I emigrated to the United States thirty one years ago. It seems like such a long time but to me it passed so quickly. The reasons why I came here are the same reasons people still come to the US, for economic opportunities, to make a better life that would not be possible if I stayed. And of course for the American dream, that if you worked hard and played by the rules you would be rewarded for your hard work. I realize that I came here in better circumstances than many people who came before me, and some people who arrive now. I was not forced to flee due to war, famine, genocide, religious persecution or extreme poverty. I was fortunate to have a good high school education and the ability to speak, read and write the English language. While this is the minimal requirements for the most basic entry level position, people who emigrate from poor, non-English speaking countries will not arrive with these skills.
Thirty one years ago, the conversation about emigration, was similar to what is being discussed today. An Immigration and Reform Control Act was passed in November of that year by Congress. It was a compromise that sought to legalize the undocumented already here and restrict the arrival of more by enacting harsh restrictions on newly arriving undocumented. As we now know it failed to stem the tide and instead drove the undocumented deeper into the shadows. The politicians have given the immigration quagmire little more than lip service at election time since , be they pro or anti comprehensive reform. In the mean time the fortunes of the American middle class have declined. Corporations in search of ever greater profits relocated to cheaper labor markets overseas, and left the industrial cities and towns of the US without a source of income to support them. The vacuum is filled for the most part by drugs and crime, and people watched helpless as their prosperity and security disappeared. It is not difficult to understand why they feel apathy, at best and at worst, hatred towards immigrants and refugees. The events of 9-11 added a new dimension to this issue. I had family, friends and neighbors who were directly victimized by the events of that day. People have very emotional thoughts and sentiments about the perpetrators of that atrocity. That they were Muslim and acting to destroy the US has been seared into the psyche of many citizens. The country that was the beacon of hope to the desperate of the world has closed the door to some of the most desperate. I do not know if this is correct. It may be for sound security reasons but I hope it is not for political expediency. I think everyone, on both sides of the political divide, have been let down by the politicians they elected to serve them. I can only hope that a new generation of civic minded people will emerge from our Universities and Colleges. I hope they will come armed with the morality, decency and the internal fortitude to make the difficult decisions that are needed to benefit all.
Issue No. 18 • Spring 2017