Immigrants keep the American Dream alive

A few years back, it seemed Republican politicians might have been considering trying to win elections based on economic policy, until enough voters did the math and realized their budget plans and economic claims didn’t add up. So now, just as when Karl Rove was calling the campaign shots for George Bush, it appears they’ve concluded all they’ve got left is the anger stuff. The them-against-us stuff, the scary, Fox “news” stuff. I hope I’m not the only one who finds it disheartening, because I still cling to the belief that having two strong opposing parties, each with good ideas and a desire for honest discourse, is what, in times long gone, accounted for America’s greatness.

Well, as they say, when all you’ve got is a hammer (in this case, economic policies that have failed every time they’ve been tried), everything starts to look like a nail. Today’s Tea-Party-dominated Republican party, rife with “poor-me”-ism, has tossed the towel and resumed pounding the reliable ralliers of retrograde revanchists: immigration, sex, and religious paranoia. (North Carolina, fast becoming a singularity of insanity, recently disgorged a dazzling legislative twofer: restricting abortion and banning Sharia law in the same bill. Sharia law! North Carolinians must be sleeping much better now.)

There’s not room here to cover it all, so let’s observe our self-described fiscal conservatives as they deal with the fast-disappearing problem of immigration. What got them to agree to consider legislation that tries to address illegal immigrants already here and contributing? Militarizing our southern border. Adding 20,000 more guards: one about every 275 feet. Spending billions of dollars, much of which will go to giant defense contractors: Northrup Grumman radar systems, Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters, others made by American Eurocopter and Bell. (Yes: manufacturers are specifically named in the bill. Anyone wonder why?)

At this point it’s worth reminding everyone that, under President Obama, there have been more deportations of illegal immigrants than during any previous presidency. And that crossings of our border with Mexico have dropped to a net of zero. I’m not suggesting it’s easy to deal with the issue of undocumented immigrants already here; but as an ongoing problem, illegal immigration has moved way down the list of things we desperately need to address. And yet, if you listen to Congressional Republicans, you’d think we’re still being overrun. When the problems we have are too tall for single-story thinkers, all you can do to rally the troops, evidently, is turn to the tried and true tropes of tactical trickery. It’s what you do when you figure your voters are too dumb to notice, or too frightened to care.

A few years ago I volunteered as a community observer of culminating projects by graduating high school seniors. It was an eye-opener. (I’ll stipulate that I only saw a few, hardly a representative sample.) One was a girl who’d spent months in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia, having escaped the war in Iraq. Required to include a slideshow, she’d made impressive multi-functional ones, and spoke in considerable detail, in perfect English, about the work she’d done, with obvious pride. Following her was a U.S.-born girl, who, it was clear, had slapped something together at the last minute, her slides minimal and uninformative, her affect disinterested. I saw a Hispanic boy, many of whose immigrant family came, too, beaming with pride. Same with an Asian kid. Not a single U.S.-born (dare I add “white?”) student was accompanied by family. The contrast was startling.

There’s nothing more destructive to our future than the anti-immigrant fire burning amongst so many of us (except, maybe, the recently reported halting of medical and scientific research due to forced budget cuts), fanned by the unformed anger of the wrongest of our rightest wing, and manipulated for electoral advantage by their cynical political leaders. If the American dream survives anywhere, it’s in our immigrant community. Look at the names of students winning spelling bees, science and math awards, giving valedictory speeches, earning scholarships. Without them, our country would become locked in a time warp; fulfilling Tea Party dreams, while creating a nightmare for our kids.

Illegal is illegal. No one (except, maybe, conservative agri-businessmen) is in favor of illegal immigration. But the wholesale rejection of immigration by large chunks of today’s Republican Party, as it sees its relevance fading like aging drapery, is the most pernicious thing they propose. Other than the rest of their agenda, like the aforementioned defunding of everything we need to survive as a nation.

Sid Schwab lives in Everett. Send emails to columnsid@gmail.com.

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