Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Persistence of Misperceptions

Marc Fisher, a columnist for the Washington Post, illustrated a common misperception about immigrants within the United States: “They’re taking our jobs. They’re stealing our slots in colleges. They’re out there on the street corner, scrounging for work, dragging down wages, flouting our laws. Here in Virginia’s capital, you can feel the accelerating drumbeat of accusations: Whatever the social ill, the cause must be those illegal aliens, don’t you know?”

Frightening as it is, I am becoming more aware of the discrimination that immigrants face and realizing that part of this country is no longer willing to accept those who seek a new home. It amazes me because most of us have ancestors that came to the United States from other countries; yet, people have such a negative outlook about those who enter the country today. Fisher mentions in his article, “The Wrong Approach to Illegal Immigration,” that the state of Virginia is addressing a bill that would give state police the authority to enforce immigration laws. He also discusses how the state wishes to ban illegal immigrants from attending its public educational institutions. I know that entering the country illegal is unlawful, but many forget about the young children who are brought into the country illegally by their parents. By barring immigrant children from education, there are few opportunities for them to become successful Americans. The President of Northern Virginia Community College, Bob Templin, accurately stated that “education for the immigrant is the gateway to the American dream.” As a country, we need to stop being so selfish and start accepting those who are just seeking a safe and meaningful life.



don said...

Illegal immigration into the U.S. has always been a conflicting issue for me. I remember that when I was adopted, my adoptive partents brought along a Thai Housekeeper from Thailand under the pretense, which was true, that she had particular skills (i.e. translating for a Thai boy and familiarity) that few in the U.S. had. Of course, the initial paperwork for her to work was formally processed but it was after her 2 year work visa in which she had to leave. She didn't. Instead, my parents hired an immigration lawyer for our housekeeper, bidded their time until loop holes were found in immigration law, and now she is a residential alien, has a family, cars, pays taxes, and works hard to help provide with her family, both in the U.S. and Thailand. It wasn't until last year, after 15 years in the U.S., did she return to Thailand because of her illegal status in the U.S.

I know I should get to a point soon and I will. What really concerns me about illegal immigrants is that they are illegal and will continue to be illegal. That is not to say that I believe that immigrants coming into the U.S. (either legally or illegally) are bad or unwanted. No true; I see the huge benefit of new people bringing new ideas and new thoughts and new perspectives. That is great! American's often cite that America is the "land of opportunity" in which there is a constantly churning melting pot that gives America that strength it has today. According to my "Limited Immigration" blog, however, that concept of openly accepting new immigrants started to be dramatically curtailed in the early 20th Century.

Where the concern lies for many today is that a recent wave of immigrants are coming from Latin and Central America (mainly Mexicans). My belief is that because earlier immigration ocurred from countries mainly in Europe, it was easier for the U.S. to curtail immigration from Europe. Not so Mexico. Europe separated from the U.S. by water; Mexico and Latin America is not (save a few islands here and there). Thus, making it easier to literally walk into the U.S., provided your can find the holes in the border fence.

To get to the point, there is a definite and real concern about illegal immigration. It isn't that America and Americans don't want immigrants, it's that they don't want to be burdened with having to support immigrants that are a drag on the U.S. economy. To illustrate, take my housekeeper as a comparison.

1) Housekeeper enters under work visa. Illegal immigrant does not.
2) Housekeeper overstays illegally in U.S. but works. Illegal immigrant also illegally in U.S. and works.
3) Housekeeper seeks to become citizen. Illegal immigrant tries but is highly unlikely to succeed due to language and financial contraints.
4) Housekeeper pays taxes (income, property, school, etc). Illegal immigrant does not (though one could cite sales tax).

I'm going to stop there. Number 4 is crucial. One thing that I've learned about myself is that I help people and I love it. But, I also realize that I cannot help people until I can help myself. That is, I cannot start volunteering my time and money to help someone else if I am not in a position to do so. To many Americans, this applies. The U.S. already has its own people that need help. Thus, many ask why help others that are illegally here when what needs to be done is to have Americans. Another reason is that people have a concern about illegal immigrants is that they take and rarely give. In other words, they take the jobs from Americans but don't pay income tax. They falsify records to get welfare and medicare, yet pay nothing back to the government, via taxes.

Essentially, illegal immigrants (and kudos to them) understand that once they become "known" in the U.S., they will either be deported or pay taxes, which cuts into their standard of living and helping family members that are already in the U.S. or still living abroad in their country of origin.

To summarize, I want to help but I realize that "our house" has to be cleaned up first. Additionally, if you want a job be willing to give something back in return.

stacy h said...

I think you make very valid points. However, how do you explain the same type of attitude towards legal immigrants? People don't even want illegal immigrants in the country, but people don't even want lawful ones. The article I mentioned also speaks to the issue of lawful immigrants. I just think we need to become more aware of some of our prejudices.

don said...


I definitely understand what you're saying and agree that people should should embrace those seeking a new life and new opportunities.

While I am not against immigration in any way, as noted in my earlier comments, I think the bigger issue at hand is not prejudice or a dislike of immigrants. After all, the United States is willing to accept legal immigrants, grants asylum, allows refugees to come in, etc. In other words, the U.S. has essentially said that we're willing to help people...but up to a point.

Meaning, that the U.S. allocates resources to help those in need. What I think happens is that when Americans look around and see that many many resources are spent on immigrants in assimilating into America, they see their tax money at work in supporting immigrants instead of buying new textbooks to better help themselves and their children. So, what happens is that because there are a plethora of illegal immigrants entering, they begin to over generalize and group all immigrants (legal or illegal) into one category and see everything as a drain on community resources (i.e. spending more money to hire and train cops to go after illegal immigrants within a community) while that money, in their minds, could go on to bigger and better things such as hiring more teachers in overcrowded schools.

So, what we're really seeing is not a prejudice but rather a fear of the drain of U.S. and community resources in fighting a fight that is difficult to win; the curbing of illegal immigrants. What we see as a result is a frustration on the part of many Americans in wondering why so much money is spent on taking care of immigrants and not taking care of Americans.

don said...

Just to clarify...my friend said that I have poor sentence structure so, I'm going to clarify. When I state, "So, what we're really seeing is not a prejudice but rather a fear of the drain of U.S. and community resources in fighting a fight that is difficult to win; the curbing of illegal immigrants. What we see as a result is a frustration on the part of many Americans in wondering why so much money is spent on taking care of immigrants and not taking care of Americans" what I'm trying to emphasize is that Americans are fearful of not having a good standard of living or enough resources to themselves and therfore this tranlates and manifests itself into targeting illegal immigrants and thereby having prejudice against immigrants overall. Prejudice is manifested from American fears of not having enough resources to take care of themselves. Hope this clarifies everything.

stacy h said...

I totally agree with your point. I think you get at one of the root causes of the problem. I think you make your point very clear

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