Wednesday, January 9, 2008

"America's Biggest Divide"

America's Biggest Divide

Here's some news for anti-immigration demagogues. If they think this country or this economy can succeed in coming decades without millions of additional immigrants, they're not thinking straight.

Robert B. Reich | January 4, 2008 | web only

The biggest divide in America today isn't over social issues like abortion or gay marriage. It's not even over the war in Iraq, or taxes. The biggest split is over immigration.

Demagogues on the right and left are telling Americans our jobs are threatened, our social services overwhelmed, and their streets unsafe because of immigrants. Fear and prejudice are on the rise. According to a recent Pew survey, more than half of Hispanic adults in America today worry they or someone close to them could face deportation.

The fear-mongers won't compromise. Earlier this year, when Congress tried to enact a bipartisan bill that would better secure the borders and also try to regularize the plight of undocumented immigrants -- giving them a path to become regular citizens and avoid the constant fear of deportation -- the bill was killed by these agents of fear and intolerance.

Well, I have some news for these demagogues. If they think this country or this economy can succeed in coming decades without tens of millions of additional immigrants, they're not thinking straight. The huge baby boom generation -- 77 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 -- will be retiring, and there aren't nearly enough native-born Americans after them to keep this economy going, let alone keep money flowing into the boomers' Social Security and Medicare trust funds. The graying of America means we need this new wave of immigrants.

Remember also that most of us born here are descended from immigrants. In 1900, the same proportion of people living in America had been born elsewhere as there are today, including today's undocumented immigrants. What we've learned over the years is that people with the guts and gumption to leave their country of birth and come to America are almost by definition ambitious. And the single most important asset of this economy and society is ambition.

I'm not arguing that we throw our borders open. No, we need better border security. But to think immigrants are our enemies, or to believe that they're taking more out of the economy more than they putting into it, is pure baloney. To reduce the entire debate over immigration to the simple question of whether someone is here legally is to miss all the insidious ways that prejudice is hurting so many who are here legally. And to conclude that working in America without proper documentation is an offense equal to a heinous crime, meriting the permanent breakup of families who have lived and worked here for years, is to be blind to the realities all around us.

At this time of year especially, we need to remind ourselves of the tolerance and generosity that built this country by allowing our immigrant ancestors to become full-fledged Americans. article=americas_biggest_divide

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