A Chinese-Jamaican friend sent me a video of a speech by author Amy Tan that reminded me of an often ignored aspect of immigration reform. (You remember the movie The Joy Luck Club? Well, she wrote the book.)
Tan was born in America but her parents were not. They were born in China. And, in the video, she recounts the moving story of their happiness at getting their immigration papers. It’s a story shared by many immigrants from Asia, where war and revolution have uprooted millions over the years. The resulting chaos, combined with the insufferable red tape of America’s immigration laws, left a wave of “illegal” immigrants struggling to become Americans.
(I am sure many Jamaicans can relate to that experience even though they can’t cite war or revolution as an excuse.)
But when I listen to debates about immigration reform, I never hear Asians – or Europeans – mentioned. The uproar is always about Hispanics.
I suspect there is a racial aspect to this phenomenon.
Many Hispanics are dark-skinned, and I wonder whether this is one reason for the far-right’s vitriol. They never complain about immigrants from Russia when they rant about crimes committed by those “illegal aliens.” Yet members of the Russian mob probably cause more grief in America than those petty pilferers and drug runners from places like Mexico and Colombia.
Obviously, illegal immigration is a problem. Especially when some immigrants are bringing in narcotics and committing other crimes.
But the answer will not come from vindictive retaliation against all undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom are decent, law-abiding people trying to make a new life for their families.
It’s a complicated issue, and I’m not sure what the answer is. But my instincts tell me American-born children of undocumented immigrants have every right to remain here. And if they are allowed to stay, it would be inhumane to deport their parents.
The root cause of America’s immigration headache is the gap between the standards of living in America and in so much of the rest of the world. As long as that situation persists, illegal immigration will be a problem for the US.
I don’t know how to solve that problem. It will likely solve itself over the next century or so.
But I am confident the immediate crisis of America’s existing undocumented population can be resolved. And I am convinced it must include a path to citizenship for those who come out of the shadows.
I think the politicians are getting the message. The sheer numbers and diversity of the “illegal” population and their ties to voters in various demographic groups would make it unwise for elected representatives to shrug off the issue.
The coming year could see immigration reform attempted in America. Let’s hope and pray it succeeds.