An ignored side of illegal immigration: second generation success
The current immigration insanity in Arizona has polarized the public along the predictable lines of seperation. Some people believe that Mexicans desperately fleeing paralyzing poverty in their own country to feed their children should be treated with respect, decency, and compassion. They should be given a fair opportunity to work in the United States and gain legal status. Other people blend paranoia and xenophobia to spread hated of hispanics, especially in Arizona where they will now be subject to racial profiling in the form of demands to see their “papers,” as if they were pedigrees in an elite dog show.
Throughout the debate, the typically impotent left fails to articulate itself persuasively, even with sanity and morality on its side, while the non-libertarian right screams about terrorism, illegal drugs, and how Latino immigrants are to blame for nearly everything that is wrong with the economy, pausing only to wipe the foam from their mouths. Unfortunately, arbitrators of opinion on all sides in the media and most political officials miss an essential social fact when discussing this important issue: second generation upward mobility or, at least, the potential for it.
When I was in college I met two fellow students whose fathers crossed the American-Mexican border illegally, worked unimaginably hard to build stable and secure lives, gained legal status after many years of labor and bureaucratic games, had families, and raised their children to value education, determination and diligence. Their children then had opportunities they never had, obtained an education they never could, and enjoyed greater success than they ever did–one as an accountant and the other as a public relations consultant for a liberal arts college. The generational improvement in these families represents what people worshipfully call the “American dream.” Stories like this, while they may become increasingly rare given the oligarchic changes in the economy that have steadily corroded chances for upward mobility over the past three decades, offer hope to not only newly arrived immigrants, but all Americans who hope against hope that their children will have better lives than them.
At what point in the lives of the two once illegal fathers would treating them as criminal dangers with stop-and-search demands for identification and legal threats of deportation have helped them, their families, or their newly adopted home country? If anything, they should have been an easier path to citizenship. The approximate 50,000 green cards that are issued each year are not even close to filling demand, especially considering that immigrants from countries with low US immigrant rates are given higher priority.
Social mobility and cultural assimilation are flip sides to the same coin. The Latino students I met in college, like most children of immigrants–illegal or legal–were proud of their ethnic heritage and enjoyed its cultural trappings, but were identifiably American–linguistically, politically, and socially. They should be treasured as not only precious human beings, but also important symbols, which are becoming increasingly difficult to find, of America’s greatness.
The wealth of this country–financial, cultural, and spiritual–is a direct result of the physical, intellectual, and spiritual labor of immigrants. The immigrant story is the best part of the American story. No one should allow crackpot Sheriffs, cowardly politicians, and ice covered pundits blowing hot air to write its next chapter.