I am for immigration in principle but with some qualifications. I would like, if possible, to see more people become U.S. citizens.
It is an issue that splits tens of millions of Americans and, I suspect, tens of millions of others in advanced social welfare democracies.
First, a few basics about immigrants, America and the personal experience of my family. We are largely a nation of immigrants. It is in our DNA.
The Bresigers and the O’Briens
My maternal grandparents, the O’Briens, came here from Ireland around World War I because of political persecution. They and their forebears had lived as Catholics in a nation run by the British. They had even forced the Irish to pay for a foreign Protestant church until the practice was ended by the enlightened British leader W.E. Gladstone in the 1870s. He was one of the few English leaders in the 19th century who had a sense of some of the injustice perpetrated by the British Empire on Erin. My Irish family was happy to come to a nation where there was no state church.
My paternal grandparents, the Bresigers, were economic refugees. They came here from Vienna as the Hapsburg Empire was collapsing. It would later be destroyed in part because the Allies in World War I made many wrong nation building choices after the war. This nation building is a disease that affects some of America’s imperial elite today who seem to think it is their role to remake the world in their image.
My Bresiger grandparents came here with nothing. They immigrated because of the promise of a new beginning in America. They lived in an Austrian/German slum on the upper East Side of Manhattan—some called it Little Bavaria—that ironically is today one of the priciest places in an incredibly expensive city (It costs a lot to keep our political ruling class well fed here in the land of Tweeds).
Coming to America
Both sides of my family came here to work hard and to assimilate. Indeed, my father didn’t speak German in our house unless he was talking to his mother.
It was thought that my ever-comely big sister, Karen, and I should only learn and speak English. So we lost many of our Austrian/German cultural traditions (Es tut mir leid!!).
But this was the common experience of many of those immigrant groups. They wanted to become part of American society and they insisted on following cultural norms and, more importantly, all the legal rules. They came here and went through all the steps to ensure that they would become citizens. They didn’t sneak into the country illegally.
Some of today’s immigrants don’t have that view. First and foremost, millions come to America illegally. This is where I make an exception to my pro immigrant feeling.
The Path to Citizenship
People should come to the United States, or any nation, legally. They should want to learn the language of the nation where they want to live. No reasonable, fair minded person expects them to speak perfect English no more than anyone expected me to speak perfect Spanish or French when I visited Espana and France. In those two nations the vast majority of people I encountered were delighted that I was attempting to speak their language. They recognized that my attempts at their language, imperfect as they were, were a sign of respect for their nation and culture. So they encouraged me; they, in effect, became my teachers. And I wasn’t planning on living in either of these two delightful nations.
Hence, it should not be too much for people who want do more than visit, who want our citizenship, to legally enter the country and learn—without giving up their culture—our language and cultural norms. It is one sign that someone is serious about his or her second country. It is one indication that this person doesn’t want to become an ugly American stereotype. The latter is an American living abroad, spending most of his or her time with other American expats, and making no attempt to learn the culture and language of the country.
Is this asking too much?
I don’t think so. In fact, I believe it is something the visitor or the immigrant should want to do.
National Security and Immigration
Indeed. in an age of terrorism; in an age when many people have legally or illegally entered our country and committed incredible acts of murder, legal immigration must be required. Many people have slipped through the fingers of the immigration authorities and caused incredible misery. The perception, rightly or wrongly, that the authorities were lax with these people before 2016 is one reason why Donald Trump was elected. There are even some Americans who object to any moves to try to stop illegal immigration. There are even people today who want to suspend all efforts to arrest illegal immigrants. Some of them are elected public officials playing to a narrow constituency; a city or a state.
Still, the president goes too far in trying to correct the problem of illegals; such as barring all immigration from some countries. Although I want more immigrants to become Americans, there should be tighter controls. People should have to show why they want to come here, how they will live here—what kind of work they can get—and prove that they have some kind of understanding of the language or are working to achieve it.
And what about the millions of people who are already here illegally?
I want Americans to be compassionate about many of these people. If you have been here for years, have a job, have not committed any crimes and have sponsors who will speak on your behalf, then I would offer many of these people a path to citizenship. They might be able to obtain citizenship in five or six years if they show they have acted in good faith and have been respected members of a community. However, at the same time, I would redouble efforts at the border to stop people from illegally entering the country. But expecting the Mexicans, who have their own problems with illegal immigration, to build and pay for a wall is idiotic.
Why not just let them all in? Why not just suspend all immigration laws as some on the left, who have opposed federal efforts to identify illegals, have argued?
It is because the next group of terrorists who come into the states might do so as a part of a group of poor people seeking work or escaping from political tyranny in another country. These terrorists could carry a dirty bomb and blow up a large part of a city. These mad dog terrorists are a threat to our country or any civilized nation as the Mexican government believes in drastically dealing with illegals who come into Southern Mexico from Guatemala.
We Want More
Finally, the goal should be to take in more legal immigrants—more Bresigers and O’Briens as well as people with Latin and Asian names; a mosaic of the whole world.
Firstly, immigrants are in the genes of the United States; they are our lifeblood. They have helped to rejuvenate the nation with each new wave of people seeking a better life. Secondly, because we are at our best when we take in the unwanted, the poor and the politically persecuted of other nations. Think of the hundreds of thousands of boat people we took in at the end of the disastrous Vietnam War.
It’s great we took them. But, in my opinion, we should have taken more. How have those families done here? Think of the incredible contributions of those Vietnamese people—now Americans—have made to our country; everything from running restaurants, succeeding in many professions while many of their kids were winning Westinghouse Science awards.
I was, and will always remain, a critic of that terrible Vietnam war; which was unnecessary as so many of our wars have been as GregoryBresiger.com has previously documented in our series on the American warfare state. However, a policy of taking in war refugees is something any nation should be proud of as are any acts of compassion we carry out in our daily lives.
Finally, there is another. very practical, coldly self-serving, reason for taking in more immigrants. We need them as much as they need us. You see, as GregoryBresiger.com has repeatedly recorded, our social insurance programs are a mess because the government is a lousy money manager. It is mainly because, when these systems were running big surpluses, the extra money was spent by governments both left and right on other things. However, this money, which was in a trust fund, was supposed to have been saved for the time when the birthrate would start to decline as it has been in America and, by the way, more drastically Western Europe and Japan.
But expecting the government to manage its finances effectively, to plan for the long term or beyond the next election when everyone wants to hang on to power, is about as reasonable to expecting President Trump to become a Rhodes scholar or the Clintons to shun self-promotion and avarice.
Not Enough In—Too Much Going Out
Now we have a big problem. Lots of people are collecting on these social insurance programs for longer and longer periods, but not enough suckers, I mean workers, are coming into the system to pay for the rest of us (I say suckers because if you took the money you “contributed” (sic) to Social Security over 40 or 50 years and put it into the stock market, which has an average long term return of about nine percent annually, you’d have millions of dollars and not the measly amounts you will get back from Social Security. Example, $300 a month over 40 years at nine percent interest a year yields $1,414,929. By the way some supporters of Social Security now say we must consider cutbacks).
So we need more immigrants to come here and work, paying into our social insurance systems, keeping Social Security and Medicare from going bust. There are millions of would-be hard-working immigrants who would come here en seguida and who would be delighted to do so. They can bring their talents and dreams. They can have children who will grow up to make our nation better. All a reasonable person should ask is that they follow the same rules of previous generations of immigrants, which is not a lot to ask.
It sounds like a good deal for all of us.