Three days ago I was talking to a friend who doesn’t understand why there is such a huge furor over the existence of so many millions of undocumented/illegal “aliens” in this country. First, let me say I don’t like the term “alien.” These aren’t extraterrestrial beings; they are human beings, from planet Earth. I prefer the term “undocumented immigrants” or “illegal immigrant.”
I’m conflicted about this issue. My friend believes all borders should be open and anyone who wants to come here and live should be allowed to do that. That used to be the way it was. Think Ellis Island. So many people fleeing oppression in their native lands came here through Ellis Island. We are a nation comprised of immigrants. We call ourselves Americans and we ARE Americans, but we are ALL, every one of us, descended from some nation other than America with the exception of those who were native to this country when it was taken over by Europeans.
I’m not sure how I feel about the estimated 13 million undocumented workers in this country. Should we naturalize all of them and allow them to become citizens, thereby being part of our tax base? Wait, though. Most of them would not become part of the tax base. I’ll talk about that in a bit.
How do they get here if our borders are so well-guarded? Here’s how it works: There is a network of LEGAL central and south American workers who came over years ago. Others did for them what they do for the undocumented now. They found work, usually at lower wages than American citizens would accept, and usually doing work that has traditionally been delegated for migrant workers. These individuals do not infuse our economy with their hard-earned (and they ARE hard-earned) dollars. They live 20-30 in a tiny home, usually owned or rented by someone who is legal. They send almost all their earnings back to their native country to support their families.
Usually one will come, and establish him or herself through a network of “safe houses.” That person will find work through a network of sympathetic citizens and non-citizens who know the companies that will hire those who are undocumented, even though it is illegal in this country to do so. The individual lives in this country, illegally, working illegally, being housed and supported illegally, while saving until enough money has been saved to pay herders in Mexico to get the rest of his family and/or friends to, and across, the American border, avoiding Arizona at all costs. The families come here and are sent through the network of safe houses so they can meet up with their family member who has been working here.
America has long been held as the shining beacon of hope for oppressed citizens of other countries, and in particular, those countries in Central and south America. There are two levels of society in those countries, rich and poverty. The majority of the people who come here illegally live at a level of poverty that we wouldn’t recognize unless we went to places in Appalachia or the back woods of Maine, or even just downtown to the worst slums in our inner cities. I understand why they want to come here. I understand how they cling to their stories that America is paved with streets of gold. Hope springs eternal. It is part of the human condition. Without hope, we die.
Here’s my conundrum: My heart and conscience feels obligated to help others with less than I have, regardless who they are. My common sense says that’s impractical. I am one of America’s 10% unemployed. On unemployment, I make “too much” to qualify for other services, such as food stamps, medicaid, welfare, etc. Unemployment leaves me $77 to eat monthly unless I opt to short-pay a bill each month.
I rely on the taxes I paid into the system ALREADY to support me now, in a time of need. I don’t make ends meet.
I can’t find work. I’ve been unemployed for 8 months and still cannot find permanent full-time work that will allow me to come off unemployment. I’m at an age where I cannot do the backbreaking work that undocumented workers do. Still, there are many who are much younger than I am who CAN do this work.
America is at a crossroads. We are unable to employ and feed our own, yet we have non-citizens streaming across our borders, being aided by citizens and non-citizens, alike, who are sending money out of the country that could be plowed back into our economy, and that money is being used to bring even more non-citizens to this country who become a burden upon our economy. Their sheer numbers have created a climate that provides less-than-ethical companies (okay, most of Corporate America is less-than-ethical) to hire workers at a wage that is much lower than the mandated minimum wage for American citizens. That wage is not a living wage for Americans, but for undocumented workers, who will live 20-30 people to a 5 room house, it’s more than enough to provide food, clothing, and shelter.
I just watched a show entitled “This (Illegal) American Life.” If it’s illegal, it’s not American. The reporter on the show interviewed a girl getting ready to graduate from UCLA. Her father came here first, got work and sent his money out of the country to his wife. When enough was saved, his wife, his three year old (now graduating from UCLA), one-year old and unborn daughters came across the border, came through the network of safe-houses and joined him. All but the unborn member of the family are still undocumented. They are all still illegal.
I know why the father came here. I know why he sent for his family. But here is his family, one a citizen because she was BORN here, thus, can get a license, a social security number, a birth certificate. She is enrolled, legally, in a local high school.
His eldest daughter was three years old when she came here, in the trunk of a car, with her pregnant mother and her one-year-old sister. This daughter lives in a quasi-dormitory set up specifically for undocumented students at UCLA. This girl managed to illegally attend high school in America, has a job as an undocumented worker, and attended UCLA as an undocumented resident of this country. How?
She stated she could not get student loans, and it was also stated that those who can’t afford to continue their education will take a semester off to work (illegally) for their college tuition, and will go back to school the next semester. This girl runs a program for undocumented high school students, mentoring them. Mentoring them, HOW? How to beat the AMERICAN system? She was shown teaching one undocumented resident how to write a good resume. That implies that someone is going to hire this student. Illegally. It also implies that one more American who is unemployed, and who would welcome a minimum-wage job, won’t get that job because an illegal and undocumented high school student will take that job for a wage lower than the federally mandated minimum wage.
