We're Tiger Woods, not Paris Hilton

 

"We decided not to be Invisible anymore," read one headline when those floods of people turned out in cities around the country, from Washington, D.C., and Denver to Salt Lake City, Reno, Phoenix and Salem.

For more than 60 years, Hispanic immigrants have been a deliberately created, out-of-sight-out-of-mind, disposable, low-wage work force. Hispanics work for little, stay out of sight, and get to stay in this country. American businesses, in return, get cheap labor.

You won't find that agreement written in any statute book, but it has been our de facto immigration policy with Mexico, Central and South America since World War II.

What makes millions of invisible Hispanics suddenly rise up and march by the thousands in the streets of cities across the country?

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to end that 60-year-old unwritten immigration policy. In a bill with sweeping consequences, the House voted to make felons of virtually everyone who has come to this country illegally over the last 60 years, and has not been able to become a citizen. This politically inspired approach to a complicated situation of our own making threatens to tear families apart through arbitrary deportations with little or no legal recourse. It's enough to make the most reluctant take to the streets.

"But they are here illegally," bleat the believers. It is also illegal to hire them. But American businesses hire immigrants in droves because they are a cheap, docile, pliable — and sometimes the only — labor force. The House bill ignores the fact that immigration laws have deliberately been left unenforced for decades, intentionally allowing this present situation to develop.

A "compromise" bill in the Senate is really no better. The Senate bill creates a citizenship path for all immigrants who were here up to two years ago. If you came to join your family in the last two years? Automatic deportation.

It appears some part of the Republican "base" will not be appeased until Mexicans are frog-marched to buses and dumped on the other side of the border. It will send a message, believers argue. Mass deportations will surely send a message, but not the message Republicans imagine.

The rest of the world will call the dragnets and deportations the name that Americans cannot utter — ethnic cleansing. It is unlikely to be as bloody as Rwanda or Sarajevo. But it won't be ignored by the world as Darfur has been. It certainly won't win us any respect. The price of appeasing the Republican "base" is simply too high.

We are a nation of immigrants. The Irish and Chinese built the Transcontinental Railroad. Anytime there was a revolution elsewhere in the world, America got a new cuisine — Armenian, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, just to name a few. German immigrants gave us beer — can you say Henry Weinhard or Budweiser?

I grew up in Cleveland in the 1950s. It was a city of immigrants who worked in steel mills, factories and machine tool companies. Cleveland had its Little Italy, Little Poland, Little Hungary, Little Germany, Chinatown. Those neighborhoods are all gone now. The first generation spoke almost no English. They were too old to learn. Their adult children became American citizens, spoke their native language with their parents and English with their children. Their children spoke English and rarely learned their parents' tongue. Then they moved to the suburbs.

If today's Hispanics remain clannish, speak their own language and live apart, it is in large part because they have no assured way to become Americans. They live with the fear of an unwritten, arbitrarily enforced immigration policy. They often live among the hostility of neighbors. Assimilation is a two-way street. Immigrants must want to be Americans, but Americans must want immigrants here. Only then can we begin to have some things in common.

These historic civil rights demonstrations have left their mark. The House Republican leadership now says it wants to abandon the deportation provision in their bill when lawmakers return from a spring "district work period."

It is worth reminding politicians that life does not stand still. America is no longer the America of the 1950s. America's ethnic future is more likely to resemble Tiger Woods than Paris Hilton. We really need to get used to it.

Russell Sadler is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He writes in Eugene, Oregon.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a friendly, detail-oriented, and self-motivated Development Coordinator to provide administrative support to the Development department. This position will report to...
  • FIELD ORGANIZER, MONTANA
    Help Northern Plains Resource Council protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the...
  • FOR SALE
    Successful llama trekking business with Yellowstone National Park concession for sale! A fun and enriching business opportunity of a lifetime! Call 406-580-5954
  • ALBUQUERQUE VACATION HOME
    Centrally located. One bed, one bath, lovely outdoor patio, well-stocked kitchen.
  • NEW AGRARIAN PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Quivira (www.quiviracoaltion.org), a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that aims to shift current practices of agriculture and land stewardship to those that produce good food, support meaningful...
  • SPECTACULAR SCENIC MOUNTAIN VIEW HOME BUILDING SITE
    Located on top of Sugarloaf Mtn. 5 mi W of downtown Colorado Springs, CO. $80,000.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    opportunity in Eugene, Oregon! To learn more and to apply, visit our website at www.bufordpark.org.
  • FUNDRAISING & OUTREACH COORDINATOR
    Does the prospect of working to protect one of the Southwest's last remaining flowing rivers get you excited? Join the team at Friends of the...
  • DIGITAL ENGAGEMENT SPECIALIST
    Position Summary Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a dynamic, organized, and creative Digital Engagement Specialist to be an essential part of our growing Communications Team....
  • NORTH IDAHO FIELD REPRESENTATIVE
    Founded by sportsmen and women 1936, the Idaho Wildlife Federation (IWF) is a statewide nonprofit dedicated to conserving and enhancing Idaho's natural resources, wildlife, habitat,...
  • SMALL HISTORICAL FARM FOR SALE - NEW MEXICO
    23-acres, adobe home, shop, barn, gardens, pasture, orchard. https://www.zillow.com/homes/222-Calle-Del-Norte,-Monticello,-Nm_rb/ or call 575-743-0135.
  • NEW MEXICO GILA NATIONAL FOREST HORSE RANCH
    43 acres in the Gila National Forest. Horse facility, custom home. Year round outdoor living. REDUCED to: $1.17 MM 575-536-3109
  • GRANTS MANAGER AND EDITOR
    Are you a strong communicator who excels at building relationships, writing winning grant proposals, and staying organized? You sound like a good fit for our...
  • REPORTER
    The Wallowa County Chieftain, has an opening for a reporter. Experience with and understanding of editorial photography also required. Journalism degree or equivalent, an understanding...
  • 2017 JOHN DEERE LAWN MOWER Z930R
    15 hours on it, 3 years warranty, 22,5 HP, $1600 Sale price. Contact: [email protected]
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • HEAD BREAD/PASTRY BAKER AND ASSISTANT POSITIONS
    Hiring Part/Full time for Summer Season - entry level & experienced positions. Year round employment for optimal candidates. Pay DOE.
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921