Saturday, November 26, 2005

"Thanksgiving Is an Opportunity To Reconsider Immigration"

The Jewish Journal (North of Boston)
November 18, 2005

"Thanksgiving Is an Opportunity To Reconsider Immigration"

Dov Burt Levy

How sad it is, approaching Thanksgiving Day, the nation is seriously divided, and fighting about immigration policy. You'd be hearing even more noise about it if issues like 9/11, Iraq, Iran, natural disasters and grand jury indictments did not exist.

What a shame. I love immigration. I love the idea, the efforts and the effects of immigration. I admire those people--of all races, colors and religions-- who came here in a great personal adventure whose major goal was to find better opportunities for their children and grandchildren. If it all works right, immigrants get what they want and the country gets a great infusion of new genes, customs, holidays, food, and spirit.

I think that most Jews feel as I do about immigration. We are grateful that the borders were almost wide open between 1880 and 1918, allowing millions of our ancestors to come here from eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Conversely, we are extremely unhappy that the Roosevelt government did so little to increase immigration for Jews during the Holocaust. And we are not happy that the administration of current laws reflects confusion and uncertainty. This is not where the nation should be.

When I attended college in the 1960s, a big majority of Americans favored and supported immigration. President John Kennedy had written a popular book, "A Nation of Immigrants." Oscar Handlin, Harvard professor and dean of American immigration historians, had a best selling book titled, "The Uprooted".

The Anti-Defamation League was distributing millions of pamphlets called "We are all Americans" in public schools. And immigration opponents were usually found on the fringe right, in the company of other, non-mainstream factions.

Fast forward to today. The idea of "immigration" has become contentious. Some opponents of immigration fear loss of jobs; others fear the costs of government support to indigent immigrants; some say the federal government has not protected the Mexican border.

Some complain that states give benefits to illegals; some complain about the widespread use of Spanish; others insist bi-lingual education is anti-American; some are undisguised racists. And since 9/11, terrorists are believed by many to be sneaking across our open borders.

Just listen to the hyperbole on talk radio. Watch Lou Dobbs on CNN and his segment called "Broken Borders". It makes you feel like hordes of illegals are overrunning our nation.

Some facts: In 1850, the U.S. government started keeping census information about foreign-born and native-born people living in the country. "Foreign–born" includes naturalized citizens, people who are here on various work and visitor visas, and undocumented workers.

Over the years, the number of foreign-born has fluctuated between eight and fifteen percent of our population, depending on the world situation and the state of U.S. laws, which in some periods were restrictive.

Today, about 11 percent (30.1 million people) of the 270 million who live in the United States are foreign-born. In short, the U.S. is far from having its highest percentage of non- or not-yet citizens residing here; we are far from being overrun (whatever that means) by foreign-born people.

Certainly, the absorption of new immigrants costs some government money. But the future benefits of immigrant's work, taxes, consumption and more to the nation give good value for the money spent.

By the way, it would help if the issues of Mexican border and homeland security could be separated from questions of general immigration policies. As things stand, they confuse the issue.

Would-be terrorists and drug smugglers must be apprehended as they attempt to cross into our country. Given enough resources and willpower, this effort can succeed. Law enforcement inadequacies there should not be allowed to skew our entire immigration policy.

If we American Jews cannot view governmental immigration policy with a huge reservoir of good will, kindness and celebration, who can. who will? And if not on Thanksgiving Day, when?


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