Good Day Class:
By a show of hands, how many of you can honestly trace your American roots back to the Mayflower -- or the Concord, Margaret of Bristol, Fortune, Sparrow, Amity -- or any of the nearly 210 other vessels which reached the new world between 1602 and 1638? Waiting . . . waiting. None? Congratulations: we're all (I include myself) part of the 99.999% who are the descendants of far more recent immigrants to these shores. And even if any of us were part of that .001% which can identify early family members who came over in the first three decades of the 17th century, know of a certainty that we too would be descended from immigrants. Perhaps not terribly recent ones, but immigrants nonetheless. Let's face it, every last one of us is an immigrant to these shores. As the sticker on my old friend Julian Camacho's rear bumper proclaimed: Columbus didn't discover America; the Indians discovered Columbus!
Throughout our history, America has been plagued with cyclical outbreaks of a plague I call -- for lack of a better term -- anti-imigranteitus virulentis -- a debilitating, autoimmune contagion that can afflict both individuals and communities, as well as entire regions. Those afflicted see immigrants -- both of the legal and illegal variety -- as conscious larcenists; as malevolent disease-ridden parasites who come to this country in order to live off the largess of the American taxpayer . . . stealing jobs, taking everything in sight, contributing nothing in return. (Yes, I know; "stealing our jobs" and "contributing nothing in return" are contradictory terms . . . many illnesses lead to irrational thoughts and behavior.)
Outbreaks of anti-immigranteitus virulentis have generally occurred during times of economic and social unrest:
- In the 1840s, more than a half-million Irish flooded into America as a result of the potato blight. This influx came on the heels of the "Panic of 1837" -- early America's most devastating economic downturn -- largely attributable to a real estate bubble and erratic American banking policy. This influx led to a national anti-immigration party (The America or "Know-Nothing" Party), the burning of Catholic churches and draconian changes to immigration laws.
- In the 1850s, tens of thousands of Chinese -- mostly men -- came to the Western United States in order to dig for gold. Another wave came to lay the nation's railroad tracks. At the height of America's "Guilded Age" -- when the disparity between the hyper wealthy few and the impoverished many reached epic proportions -- the nation turned against the Chinese. Finally, in 1882, Congress passed the draconian Chinese Exclusion Act.
- In the 1890s and early 20th century, more than two million Eastern European immigrants -- mostly Jewish -- came to America to escape the horrors of extreme poverty, Tsarist pogroms and forced conscription. This wave was unlike anything America had experienced, for these immigrants were overwhelmingly literate, and carrying with them an organized communal structure that would be quickly recreated on American soil. Reaction to this massive influx would lead to the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, which limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States in 1890 -- a clear slap in the collective face of Eastern Europeans.
- In the spring of 1939, the Roosevelt Administration refused entry to the German trans-Atlantic liner St. Louis, which carried 938 mostly Jewish refugees escaping the Third Reich. The ship was denied entry in both Havana and any American port. Despite a long and loud campaign on the part of many Jewish and non-Jewish Americans -- and the promise to secure a $500 cash bond for everyone on board -- the ship was forced to return to Europe; just over half survived the Holocaust -- those who found refuge in England, Belgium and Holland. . .
America's most recent, nearly decade-long outbreak of anti-immigranteitus virulentus, like its predecessors, has attacked us during a period of economic recession and gross income/wealth inequality, and is largely characterized by:
- increased nativism,
- fears about the changing status-quo,
- a deep-seated belief that those sneaking into the country are little better than malevolent human sponges, and
- an inability to maturely address a truly challenging and difficult situation.
As is well known, Congress and the White House are at an angry impasse over comprehensive immigration reform. One side claims that the president and his party are squishy soft when it comes to illegal immigrants; that they refuse to deport "these people" and are catering to a largely Hispanic migration wave in order to curry both the favor and the votes of a fast-growing Latino community. Unless -- and until -- the administration "secures our southern border," this side loudly argues, comprehensive immigration reform will remain in the deep freeze. (It should be noted that despite what those afflicted with anti-immigranteitus virulentus claim, the Obama Administration has been deporting illegals at a monthly rate far higher than anything seen in the past century.) For its part, the White House has responded by saying that the current wave of illegal immigrants -- largely unaccompanied children making the hazardous journey up from San Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala -- is a humanitarian crisis. Moreover, the president has argued, if Congress won't act, he will . . . via executive orders. (It should be noted that when questioned, the vast majority of these young migrants claim that despite their harrowing experience in reaching America, if deported, they will try again . . . and again . . . until they are successful.)
What many seem to forget -- or simply care about -- is that the reason why most of these Central American children are risking their lives to get to America is not because they are in search of free housing, medical care and education; they are coming here largely to escape grinding poverty and, more importantly, the possibility of being murdered.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's 2013 Study on Homicide the world rate for homicide is 6.9 per 100,000. By comparison, here in the United States, the rate (per 100,000) is 1.1 in Vermont, 4.0 in New York and 24 in the District of Columbia. Moving on to Central America -- from whence the majority of these children are fleeing, the rate is:
- 41.4 in Guatemala
- 41.7 in Belize
- 66.0 in El Salvador and
- 82.1 in Honduras
Add to these figures all the human traffickers who are making fortunes by setting themselves up as safe and reliable conduits of travel, and what we have is a humanitarian crisis of epidemic proportions. Those who blame the influx of juvenile illegals on the president's January 2014 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) order are purposefully misreading and misleading. What the president's executive order did was to halt deportations of those who came to the United States when they were young, those who care for children and those who haven't committed crimes. If this is the cause of all those children coming up from Central America then Ayn Rand was an altruist.
Just the other day, we witnessed the sorry spectacle of the good citizens of Murietta, California protesting the arrival of three busloads of immigrant mothers and children about to undergo processing at a Border Patrol station. The immigrants -- tired, hungry and dazed from their month-long journey were met by protesters carrying American flags and signs proclaiming “return to sender” as they screamed “go home” and chanted “U.S.A.”
"What happens when they come here with diseases and can overrun our schools? How much is this costing us?”one resident asked the local mayor. “How do you know they are really families and aren’t some kind of gang or drug cartel?”another person asked federal officials. Jeff Stone, the chairman of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, told the assembled protesters that he was concerned about communicable diseases that the migrants could be carrying, such as whooping cough, swine flu or tuberculosis. One protester claimed that four children had been sent to local hospitals this week, two with a fever and two with scabies.
(Speaking as a medical ethicist, one who for the past two decades has reviewed more than 1,000 medical research protocols, I can say of a certainty that we have had outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough) and cases of flu in the US -- due not to immigrants, who overwhelmingly accept vaccination, but rather to the increase in the percentage of American citizens and permanent residents who refuse vaccination.)
How incredibly sad to have to report on this latest outbreak of anti-imigranteitus virulentis on the very weekend we are celebrating our nation's independence. Hopefully some day, the best and brightest among us will develop a "vaccine" which will eradicate this most virulent and inhumane affliction. And more importantly, let us pray that maturity will overtake our senators and representatives so that they can once and for all enact comprehensive immigration reform.
And so I say to you, my fellow immigrants: Let freedom ring!
©2014 Kurt F. Stone