I am a native-born New Mexico Hispanic. I often write letters to newspapers on a subject which those without an Hispanic last name dare not write: the urgent need for immigration reform.
This nation's immigration policy, begun in 1965, is a disaster. It hurts minorities, the poor, the environment - as we see dramatically here in the West on an almost daily basis - and immigrants themselves.
Because of my last name, I can call for immigration reform, although I, too, have been labeled a racist - a hurtful claim that is impossible to disprove. As Ventura, Calif., Navy Dispatch editor Samuel Francis wrote in a recent editorial, - 'Hate' now includes all opposition to immigration." Yet, immigration affects us all, and we should be able to talk about it without fear of character assassination.
This trend has its roots in the national news media, where reporters almost invariably report on immigration as being good and those opposed to immigration as being bad or racist. These stories remind us that we are a nation of immigrants, while ignoring that the incredibly high rates of immigration to the United States are largely a recent phenomenon.
From 1915 to 1965, legal immigration ran about 220,000 a year - the number most immigration reform advocates want us to return to, since that number would stabilize our population. Since 1989, legal immigration has averaged about 1,063,000 a year. Another 1 million people a year immigrate illegally, according to one estimate.
The major national news media are now largely owned and operated by large corporations that are heavily invested in construction, real estate speculation and development - industries that benefit from continued high population growth. These same media corporations are not being balanced in their reporting on immigration issues. They often run stories about the so-called "labor shortage" in this country, while overlooking stories about the environmental and economic problems (including spiraling housing costs and stagnant wages) driven by over-immigration.
Americans, through a near-replacement-level birth rate, have shown support for a stable population. Yet we are the sixth fastest-growing nation, ahead of Mexico and Bangladesh, and the third most populated, behind only China and India. If current trends continue, our population will double to over half-a-billion by the end of the century, even though we already are the world's largest contributor to global-warming emissions, our highways are near gridlock due to urban sprawl, and much of our wildlife is in crisis from habitat loss.
On a personal level, I am concerned about over-immigration because it hurts me and others in a state where the tide of immigrants out of Mexico is crushing native-born Hispanics, flooding already stressed schools, and sharply increasing drug trafficking and violent crime.
The rumored economic boom, despite many news reports to the contrary, has left Hispanics behind. The Federal Reserve recently reported that the median Hispanic net worth fell a whopping 24 percent between 1995 and 1998 due to "an accelerating influx of poor immigrants." Put another way, when workers ask for a raise, they are often reminded that there are many others who will do the same work for less, including for below minimum wage. We all, native-born and immigrants, know there is no "labor shortage" for many of our jobs.
For that matter, do any American workers at any level see employers clamoring to increase their pay? No, they see industry calling for the right to import more cheap workers.
While I care about the world's poor - roughly 1.5 billion people fall into that category - I believe we cannot possibly welcome all these mostly economic (rarely political) refugees to the United States. Do advocates of high immigration believe our own slums are empty and that we no longer have citizens needing a fair chance at decent-paying jobs?
We must return immigration to traditional levels. To stop the cross-border flow and the peril the trek brings to Mexican nationals, we must impose sharp penalties for those employers who hire illegal immigrants.
Corine Flores is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (www.hcn.org). She is on the housekeeping staff of a hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Copyright © 2000 HCN and Corine Flores