Walk a mile in the moccasins of an immigrant...

Native born kids explore their home country

Once again the dreaded April 15th tax deadline has passed for U.S. citizens. Tax complexity increases every year because each special case added to the tax code benefits a potential election campaign donor. While Americans are breathing a collective sigh of relief in the knowledge that they've once again cheated something as unavoidable as death, few understand that complexities and bureaucratic obstacles in U.S. tax laws are minor compared to that experienced by immigrants. Much has changed since the mid 19th century when my Prussian, Walloon, Irish?, Tunisian? ancestors arrived and someone recorded an approximation of their name in a book and asked them to try to stay off the dole.

I challenge "real" journalists, bloggers and citizens of every nation to walk a mile in the footsteps of an immigrant to your homeland. Where would you start? How would you become legal? Who would you trust? Whenever I access newspapers from my home country while living abroad, I see pop up advertisements promising U.S. Green Cards. To me these are no more credible than no-money-down loans and inheritance money laundering email schemes. Would anyone care to guess which of these links resolves directly to the U.S. government office to be contacted as a first step in legal immigration? Now try to find the office when English isn't your first language and when you don't have access to the internet. I've been tempted to post an important visa application form on this blog because the Windows/Lotus webserver which hosts the official version from a government office has been unresponsive for weeks. Even when the information comes from government employees or government websites, it is often conflicting and incorrect. Immigrants are reluctant to point out problems with the procedure because it is likely that their personal application will be sacrificed by a low-level employ long before management or elected officials see the problem. Because immigration laws are complex and inconsistent, arbitrary decisions regarding immigrants can be made without fear of oversight or public outcry. As is the case with U.S. tax law, if you fail to fully comply with immigration law because a government employee gave you incorrect information, you become the "illegal."

I've seen a disturbing trend in attitudes towards immigrants. Even in the most progressive nations which owe their prosperity to immigrants and even in enlightened political parties who understand this, blame is often shifted onto the backs of new immigrants. Immigrants make convenient scapegoats for failings where blame should rest squarely on incumbent governments and enfranchised citizens. Come election time, high unemployment, high crime, poor road safety and poor medical care are blamed on new immigrants, not because a causal relationship can be proven, but because we humans are very prone to xenophobia and because new immigrants can't vote. I suspect that this may be one of my more controversial blog entries, but I don't care. I'd rather be considered right 100 years from now than be popular now.

Good citizens should shun politicians who dehumanize migrant people into "illegals" as if having a typo in the morass of immigration paperwork makes an immigrant more worthy of the title "illegal" than a domestic born citizen who is a murdering crack dealer. Private and tax-funded media sources spread misinformation regarding immigrants and immigration law. When more people have the opportunity to walk a mile in the footsteps of newcomers, more will see for themselves that immigration reform is needed everywhere. Does anyone else feel that labor should have as much mobility as outsourced and insourced jobs (and money)? Why isn't the WTO as concerned about labor protectionism as it is about bananas and steel? If anyone knows of a place where native-born criminals and corrupt politicians live in fear of deportation I'd like to hear about it.

Comments:

I am an immigrant.. been one for a decade. No, longer if you count my aborted attempt at US immigration in the early 90's. I gave up on that, and headed for Europe instead. In the last decade I've lost track of the number of times I've been blamed for everything from rising taxes to contributing to the declining conditions in the neighborhood. The biggest thing I encounter is exactly what you've written about... countries are forgetting the contribution the immigrant community is providing in their society... everything from people who do the cleaning to people who hold positions of power - a really good example of this is in Canada. The highest position in the country, Governor General, is held by an immigrant from Haiti, and she's doing a fine job too. The public jumps on the "lets kick out the immigrants and it'll make everything better" bandwagon... totally ignoring the fact that it's not the immigrants who are the problem.. it's bigger than that. I like the concept of walking a mile in immigrant's shoes. I've done it, and it's really opened my eyes to a different world. It's been hard at times, but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. :-)

Posted by weeble on April 19, 2007 at 11:55 PM GMT+00:00 #

Good comment! I'm glad to hear that there are others who have walked a mile in these moccasins. My wife often reminds those who express anti-immigrant sentiment here that both the patron saint of Ireland and Ireland's first Taoiseach were born outside of Ireland. Saint Patrick was from Wales, de Valera was born in New York with an Irish mother and a Cuban father.

Posted by bnitz on April 20, 2007 at 01:19 AM GMT+00:00 #

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