IMMIGRATION POLICY MAKERS SHOULD TAKE A PAGE FROM HISTORY

Georgie Anne Geyer

WASHINGTON -- Many Americans seem to think it is a smart expository statement, one that typifies the national experience: "America is a nation of immigrants."

It is almost always used as a reason -- or excuse? -- for trying to bring into the country more immigrants, far beyond the national limit. Most of these arguments seek to use the original immigrant experience of the 19th century and early 20th century either to lessen the suffering of the peoples of the world or to get cheap labor for American factories and farms.

But the simple fact is that the immigrant experience of the past -- an experience that was deliberately planned and handled to create a unified and functioning polity based upon shared principles -- has almost nothing to do with the experience, if it can even be called that, of today.

In those early days, immigrants came legally. From 1892 to 1954, they were usually transported through Ellis Island in Upper New York Bay. Most were European and so already shared the values of America's founders. There, they were forced to undergo a serious physical, and migrants with illnesses like cholera or measles were immediately shipped back. Most of the time, immigrants needed a sponsor in the U.S. who would ensure their financial security. And when they opened the New York Pulitzer newspapers, they would find instructions on how to dress in America.

Today, most immigrants trying to come legally are forced to wait because so many illegals have pushed in ahead of them. Most modern immigrants are from the underdeveloped world and do not necessarily have American values already instilled in them. Health screenings today are cursory, and no one hears of sponsors anymore.

Not only do the new immigrants find no wardrobe suggestions for their new lives, they most likely will find organizations claiming to speak for them, not in the name of their new citizenship but of their old. Pro-Mexico groups now commonly DEMAND "rights" for Mexicans here that only American citizens should receive. They often dress as they dressed at "home."

Not accidentally, the head of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Obama is Cecilia Munoz, who was for many years the spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza, one of the most radical pro-immigration groups. These supposedly representative groups actually have no members and champion the interests of people who want more and more immigrants, legal or otherwise.

In the end, in fact, saying that America is a nation of immigrants is much like saying that Australia is a country of convicts or that Latin America is a region of Spanish murderers on horseback.

So, what does this have to say about the 50,000 -- some say 95,000 -- children, often accompanied by adults, who have been pouring across our southern borders from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras?

It has to say, first, that we must clear up our thinking about migrants. This is essentially a "nation of citizens," of people who came legally, with the idea of pledging their troth to the United States. America made the decision on who came, not the gangs in San Pedro Sula.

Second, it would be lovely if we could accept all of these children, but we cannot, and moreover, we should not. When we have a city like Chicago being shot up every weekend by boys we cannot control, how can we know or control tens of thousands more whose major experience is gang warfare? If their parents are in America, why didn't they send for them? Who really has responsibility here?

Third, we must start thinking about overpopulation, about our capacities for education and for health care, about jobs and futures. We must start thinking about the carriers of disease -- even nice people carry tuberculosis and whooping cough and cholera. And, above all, we must start thinking about the teaching of what America truly stands for: opportunity within a web of justice, truth and health.

Fourth, isn't it curious that, even since this invasion has begun, two years ago really, we have heard no one at our top levels speak of dealing with the origins of this crisis -- origins that historically were the responsibility of no power less than our own?

Our country has a long and less-than-noble history with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. In each one, the CIA has, at every turn, halted the opportunities for liberal change and installed the most vicious rightist military governments possible. To take only Guatemala, it was the CIA, pushed by the United Fruit Co. and other U.S. companies, which stopped that country's 10 years of reform under presidents Juan Jose Arevalo and Jacobo Arbenz and returned the country to misery.

Now that early poison has been turned into gang and drug warfare, which has both inspired this invasion of the "ninos" and degraded these countries' governments and militaries so they are unable or unwilling to face the dread realities.

Would it be too much to send some of those American "boots on the ground" to Central America, where we could really do some good, at minimum cost? Is it too much to ask of OUR government to undo what we have done, and this time to save OURSELVES?

(Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years. She can be reached at gigi_geyer(at)juno.com.)

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