May 9, 2006

Immigrants are a critical component of U.S.

As hundreds of thousands of immigrants converged into both Union and Grant Parks on Monday, May 1st, Chicago once again realized something that it has known for over a 150 years: our city needs immigrants. Although Chicago no longer hosts the massive cultural exchanges of the South Water Market and Maxwell Street, the immigrant population of the city and its surrounding areas is still vital to the success of our region. Despite the trend of fewer and fewer immigrants looking at the city proper as the gateway to the United States, suburban towns such as Aurora and Joliet are opening their doors to our nation’s future. The immigrants, illegal and legal, who are coming to our towns are not to be viewed as problems, but as the keys to economic development and a truly successful region and nation.

Recent news articles have been questioning the motivation behind the rallies. Such articles have brought up the question of why immigrants should be worried or upset in such large numbers, given that a bill that would severely inhibit immigration has been shot down in the Senate. However, the rallies are not a response to a particular bill but the ignorance that the American public displays toward immigrant labor. Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. display a fairly popular belief among Americans: that immigrants somehow hurt our nation. Comments denouncing the newly released Spanish version of the national anthem or lamenting jobs lost to immigrants are totally off base. If anything, immigrant workers keep factories in the United States and allow wages to remain competitively low. Additionally, unions turn to immigrants as a source for new membership when conventional membership bases have dried up.

With regards to the argument that immigrants are depleting America’s culture, too many have fallen in line with Harvard Political Scientist Samuel Huntington. It may be true that predominantly Latino neighborhoods are separating themselves from other neighborhoods, but I fail to see the harm in this. Oddly enough, such neighborhoods have almost taken on a degree of novelty in American cities. Furthermore, this pattern of newly arriving immigrants sticking together is not a recent development. It is hard to find an ethnic group in the United States that does not have a defined neighborhood in an American metropolis. These communities should not be loathed but welcomed, for they enhance the social structures and support systems for newly arriving immigrants.

Unfortunately, the problem that the general public is unable to grasp the necessity of immigrants extends far beyond the United States. Within the European Union, there are constant fears that new member states will dilute the “European Identity” and take away jobs from native-born citizens. This sentiment has been most vividly displayed by the caricature of the “Polish Plumber,” who, especially in the French and German press, was characterized as someone who would immediately enter one’s native homeland and take prosperity away from the locals. With Poland entering the Union, such fears were shown to be unfounded as the nations which had the most liberal immigration policies were the ones who benefited the most economically. Unfortunately for Europe, many are still not convinced and trying to prevent Turkey’s accession into the Union.

Back here in the United States, issues are a bit different, yet there is no doubting the necessity for American immigration reform. Especially in this post–September 11th world, the necessity of monitoring the enterances and exits of aliens is vitally important to the security of our nation. However, that does not mean that extensive limits should be put on who can and cannot enter our nation for work. If the United States lowers quotas or makes it more difficult to legally enter the nation, the level of illegal immigration will increase. Those entering the nation will not be going through safe and conventional means, but will be risking their lives to reach jobs and family north of the border. If the United States is to drastically improve its immigrant monitoring system, then the process should be made easier, not more difficult. Increasing the number of visas that are offered would bring documentation to many people who would be otherwise unknown to the U.S. government and would bring opportunity to those looking to start anew in the United States