On more than one occasion I have received one of those “chain” emails from some well-meaning acquaintance, urging me to sign a petition stopping Congress from providing Social Security benefits to “illegal aliens”. Usually, when I’m emailed about an issue that seems unlikely on the surface, my first reaction is to check out one of the “myth-buster” websites such as www.snopes.com to see if there is any merit to the claims.
Sure enough, after five minutes of web research, what I found is that way back in May of 2006, as Congress was passing the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act”, there was a proposed amendment that would have allowed PREVIOUSLY illegal immigrants who had subsequently completed steps to become legal, to get credit toward their SS entitlement for any contributions that were made by them for any time when the were working illegally in the country (and contributing SS taxes through their payroll). As it turns out, the amendment in question was tabled, and was never included in the bill, nor has the issue ever since been brought up in any current or proposed legislation.
The point here is that all the energy generated by these well-intentioned email petitioners has been for an issue that literally does NOT exist.
It is after receipt of such an email that I began pondering the entire question of immigration (defined almost exclusively in the US, as meaning Mexican citizens), and why there is such vocal opposition from a small segment of our population?
We citizens of the Austin area are surrounded on all sides by Mexican immigrants, many clearly illegal. In fact, I doubt you could find more than 5% of laborers on construction sides around this area who are NOT Mexican, legal or otherwise. Interestingly, I don’t ever recall a single time where the existence of these hardworking people created any sort of a local issue. They work hard, they keep a low profile, and they contribute immeasurably to our economy.
I believe that most people who actually have had first-hand experience realize that these dedicated workers provide most of the manual labor that most of us “citizens” would be unwilling to do at any price, and at wage levels that are embarrassingly low in this prosperous economy.
As a former volunteer English-as-a-second-language instructor, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and get to know many recently-from-Mexico students, some legal, some not. What I find, almost universally, is that these men leave their wives and families, usually deep inside Mexico; travel on foot or hitchiking; make their way across a dangerous desert, to finally arrive in Austin, sharing a squalid room or trailer with 5 or 6 other guys, and work hard 6 or 7 days a week at average wages of about $60/day.
One such pair were Efran and Mauricio, who helped us build our pond a few summers ago, and left families far south of Mexico city to come here and provide for them financially:
It is hard for me to see these two as criminals or “illegal”. To me, they are my heroes, because I doubt I would have the courage or drive to complete such a journey, live and work in a strange country with strange language, on behalf of family.
The nice thing is that these immigrants, spend a sizeable portion of their earnings right here in Austin, for food, lodging, personal sundries, etc (the remainder sacrificially going home to their starving families). This is in contrast to companies like Walmart or Home Depot, where virtually every penny of earnings goes back to the corporate office and distributed to shareholders, who do NOT spend that money in our local economy.
So, the question comes to me.. why is it that some of us who have been so fortunate to be born in a country of unbounded prosperity, seem to take such offense at the thought of these harmless, hardworking people, who through no fault of their own, happened to live on the other side of an imaginary line drawn on the map, getting a tiny slice of the pie? Surely there are many more important societal issues to direct our energies toward.
What if ALL the energy that has been expended over this non-existent issue… building border fences, vigilante groups, wasted email petitions, ad nauseum, were directed toward some REAL issues in our society? Such as, impeachment of George Bush, who has squandered our global political and moral capital since 9/11, who has presided over gross human rights violations in secret torture camps, who has steadfastly ignored world opinion against Guantanamo, who lied to the American people about reasons for invading Iraq, who violated American law using the Justice department for political gain, who took our country from unparalelled prosperity to the most debt-laden, economically challenged time since the great depression. (the petty office break-ins and subsequent coverups which earned Nixon an impeachment now seem like child’s play by comparison)
Why won’t we as citizens have the gumption to stand up in favor of increased gas taxes, the need for which Europe recognized years ago, to provide a natural economic incentive for car manufacturers and buyers to choose smaller, fuel efficient cars (the average vehicle in Britain gets around 38 mpg, city and highway!) Or do we truly think that just because gas prices are down that our oil consumption crisis has disappeared?
Why can’t this supposedly Christian nation recognize that our close neighbors to the south deserve the same opportunities we have all had?
What if…. What if?