. mike February 20, 2017

    Interesting the word “Illegal” was left out of the story. In todays world Legal immigrants who followed our laws are welcome.
    Just more distraction from the left.
    I am very involved in transporting(35) and help tutor Hispanic kids in my local community. Last Tuesday one of the students in my van was upset that he wouldn’t be going to school on Thursday. I asked him why he wasn’t going to school? He said because Trump said “Hispanic kids could not go to school on Thursday” which was a lie. I explained Trump never said that. How despicable on the part of the activists on the left to put such words in these young kids.
    Just more BS from the left.

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    1. Sand_Cat February 20, 2017

      “Illegal” wasn’t left out of the story; you just didn’t read it, because you know so much you apparently don’t need to, just like a certain loud-mouthed, willfully ignorant, self-absorbed bully for whom you clearly voted.
      You’re the perfect example of what the “story” was about.

      1. mike February 20, 2017

        More of your frenzied diatribe. The word “Illegal” was nowhere written in the article. This was a fluff piece to put illegals/undocumented equal to those who have entered the country legally.
        How did “Day without immigrants” do? It was a bust. It fizzled much like Hillary’s campaign.
        Keep that foxtrot uniform brain of yours spewing the same old diarrhea so I can have a good laugh. You’re attitude is a perfect example of why the left got its clock cleaned.
        Day 32/1460 and you can’t do a damn thing about it but whine, throw childlike temper tantrums and be a poor loser. All of which does not help the left one iota. You have no leader(electable) no identity other than a bunch of old social-warriors, falling back on failed policies, who had no clue about how to win an election. A party having no idea after 6 years of lost elections at every level what the people were thinking. At this point in time it is toast. Weakest it has been since the late twenties.
        By 2020 your brain should be a totally frazzled. How sad and funny.

        1. Sand_Cat February 24, 2017

          “Frenzied? You’re the frenzied one here, and you obviously didn’t read the article. You could certainly legitimately disagree with the article – and I’m not a huge fan of unlimited immigration, either – but I try not to LIE about the contents of the article in order to disagree with it.
          I’ll return the favor: I haven’t read any more than your first sentence, and I can see the rest isn’t worth my time.

          1. mike February 24, 2017

            How funny of you! Stopped at first sentence, so typical of the left in their frenzied mode against Trump and his policies.
            You read my post but couldn’t accept the fact it nailed you, the Left and plight of your party in the real world.
            Tell you what, copy and paste the word “illegal” in the article. It’s not there.
            The left(you) can be described as apoplectic, frenzied, out of controlled, manic, unhinged, hysterical, raving mad, maniacal since November over Trump.

  3. Sand_Cat February 20, 2017

    “Illegal” wasn’t left out of the story: you just didn’t read the story, and clearly share the nativist delusions and prejudices mentioned therein.


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