Friday, February 24, 2017

February 24, 2017--Jack, On Immigrants

"So tell me what you and your friends would do about the more than 10 million illegal immigrants."

It was the morning after the Trump administration unveiled a new executive order that outlined plans to round up and deport millions of undocumented workers and their families and Jack was sounding excited.

Before I could respond, he continued, "My boy was back on his heels last week what with the Flynn fiasco, Kellyanne Conway, and that press conference. But with this he's back. And the general he appointed to replace that crazy Flynn is everyone's favorite. Even your crowd's."

"Well I do agree about General McMaster but about the immigration executive order, I'm not so sure."

"Perfect bleeding heart material for you liberals. Feeling sorry for all those displaced Latin Americans. See, I didn't say 'Mexicans.'" I sensed that made him feel good about himself. "But we've got a lot of problems and needs of our own not to have to worry too much about them."

"Well, they're here and for the most part are hard working and law-abiding. I just read that the crime rate among undocumented people is actually lower than among citizens."

"Probably from your New York Times. But aren't they all doing illegal things? I mean, just being in the country without documents or visas is itself illegal."

"So you'd round up everyone? Even the so-called Dreamers? Young people who were brought to America when they were very young children?"

"Maybe not them and as I understand it for some time at least the Trump immigration police will leave them alone."

"Just send their parents back?" I hope he heard my sarcasm.

"You know your American history."


"And wasn't it true that when your grandparents as well as mine came to America, because they didn't have the money, many left family members behind? Isn't that a version of the same thing? Isn't it in the nature of immigration itself?"

"I'll have to think about that some more. But it is true that for almost everyone--though they faced a lot of discrimination--they had legal status. They in most cases were sort of welcomed here as laborers, to build railroads, or settle and work on farms in the Midwest."

"Don't we have a guest worker program here that allows people to legally cross borders so they can work on farms and restaurants?"

"We do," I acknowledged.

"But we're getting sidetracked," Jack said. "I come back to my initial question--what would you do about the millions and millions of illegal immigrants? And I should remind you that your president Obama was the deporter-in-chief. He rounded up and sent back about two and a half million. More in total than all his predecessors combined."

"That's true but he didn't do it in the same kind of mean-spirited way. Unlike your president." It upset me that I was beginning to sound like Jack.

"Sure, Obama didn't publicize it because he didn't want to get legal Hispanic-Americans all upset. He wanted their votes. And pretty much got them."

"Can we forget Obama? Trump is now our president, so let's limit ourselves to what he's doing. Not much good as I see things."

"So you're Ok with all the illegals living here, sending their kids to our schools and hospitals, and . . ."

"The evidence is overwhelming that from an economic point of view, from a cost-benefit perspective, immigrants, even undocumented ones, contribute more that they get in government services. In other words, in bottom line terms, we get more in return than we pay out. Also, most of the unassimilated immigrants do work that, forgive the expression, real Americans don't want. Like a lot of the restaurant and field work. How many Americans do you know who want to wash dishes, cut lawns, or pick lettuce?"

Jack was silent so I said, "I take that to mean you don't know too many field hands who are citizens."

"Up here plenty of the farmers are Mainers. But to tell you the truth there are also a lot of Hispanic agricultural workers. Again, we keep getting off the subject. So let me try again--what would you do about the millions of illegals? Just let them be? Make them all citizens?"

"First of all, can you find another name for them. 'Illegals' sounds really nasty."

"Let me come at this another way. You live half the year in New York City, right?"

"Right, but where are you going with this?"

"You're a so-called sanctuary city, right?"

"Right. But again?"

"Which means that you don't cooperate with federal immigration enforcement people."

"Not entirely true because if an undocumented person commits a felony in most cases they do get turned over to the ICE people."

"But basically, if they obey the law, illegals, sorry, illegal immigrants, can stay in the city as long as they want, get drivers licenses, have any kind of job, etcetera."

"Basically true. And most New Yorkers are fine with that. In fact, we feel good about being welcoming and tolerant."

"We're not talking abut refugees, right, but people who came here or overstayed their visas to live and work?"

"Again, I don't have all day so can you get to your point because it feels as if you're building up to some revelation."

"I'll cut to the chase."

"At last." I was feeling exasperated with Jack. I liked him better when he didn't call so much. I did have things I wanted to get to and he has the ability to get under my skin.

"You have any immigrants living in your building?"

"I haven't checked but I assume so."

"They'd have to be rich ones, right, considering how much apartments sell for?"

"That's true," I admitted.

"So you're OK with where you're living?"

"Pretty much."

"It doesn't disturb you that your place isn't diverse?"

"What do you mean by that?"

"That everyone, I assume, is pretty much like you? All rich and . . . "

"There are some who have lived here for decades, before prices shot through the roof, and they are more modest than most of the rest of us. And again, your point is?"

"That you live pretty isolated from your typical illegal immigrant. My guess is, and it's an easy one, that you don't have any Mexicans who snuck across the border living in your building."

"Could be."

"And so this subject for you is pretty theoretical because the only illegals you maybe encounter are working in restaurants, cleaning up after you're finished with dinner?"

"Could be." I was starting to feel defensive.

"I'll bet you don't wake up in the morning and meet any in your elevator when you're heading out for breakfast. Except if someone is renovating their apartment and some of the illegal construction workers are around."

"Could be."

"How would you feel if somehow one morning you woke up and half the apartments in your building were occupied by Guatemalan or Syrian refugees?"

"That is . . . ," I sputtered.

"Go on. You can say it. You'd hate it."

"I don't know. This is all so crazy."

"But it's not theoretical to people here in Lewiston, Maine, where more than 5,000 refugees have been relocated. Altogether, including the refugees, there are only about 35,000 living in Lewiston. Some for generations. They wake up in the morning and see their neighborhoods and downtown turning into Somali enclaves. Ask them, from your Manhattan sanctuary, how they feel about that. And these are good people. But it's not how most want to live."

"But other places like Buffalo, New York, seem to be welcoming refugees and undocumented people because they contribute to their economy. Things are pretty bleak up there and new arrivals rent places, do the work that a lot of local people don't want to do, and buy things from Buffalo merchants. So it appears that it's good all around."

"I read about that too. In your Sunday Times, and I get it. But in just as many places, again like Lewiston, nobody asked the local people what they wanted. Refugees from Somalia just began to show up with the assistance of the U.S. government."

"I can understand that. I want us to be welcoming but local people should have a say in relocation programs. And I'll concede that refugees are not the same as undocumented people."

"As long as they don't move into you building."

I was out of gas and didn't respond.

"I hear you, you've got other things to do. I'll call you next week."

I said to myself, "If you must."
Somalis In Lewiston Maine

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