Friday, October 26, 2007

No Irish need apply

Although most of the polemics I hear concerning immigrants in the US stress the lazy, dirty, illiterate, prone to crime and too dumb to learn English stereotype, the only real difference between the hoard of immigrants that arrived in the US in the 19th and early 20th century and those now here has been a change in the law. All those accusations were leveled against the Irish, the Germans, Italians, Poles and others, but there was really no law keeping them out. The truth is that millions congregated in dirty, disease and crime ridden slums where their native languages were spoken, and assimilation for the most part was only achieved by their children and grandchildren, often to the great benefit of the nation.

The public case, of course, is that they're breaking the law and lawbreakers are not to be tolerated, but the real issue is fear and always has been fear. We really don't want anything but "real" Americans as Archie Bunker used to call the descendants of previous generations of immigrants. We don't want them even if they've lived here all their lives; gone to school, learned English as their native tongue and don't remember the "old country."

That's fully illustrated by the failure of the whimsically named Dream Act ( Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) in the Senate yesterday.
"I do not believe we should reward illegal behavior,"
sneered Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who led the fight to kill the measure and whose ancestors without a doubt suffered humiliating treatment and were thought of as subhuman and infectious in this land of dreams. Of course many of the kids who would have benefited (along with the country, in my opinion) from this act, only became aware of their legal status as teens and as minors transported by their parents, really didn't break any laws.

In fact to be allowed to aspire to citizenship, the applicant would be given only provisional status until he had completed high school and at least two years of college or military service. That's more than many native born quasi-literates will ever achieve. Not enough for Mitch, though. Punishment for these kids, who never knew another country but the US, must be swift, unreasonable and everlasting and I wish no less for Mitch himself.

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