I understand that ALL these people want a better life. What about our OWN poverty-stricken? Don’t they deserve a better life? Are they not willing to work? I’m not talking about welfare moms who work the system (and I’m not saying that ALL welfare moms do this).
I’m talking about those (and I know quite a few) who are willing and able to work, AT ANY JOB, but can’t get one because their lack of education – citizens of this country, with a lack of education, yet an undocumented can go to UCLA) – leaves them few options but to attempt to find work at the same companies that are hiring undocumented workers for dollars less per hour than minimum wage.
As long as there are companies willing to hire undocumented workers at a wage lower than the federally mandated minimum wage, America will continue to be flooded with immigrants who place a burden on our society in a way THEY can’t see, thus deny, as this young girl did.
She says she gets angry when she hears people protest at the presence of undocumented workers in this country, taking jobs from legal Americans. She doesn’t see how this can place a burden on our economy, and she’s getting ready to graduate from UCLA.
Let me see if I can put this plainly to her: Your father came here illegally. He is still illegal. He was helped through a network of safe houses and people who found him illegal work. He sent his money back to your mother, in Mexico until there was enough money for the rest of you to come here.
You came. You lived in a small house with many other families and friends, all illegal. You took work for pay that was considered illegal in this country, thus putting LEGAL AMERICAN CITIZENS at a disadvantage, and leaving them to live in poverty.
In doing this, you created a tax burden the likes of which this country has never seen, but you can’t see how your presence here, your PRIVILEGED EDUCATION as and ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT may have caused a true American to be unable to feed his or her own family???? How big of a 2X4 do you need to hit you in the head? What are they teaching you at UCLA that you don’t understand this very simple equation?
This young lady and her family do not pay taxes. They do not live as Americans. They live as illegal immigrants, and they enjoy all the comforts of this country, which is more than most truly poverty-stricken American CITIZENS can enjoy.
I’m 50 years old and I have never been able to finish my college education. I raised a child by myself, always working full time, always making “too much” to qualify for social services. At 50, I am unemployed, living on a little more than $8 an hour (which is the max unemployment will pay), I do not qualify for food stamps or any other government-run social programs.
My family is too busy taking care of their own families and do not have the money to help me. My son, who is 22, can’t qualify for Pell grants because he lives with his dad, who can claim him as a dependent on his income taxes. My son can’t afford to live on his own, either. He could certainly qualify for student loans, but then he’d have to pay them back, IF he could find work once out of college.
The young lady I speak to in this post enjoyed a full college education because her ILLEGAL family and friends worked together, pooled their money, and helped send her to college. She will be expected to help in the same fashion when it comes time for her illegal sister to go to college. This young lady’s money will go to support herself, but it will also go to support her illegal family and friends, and much of that money will, in all probability, be sent OUT OF THIS COUNTRY to bring in more illegals.
Her legal sister, who was born here, will qualify for all kinds of social services, grants, etc. All the daughters of this family a fashionable mode, and the eldest daughter obviously has the money to get her hair and nails done and has the money to purchase cosmetics and skin-care products. Find me a poverty-stricken family in Appalachia or in the back woods of Maine who can do that. I can’t do that. At 50, I cut my own hair because I can’t afford even the $20 to go to a Hair Cuttery.
Some of the hardships I experienced were due to cultural differences between America and other cultures. In America, families don’t support one another the way they do in other countries. Mexico is a good example. Mexicans are used to sharing – they are used to living in small homes with lots of people, and the most poverty-stricken Mexicans live in squalor – in conditions that mirror those of Appalachian poverty. When they come here, they continue to live in large communities, creating their own small societies wherever they go, each person contributing to the welfare of the entire group, if possible. They build families with children born here, mostly deliberate, so they will not be deported. If a child is a citizen and the parents are not citizens, the odds are good the parents are not going to be deported. Instead, our tax dollars will go toward creating a legal status for the illegal parents.
So do I believe all illegal immigrants should be deported? No. I believe there needs to be a huge social overhaul of our nation. I believe that the “at-will” law that many of our states have for employment should be stricken from the books. I believe that we need to facilitate education that teaches US how to take care of each other. Yes, this will lead to a lower standard of living for SOME, but for the most part, it will level the playing field. I do not advocate poverty for anyone, but I agree that those who HAVE, should shoulder a greater portion of the responsibility for making certain those citizens of their country can live at a level that provides stability. Currently, our middle and upper-classes live to excess and many live beyond their means.
Our economy isn’t in the toilet just because if illegal immigration. We must accept our own culpability for creating this situation. We must rid ourselves of the sense of entitlement that tells us we have a RIGHT to use up 25% of the fossil fuel supply of our planet, that says we have a RIGHT to drive the biggest, shiniest, most ecologically abusive vehicles, that says we have a RIGHT to wear expensive designer clothing, run credit cards to the maximum and not pay the bills and default on our other obligations.
We must lose the image-consciousness that bleeds across our borders and is translated to “America: Our Streets Are Paved With Gold.” They are not paved with gold and the sad thing is that many of these immigrants come here and are faced with that cold, hard fact. They see media-generated images and believe that is what America is. America is fast becoming a nation of lost values.
Do I wish hardship and poverty on illegals? Absolutely not. I believe, however, that it is incumbent upon us to take care of our own, first. I believe it should be somehow MANDATED that we do this. I don’t know how that can be done without violating our constitution. I don’t have any of the answers. Do you?