Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mr. Bush, tear down this wall!

Societies are marked by symbols. History guides us by the lasting symbols we leave behind. For the Romans you could say the coliseum represented all that was good and evil in their culture. The Parthenon of the ancient greeks tells us of their engineering skill and devotion to thought. The great wall of China gives provides us with a symbol of exclusion and prohibitive safety.

But walls are the symbol I want to talk about in this post. A wall (of sorts) is being erected by our government or at least it is supposed to be. That wall is going to be constructed because we Americans, the richest, most powerful citizens this planet has ever produced are afraid. We fear what lies to our south and thus we are building a wall to make certain it cannot come north.

What are we so afraid of? Has our Southern neighbor, Mexico, grown powerful enough to invade? Do we believe a larger insideous foe will trample over the weakened Mexico and storm our southern border? Was it the Islamic terrorists of 9/11 coming over the border and hijacking our planes that created the worst terrorist attack in the nation's history?

We know none of these are the case. No, we are afraid of people that cross our border clinging to the underside of trucks, or traveling the swealtering desserts to rob us of the right to pick our own fruit, move our own stones for the yard, and build the places we don't have enough workers for.

We, the American people are afraid the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The very people from all over the world that Lady Liberty welcomed into New York harbor. We are afraid to give economic opportunity to those we are mightier than.

What is truly insideous about our fear of the Mexican people is that they have become the straw man for nearly every domestic policy issue we face in America today. Lou Dobbs and the rest of his xyenophobic allies have convinced middle class Americans that their jobs are in danger-despite 4% unemployment. Illegal immigrants are blamed for the high cost of health care, because they often use hospital emergency rooms without paying. While this is certainly a drain on our system, it is nothing in comparison to the price gauging that occurs when it comes to prescription drugs, or the cost of malpractice insurance, and does little to effect the 47 million Americans who simply go without healthcare. Illegal immigrants are charged with bringing everything from drugs, to violence, to syphilis to our nation. This is a false argument. Of course there is a minority of the population that brings with it these issues. But Dobbs would have you believe these are the people that took your job, closed your hospital and raped your drug-addicted daughter.

There are over 12 million illegal immigrants living in America. The vast majority of which work for low minimum wages, performing the tasks no one here, not even high school kids want to do. They do it because even our worst living situations often outshine their best. They do it for hope of a better future. Like the Italians, the Irish, the Scandinavians, and the rest did in the early part of the twentieth century. I can almost hear Dobbs now, "BUT THEY CAME HERE LEGALLY!"

Well of course they did. There were huge quotas in the US. Immigration was seen as the engine of a growing economy. Millions streamed into this country, bringing their work ethic, skills, passion, and desire for a better future. They were welcomed, certainly as second-class citizens expected to do the jobs no one else wanted to do, but they were granted legal entry and allowed to build their life. What is so different between then and now? 

When did we let the American ethic of free trade and open markets get overrun by fear mongering? We seem to have wanted it both ways here in America. We wanted the cheap produce, landscaping, contractor work, manual labor and child care. But not the responsibility to make these people American citizens, like our relatives were allowed. We have decided that the American dream is the exclusive domain of those already here. That is a great tragedy. 

It is a tragedy that we are more likely to build a fence than solve a problem.  We will build ineffective barriers that send a signal to the world that we are not a country that welcomes the new. We are a country that seeks only to take advantage. 

Comprehensive immigration reform that gives people a path to citizenship and changes the way the naturalization process works is vital to the future of this country. Walls and fences don't work. Just ask the Chinese. 

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