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Just like the Italians

The Wall Street Journal took on immigration again Wednesday, poking holes in nativists’ favorite arguments.

A page one article, last in their series “Moving Up: Challenges to The American Dream,” shows that the Mexican migrants have indeed assimilated and risen in the United States like other migrant groups.

The lead editorial of the day, “Fortress America,” discusses how spending on the Border Patrol and other agencies guarding the border has tripled in 16 years. The effect? Illegal immigration has increased. Militarizing the borders doesn’t work.



Oh my. Such angst over what comes to about 3 percent of the nation’s population. We have a much higher percentage in the Vail Valley, thanks mainly to the many, many low-wage, low-skill service jobs here that need to be filled.

We can’t fill all of our openings, and the future labor shortage is projected to be much greater. Our unemployment rate is ridiculously low. Want a job? Take one, or two. Please. Still the wailing continues nearly unabated about the illegals taking “all” the jobs. Fat chance. Employers can’t find enough warm bodies, never mind qualified folks to fill all of their positions.

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Ah, but the illegals are reducing the pay so the natives can’t compete. In some cases surely that’s true. But somehow the pay for most unskilled to low-skilled positions is much, much higher here than in “normal” America. Construction pays better, washing dishes pays better. Really, it’s the professional positions that don’t pay up to city scale ” lawyers, teachers, police. Illegal migrants won’t get those jobs.

It may be counter-intuitive for the anti-immigration zealots, but President Bush is correct. Legalizing more of the Mexican tide would be a lot more helpful than dumping billiions into guarding the border against people who do indeed fill the lowest-ladder jobs in America.

And sorry, the trillions they generate for the economy far outweighs the drain on our welfare system, although there are measures to take tightening social services, true.



The Journal article that follows the story of one once “illegal” family whose children got educated and moved into the upper middle class has some interesting quotes, from scholars who have found that the Mexicans are becoming part of America just as the earlier tides of immgrants have done ” including many of the Anglos’ ancestors.

Here’s a telling point: “When Irish, Italians, Jews and other Europeans flocked to the United States in the late 1800s, there was fear of an exploding underclass. An 1892 report annual report of the U.S. superintendent of immigration referred to ‘an enormous influx of foreigners unacquainted with our language and customs.’ It noted that the majority of these unfortunates came here without money and without skill as workmen,’ and warned that they were turning into a ‘new undesirable class.'”

Same with other periods, including the Potato Famine era before the Civil War for the Irish, who rioted in New York when conscripted as cannon fodder against the South and before that in one infamous battle switched sides and fought with the Mexicans in the Mexican-American War. Yes, we’ve since taken over, much like rabbits.

The Journal explains that the European groups eventually entered the mainstream, as of course we know, since most of our roots are there even if we’ve long forgotten the hardships and attitudes of our immigrant ancestors.

As for the Mexicans: “James Smith of the Rand Corp., a think tank in Santa Monica, Calif., found that educational progress across three generations of Mexicans ” immigrants, their children and their grand-children ” is the same or greater than the progress of Europeans who arrived in the late 1800s and early 1900s.” And education is the key.

“The Mexian arrivals are conspicuous because they don’t speak English and do the worst jobs,” Frank D. Bean, an immigration researcher at the University of California, Irving, told the Journal. “That reinforces the idea of an underclass that keeps getting bigger and doesn’t change. But it does change.”

The story pokes holes in the smug assumptions of nativists of today who like to pretend their ancesters came over waving the red, white and blue and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which of course didn’t even exist then. The reality was they were starving and had to rip themselves from home. America seemed as good a place as any to try for a new life.

They pooled in ghettos, they slept too many in too small of housing, they spoke their language, and they scratched livings taking the worst jobs. Their kids did a little better, and their kids kids moved up from there. That’s the reality for all but a few. Most of the immigrants of yore would be “illegal” by today’s standards.

“We have a tendency to romanticize the experience of past immigrants,” Jeffrey Passel, an immigration demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C., told the Journal. “Yes, there was progress. But the real progress came with their children and grandchildren.”

In other words, the “golden days” of “good” immigrants never existed. They were reviled mainly by those who were just a little farther up the ladder for the same reasons: they worked for less, they were willing to work harder, and they provided competition that seemed unfair. It is tough stuff.

Yesterday, as today, education is the key.

Many of today’s assimilated Mexicans ” two, three and more generations in this country, now fully American ” have the nativist reaction to today’s migrants. That shouldn’t be a surprise. The impulse is not inherently racist, as these zealots are often dismissed as being. Oh, sure, plenty of them are racist, too. But nativism is distinct.

The best evidence is the American citizens with Mexican heritage who have been here for generations who decry the fresh over-the -border bunch here today.

The simplest fact is that America still has lots of opportunity at the bottom of the ladder, and Mexico is such a mess that risking your life to live illegally in another country only makes sense if you want to survive.

I believe our anti-immigrant zealots would be the first to go for it if the conditions reversed. They are squawking the loudest because they feel the most threatened by the most vulnerable 3 percent of folks in America, so they must feel they have the most to lose.

Hence, they’d be the first to go if in the same shoes.


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