Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Immigration: Illegal Immigrants Like Puritans Should Go Home!

My father is Mexican. He was born in a little village which has long since been swallowed up by Monterrey. His family moved to San Antonio when he was about 8 years old and his father died soon afterward, leaving my grandmother to raise 10 children by herself. And she died within a few years, leaving the older children to raise the younger ones. They lived in what is now a tourist attraction called La Villita, "the little village", near the Alamo. The house where they lived is now a store selling gifts and souvenirs.

My mother's father was German. His family came over from Germany, and he married the daughter of an Irish immigrant, who had married the daughter of a Dutch immigrant.

Do you see a pattern here? I do.

When hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans marched through the streets of our cities recently, I wanted very badly to join them. I wanted to show them that they are as important to the United States of America as anyone who (like me) was actually born here. Circumstances prevented me from taking time off from work to join those protests, but I was with them in spirit.

While I understand the concerns of millions of Americans about the so-called expense of maintaining social services for illegal immigrants, those concerns are largely misguided. Let's look at health care and education.

Health care costs have been rising steadily for decades. The chief reasons for these spiraling costs are: the larger and more frequent malpractice settlements brought against doctors and hospitals by juries; the impact of an aging Baby Boomer generation that abused fast food, cigarettes, alcohol, and prescription and illegal drugs for decades; and the short-sightedness of many American companies whose owner-operators only buy insurance from close friends or relatives without demanding fully competitive pricing and service.

It has been said that the United States could not exist without lawyers. Our constitution was framed by lawyers. Our laws are shaped by lawyers. Our courts are run by special lawyers (we call them "judges"). And we reach for lawyers every time we have a car accident or serious physical injury.

I've retained a personal injury lawyer on two occasions, the same one each time, and both times he said he would not pursue vindictive judgements. He was up front with me about getting a quick, reasonable claim from the insurance company and moving on. I wasn't seriously injured either time. The total amount of "pain-and-suffering" I experienced was judged to be $5,000. He got his cut and I moved on.

Some lawsuits end up with massive settlements, though. Where medical services cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, one certainly expects an insurance company to pick up the cost. That is what insurance is supposed to do. Lost wages and income should also be covered, but ironically they often are not replaced by typical settlements.

On the other hand, our Workers Compensation laws have become encrusted with procedures and requirements that many people now game. Companies have burdened themselves with the expense of seeking out and fighting fraudulent Workers Comp claims because they cannot know in advance which employees will try to game the system with "Monday Morning Injuries". (Ironically, many companies can reduce WC claims and costs by offering their employees supplemental accident insurance, even on a voluntary basis -- but they don't take advantage of such plans.)

Baby Boomers are famous for being the "wild generation" of the 60s and 70s. I grew up with Baby Boomers to the right of me and the left of me. They loved their cigarettes, booze, and drugs. Not all of them, but a great many of them abused substances. Cigarette and other tobacco addictions kill thousands of Americans every month and the medical costs of treating them and caring for them will increase until, basically, the entire generation has died off.

But Baby Boomers also gave us the megacorporate fast foods (including microwavable dinners, junk food, and fast food hamburgers) industry. So now Americans are struggling to rein in their growing waistlines. We're getting fatter every day, and we're becoming increasingly diabetic and incurring other weight-related illnesses. These conditions force us to turn to doctors and medicines and hospitals.

And American businesses often hate to discuss insurance. They rush through their renewals without really looking at who is placing their insurance and how much that placement costs them. Companies that could be substantially reducing their insurance costs instead pay friends and family to gather a few quotes and turn in something that can be lived with.

All these factors, as well as others, are both controllable and well beyond the influence of illegal immigrants. If we take control over these cost-inducing elements of our society, health care costs will start to level off. I wish I could prescribe a formula for bringing them down, but that's not likely to happen.

Education is another area where illegal immigrants are hardly breaking the system. We've already forfeited per capita educational spending on our future in more ways than I can blog about here. Basic reading skills among Americans decline each year because we are no longer held to the stringent standards of learning to read (and write) proper English. Instead, we have allowed ourselves to become lazy.

The most abused word in the English language today is "myself". There was a time when anyone who dared say, "The total effect of poor education is borne by Americans such as myself" would have been scolded by a teacher. Now we have teachers saying nonsense like that.

Our communities devote less and less money to school systems each year on a per capita basis for a variety of reasons, the most often-cited reason being that taxpayers want relief. We're not willing to pay for the education our children should have, so let's blame illegal immigrants for the problem. Sorry, dudes, that dog won't hunt.

