loren Eric Swanson: Thinking a little clearer about immigration

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Thinking a little clearer about immigration

America is a country made up of immigrants who have come to our shores from nearly every other nation on earth. Immigrants come to the America today for the same reasons they have come for centuries—for opportunity. America has been built by those who came to America to contribute to and benefit from the opportunities America offers. The hope of all would be Americans is that here you can make something of yourself, regardless of family status or nation of origin. This hope is captured in the following poem called The New Colossus, written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, which appears on the pedestal of the Statue:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name,
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

The DNA of American freedom, opportunity and hospitality is known throughout the world. The lamp still shines on the front porch of America. Until opportunities in one’s country of birth are equal or better than those in America, America will be a magnet to the peoples of the world.

The measure of this inequality of opportunity can be measured against the risks people are willing to take to come here. So, to pay $1500 (earned in a country where the average laborer’s wage is under $10 / day) to a “coyote” to smuggle one across the border, to walk across a dessert, to ride in the trunk of a car or in a sealed box car, is the true indicator of their desire for a better life. Dominicans and Cubans who cobble together a makeshift boat on the hope of arriving in Florida are people who have calculated the risk / benefits of living and working in America against the prospects of staying in their native land or dying on the journey. Where prospects are not better here than in the home country, there is no pressing immigration—legal or otherwise. We will not be building a fence along our northern border (even though terrorists could walk across at many unguarded crossings) because the economic incentives in Canada are equal to those in the states. So until disparities are lessened, the pressure to enter the country will continue. What would you risk for the opportunity to increase your income ten-fold to be a better provider for your family?

In the following days I'm going to try to address some of the economic, political and spiritual issues that pertain to immigrants.


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