Guest editorial: Get used to immigration
Foreigners. Are here to stay; makes things cheap, for me that way.
There is a touching, almost poignant, lament making the rounds of Europe these days. It goes, "We asked for workers, but we got people." That is the way of history. Germany has Turks; France, Algerians; Spain, Moroccans; Britain, Pakistanis; Holland, Indonesians. Everybody has somebody, and they're not going home. Without immigrants, California plantation owners would have to pay real wages. Then the price of lettuce and cantaloupe would shoot up to its fair market value and political heads would roll.
Cheap labor, after all, was one of the massive engines driving the North American Free Trade Act. Bill Clinton's theory, which worked like a charm, called for cutting Mexican tariffs on our corn. Cargill then sent down trainloads of the subsidized stuff, putting millions of Mexican farmers out of work. Soon they slipped north to labor on our farms for peanuts, sending modest remittances home to keep their kin alive.
That was OK at first, but you know how uppity poor people can get. The next thing we knew they wanted housing, and health care, and drivers licenses, and legal status, and worst of all, schools. In Spanish, yet! Well, there are limits to what good upstanding Americans will tolerate. We don't want those people actually living here. Just working here. Tell them to go home in the off season.
Too late. They're here to stay. An unholy alliance of human rights groups, tight-fisted employers, and expansion-minded labor unions will scuttle any new restrictions on undocumented workers, or any serious enforcement of the restrictions we've already got.
On the other side of the coin, plenty of solid American families continue to oppose heavy immigration. They're worried about jobs, schools, hospitals, caseloads, neighbors, and that good old U.S. culture. They will fight tooth and nail against the "almost amnesty" found in the recent immigration bill. In our state, these two sides support separate heroes in New Haven and Danbury local governments. Both those mayors, one welcoming, the other hostile, just won easy reelection. And in North Carolina, the same public battle for legitimacy rages around the grisly Smithfield slaughterhouse.
But meanwhile this new Latino culture has already taken root. In some places, it's all Mexican. In others, every Latin flag is waved and provincial newcomers from various countries scarcely speak to one another. The sagging Catholic Church, a big potential beneficiary of this new blood, isn't booming either. That's because its priests are largely gringos. Newly arrived evangelicals are instead siphoning off crowds of the faithful.
But Spanish language is not sweeping the country as so many had feared. And it won't. The schools require English, and those new kids don't want to be outcasts. Remember, all our families went through a similar experience at one time. My mother didn't want her classmates to know that her parents spoke Swedish at home.
The newly imported Latin cuisine won't win anyone over either. Tacos aren't us. Neither are arepas. Our town's dozen or so Latino restaurants offer comfort food to immigrants, but little comfort to us natives. Tandoori, it's not.
So this largest of all immigrant waves is here to stay. It is painfully overpopulating our land and putting millions of us out of decent work. Nonetheless, we lack the will to stop it. We really do like having those guys come by and cut our grass.