If we're going to start sending people home because they're here without visas, we need to round up all the descendants of the Puritans and the founders of Jamestown and send them packing back to Europe. Who in America invited them to come and stay? Who in America said the land was free for the taking? History teaches us that this land was taken and its prior inhabitants conquered or driven off.

Hispanic immigrants are coming north for the same reason that English immigrants came west hundreds of years ago: they want to feed their children and make a better life for themselves. Our business policies only exasperate the situation. Despite considerable opposition from labor unions and businessmen like Ross Perot, we agreed to the North American Free Trade Agreement. While we haven't heard that "huge sucking sound" Perot said would come, several hundred thousand American jobs did go south.

And the reason they went south was that the cost of labor is lower in Mexico. Since te cost of labor is less, we can make bigger profits by manufacturing goods in Mexico and bringing them north or shipping them overseas. As stockholders, we love the dividends and stock splits we get, but as jobholders we have to wonder how much longer we'll keep our jobs. In the meantime, we don't want to pay the same price for goods made in Mexico that we're willing to pay for American goods.

So should anyone wonder that Mexican laborers still want to come north to get better paying jobs? Maybe if we shipped more jobs south we'd stem the flow of illegal immigrants. Maybe if we decided to pay the same prices for Mexican goods as for U.S. goods we'd stem the flow of illegal immigrants.

I could go on, but time and space don't allow for that. While many Norte Americanos feel somehow threatened by the Mexicans and other Latin Americans who cross our borders illegally, they're just coming here (for the most part) to find work that we ourselves are not willing to do. We cannot afford to live on $500 a month. We need $5000 a month so we can drive the best cars and live in big houses.

American men have no problem crossing the Mexican border to visit prostitutes, many of them only teenagers, who have no other means of earning a living. Many Mexican girls who come north are driven to become prostitutes either through slavery or desperation. So how badly do their patrons want to send them home? They might be better off if we did deport them, but that's just insult to injury. The real problem is that we want cheap labor and cheap goods but we're not willing to tolerate the full cost of keeping the prices of labor and goods in the conveniently affordable range.

There is no quick, easy solution to the illegal immigration issue. It's not a problem, it's a whole set of problems, many of which really have nothing to do with Latin Americans. Last year, a girl from Mexico lost both her legs below the knees while trying to jump a train in Texas. She came here because she needed work. American factory workers sometimes complain that people like her take their jobs away. In fact, the people who are taking away American jobs are the CEOs who enact cost-cutting measures in order to keep their stockholders happy.

How many Mexican girls do you honestly believe would want to lose their legs just so hey can be deported for trying to pick tomatoes -- a job neither you nor I want to do anyway?

If the best response you can bring to these and other concerns is along the lines of, "This is our country, not theirs" or "they don't belong here", think again. The truth is that this country was founded by immigrant families, it was built by immigrant families, and it has long been defended by immigrant families who have sacrificed sons and limbs to fight in America's wars (and my father served this country for 24 years as a soldier). The fact that today millions of Americans don't have the right piece of paper in their hands doesn't make them any less Americans. Some of them only want to work here temporarily. Some want to live here permanently.

There is still room to spare for new people. And we need new people because we're not having as many babies as we used to. When you're old and depending on an immigrant to wheel you around the hospital, you'll thank God stupid anti-immigrant laws didn't pass review.

If there is a problem, the solution is not to close our borders. The solution is to help people find the means of providing safe, comfortable lives in their own countries while encouraging a reasonable number to join us and keep our culture and our economy rolling along. We won't find that solution through close-mindedness, prejudice, and failing to take responsibility for our own actions.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes this country was founded by immigrants but that was years ago when there was plenty of land to live on. Now we have our own Americans who are living in poverty working minimum wage jobs and have no place to live so why should we allow illegal immigrants to come here and take jobs away that belong to Americans and legal immigrants. We don't have spare room for people who come here have more babies, take state and federal assistance, and cause the more crime infested areas.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Michael Martinez said...

We do have people living in poverty. So one must ask why they are not standing in the rain and the cold, applying for those jobs that so far only the illegal immigrants are willing to take.

In order for the illegal immigrants to take jobs away from American citizens, there have to be citizens who want the jobs that the illegal immigrants take.

There are some moral aspects to the illegal immigrant situation that I would like to see corrected, but closing the border and denying jobs to the only people willing to do them doesn't strike me as a very productive solution.

If we legitimize the immigrants so that we can tax them, they'll at least bear part of the burden for the social services they need.

Then we can devote more resources to rescuing the Mexican girls who are kidnapped and forced into prostitution to service construction workers and other migrant laborers who don't bother to ask whether the girls that take care of their needs wanted those jobs.

4:43 PM  

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