This is immigrant nation. Unless you're a hundred percent Native American, you have immigrants' blood running through your veins. Your ancestry may go all the way back to the Mayflower, or it may go back only one or two generations, but immigrants' blood is what you've got. In fact, chances are that you are full-blooded immigrant, as your ancestors married ancestors born from immigrant ancestors, and so forth. Or perhaps you are blessed with a few drops of Native American blood, but otherwise, next time you look in the mirror say: "Howdy immigrant, what are you up to today?"
Your ancestors may have been forced against their will, or they may have come in search of opportunity, to escape poverty, famine or war. For every immigrant there is a story, and many of them are heart breaking. This country was built on sweat and tears; immigrant's sweat and immigrant's tears.
And I too, am an immigrant, and an ex-illegal alien to boot.
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How it came to be
I was born in Amsterdam, Holland (a.k.a. the Netherlands), in 1949. In 1978, when I was 29 years of age, I came to the USA for what was supposed to be a short visit. I was here one week when I met a girl and fell in love. I stayed, worked hard, did alright. Remember, this was long before September 11th, and no one really cared much. I got a driver's license, bank accounts, credit cards, started my own business -- all without any trouble. I assure you, none of this was planned. I didn't come here in search of opportunity or to escape famine or war or poverty. Holland is a rich country where freedom is highly priced and opportunities abound. As far as economic strength, business or career opportunities, average income and disposable income, health care, education, freedom and just about anything else we favor are concerned, it's hard to beat the Netherlands.
I'm the accidental immigrant -- illegal for a number of years, because by the time I decided to stay here permanently, my marriage had fallen apart and it was too late to apply for a green card. But as usual, timing was in my favor.
In 1986 and 8 years into my illegal alien life, a Democrat from Kentucky and a Republican from Wyoming put together the Immigration Reform and Control Act which, among other things, granted amnesty to illegal immigrants who had been in the USA since before January 1, 1982. It was signed into law by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
I clearly remember the day I was drinking coffee and reading a newspaper article about the passing of the amnesty bill, immediately realizing that I fit all the requirements. This was my opportunity to apply for a green card and switch my status from illegal to legal alien.
And so it came to pass. I received a green card in 1987 and started paying taxes. Otherwise, nothing changed. In 2001 I became a US citizen. I have been in the USA for 34 years now, eight of them illegally, 15 as a green card holder, and the last 11 with all the rights of any US citizen, including the right to vote. However, I still feel a strong connection to the issue of immigration, one that goes well beyond my own history.
Life on the border
I own a commercial building in Naco and another one in Bisbee, two small towns in South Arizona, close to the Mexican border. My building in Naco is old, made of 24" adobe, and was at one time or another a grocery store, a car repair shop, a warehouse... I purchased it several years ago and turned it into a ceramic studio.
The small town of Naco straddles the border, with about 90 percent of it on the Mexican site. My studio's location is literally less than 100 yards from the border crossing into Mexico. Until a few years ago, I would go for lunch on the Mexican side -- a couple of excellent tacos for a buck or two -- and go back to work after waving my driver's license to the customs agents. Today you need a passport, and there's a good chance you get hassled on the way back in. It's just not worth it anymore, and business on both sides of the border is down.
Over the years, I have encountered groups of illegal aliens crossing into the US more times than I can count. These are by and large just people trying to escape the crushing poverty of their home countries. They just want to work. Of course, there's a criminal element, and a very dangerous one; just as there was a criminal element when waves of Italian immigrants came to this country (the Mafia), or during the Irish migration. Criminals are part of any group in any country and any situation.
When I see a group of UDAs (undocumented aliens) walking along a dirt road in the desert or mountains of South Arizona, I leave them be. Because I know that if I had been born in Mexico, in extreme poverty, I too would do whatever it took for a chance to improve my life. And you would do the same. If you had to choose between watching your children go hungry day in and day out, or cross illegally into another country where there might be opportunity to work and feed your kids, you would have to be a coward and a nitwit not to take that chance. It's against the law, but it's quite understandable, and as far as I am concerned, easily forgivable.
I don't have a solution. I know that immigrants, your own ancestors, whether legal or illegal, voluntary or against their will, have made this country what it is today. I also know that there has to be some kind of control in place. But most of all, I know that we are all human beings, and that in the end, only your humanity and your compassion matter. If you believe in a higher power and some kind of judgment, do you think He/She/It will ask you for your passport? Your political affiliation?
When I became legal I started paying taxes. Many illegal immigrants today pay payroll taxes, but I'm pretty sure more of them don't. They get paid under the table or do odd jobs. Making them legal just adds a few million taxpayers.
You can argue these points, of course. I'm sure there are plenty of readers who don't agree with me. But what are your options? There are 5 million (give or take a million) illegal immigrants in the country. The logistics alone make it impossible to deport them. Make them legal. Allow their kids access to education. Invest in people and you invest in the future. It's not rocket science. Then take your considerable resources and focus on the criminal element. Instead of spending billions on hassling people who just want to work, use that money and the people in law enforcement to clamp down hard on the criminals. It's a numbers game, amigo. That's all it is. So be smart about your resources, and be a mensch.
I'll give you one other thing to consider. Unless you have a heart of stone, you know very well what feels right and what feels wrong. Throughout history politicians have made choices and decisions based on cold-hearted rationale instead of doing the right thing. We have supported governments that tortured their own people, because those governments' ideology was more in line with ours. Iran is a perfect example. And it always backfires. Nowhere, throughout all of history, will you find an example of a government doing the right thing, the compassionate, humane thing, and getting grief for it. Never. Because that's how nature works; through us, around us, over us. Whether we like it or not.
We tend to have faith in the mind. Have faith in your heart instead, it's far smarter and a thousand times wiser than your mind will ever be. Welcome your brothers and sisters who made it to this country and are willing to work until their hands bleed to give their children a better life. You've seen them working the fields, mowing your yard, pouring concrete until dark, cleaning your offices at midnight, hauling trash, painting houses, climbing ladders with 80 pounds of roofing tiles on their shoulders. Show your love, show respect. No doubt it will make your immigrant ancestors proud.
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