Rhetoric | Amnesty and The Enduring Question of Immigration

   My friend Manfred Wolf writes a regular column for the West Portal Monthly in San Francisco. Yesterday, he sent me a copy of his latest offering, which appears in the August 2014 edition. He has kindly given me permission to print both his column and my return email comments from last night.

The subject of immigration warrants a lot of debate because it involves the lives of human beings and the question of whether America, symbolized by that beautiful statue in New York Harbor, will continue to welcome, and even beckon those “huddled masses.” Or will these words cast on her base come to be viewed by the rest of the world as empty platitudes.  VMK

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus


Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


“This Time, This Place

Amnesty and The Enduring Question of Immigration

(C) 2014,  Manfred Wolf

The linguist George Lakoff once wrote that the Republicans were particularly good at framing their issues with the use of catchy words or phrases. Surely “amnesty” is such a word when applied to immigration.
Democrats protest that they’re misunderstood in their plans, that that’s not what they have in mind, and so one more battle on the same tired old front rages between Left and Right.
Both sides, though, delude themselves.
Does the Right really think that our borders can be sealed or “secured,” as they like to say, if only we tried harder, that 2000 miles can be protected with a fence, or electricity, or thousands of police guarding it? All borders are porous, as I know from experience: even during World War Two, some people, myself included — I was seven when my family escaped the Nazi occupiers of Holland, of Belgium, of France — crossed borders illegally, often on foot, and those borders were shorter and more lethally guarded than ours are now.
But does the Left really think that if the present immigration plans are enacted, the immigration “problem” will be solved, that this latest proposal will fix the matter? That this is the war to end all wars? Didn’t the Reagan law of 1986 enact pretty much the same thing, a complicated form of, let’s just say it, amnesty? It didn’t solve anything, except, of course, for the people who then existed undocumented in limbo. But as we all know, a whole new army of would-be residents is here now, and they’re the ones who’re now in limbo.
A new immigration law if passed won’t resolve anything for the future. If all the illegals were admitted and legalized this minute, which is far more than the Democrats propose, the “immigration problem” would still be the same.
The underlying problem — and I believe it is a problem, though a case can be made that it’s not — is that successful countries are a beacon, a shining star, a magnet. Use any metaphor you like, but the United States will not cease to attract those who want a better life, more prosperous, freer, who in effect wish to come here, live here, work here. There will be ebbs and flows, of course, depending in part on the degree of misery in the originating countries, but the flood will never slow, the pressure       Europe is in the same situation. The wars in the Middle East, the wretchedness of almost every country there, the misery of the failed African states, and the relative success of even the poorest European country, create an unending stream of illegal immigrants, refugees, fortune seekers, upwardly striving families, the good and the bad, the just and the unjust.
Many of them spend what little they have to get there; a fearful number of them die on the way.
As do a fearful number of our own immigrants. The latest and most heartbreaking wave is that of the children sent by their parents on a frightening, dangerous trip to the US, from such failed Central American states as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. How many die along the way?
We are, of course, luckier in our immigrants than Europe is in theirs. Our influx from Mexico and Central America will assimilate more quickly than Africans into Europe or Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East. Cultural and religious differences make assimilation more difficult, for both sides.
But essentially the problem is the same and not susceptible to remedy. Stable and prosperous countries provoke longing and of necessity beckon irresistibly.”

Manfred Wolf’s new book, Survival in Paradise, is available at BookShop West Portal and on Amazon.com


My email comments:

Well put.  I’ve just been wondering the past two days, why do the Democrats, supposedly so full of social consciousness and empathy for the down-trodden, not lobby to just open our borders and let the economic chips fall where they may. Is it because the  Democratic Party is so beholden to the unions and the unions are all about protecting “jobs” for Americans?  Why not let the newcomers have all those unskilled jobs? Maybe it would spur the displaced Americans to avail themselves of the Niagara of educational opportunities available to everyone in our country today.  So what, if some of us have to suffer a little economically for a short time while our neighboring third-world countries rise to a level more like our own?  That would be a small sacrifice compared to the horrific, crime and gang situation being suffered by those currently arriving on our “shores” from those Central American countries you mentioned.  
   You hit the nail right on the head regarding the inevitability of these kinds of crises arising when viewed from a historical perspective . This type of migrant flow is age-long and not going away. I’m sure Rome must have had much the same thing at one time. Maybe that’s why the early Christians were able to find synagogues all over the Empire from which to base their proselytizing. 
   We should take whomever the circumstances deliver to our doorstep and cultivate them as an asset.  Perhaps when the “big-men” in those third-world countries realize their tax bases are shrinking because of the outflow, they will make conditions more favorable in order to staunch that flow.  
   Native American Chief Ouray of the Ute Nation is immortalized in stained glass in the dome of the Colorado State Capitol–along with Kit Carson and other founding fathers–because he convinced his people and other local tribes that the tidal wave of European-Americans arriving on the newly built railroad was inevitable and that there would be no way the tribes could successfully fight against the superior power of America.  Their best bet would be to sue for peace and take advantage of friendship with the newcomers in order to advance the tribes’ own welfare.  Ouray must have been a very pursuasive diplomat, because the tribes agreed.  Although our present influx is not a superior culture economically or technologically,  the flow is just as inevitable, as you pointed out, and this time, as in Ouray’s day, we need to find constructive ways of making the best of the inevitable.
Thanks for sharing your columns.  Keep ’em coming.