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What’s fair is fair when it comes to immigration

Because of an accident of history, geography, and climate, and because of the decisions of people on both sides of my family, I was born in Juarez, Mexico. The city is the Mexican half of what used to be “El Paso del Norte” (Spanish for “The Northern Pass”). When Texas seceded from Mexico and was annexed by the United States back in the 1840’s, the city was split because the political boundary decided upon by the two countries was the Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo). The river ran right down the middle of the city. The American side became “El Paso,” while the Mexican side would be named “Juarez” in the late 1800’s, a name that it keeps to this day.

Growing up there, I always saw the city as one. There was no reason for me not to. Family members lived on both sides, and I was free to go back and forth to visit them. Of course, I wasn’t fully aware that crossing the border required all sorts of legal documents, and that it required my parents to jump through many hoops. It wasn’t until I was older and had to answer many, many questions and show an ID card every time I crossed the border that I started to become more aware of what was going on. Mexicans were to stay on their side of the line, and it was a privilege for us to cross to the other side.

In fact, it wasn’t until two years ago that I became a United States citizen. However, because I had lived, studied, and worked in the US since I was ten years old, I never really considered myself a foreigner. I’ve known how to speak the language from a very young age because I watched American television broadcasts from El Paso. I remember trying to decode “The Crosby Show” and learning what some words meant when I’d see cartoons dubbed into Spanish that I had seen in English weeks before. When I moved to Pennsylvania to work, I thought that I blended in pretty well into the community.

The reality is a little different, however. It’s a little different because I see it in the local newspaper and the comments section of the newspaper’s online presence. There are plenty of people who see immigrants – legal or illegal – as a scourge on the country. Any and all evils are blamed on immigrants. From crime to unemployment, people really do think that these things would magically disappear if there were no immigrants, if a wall one hundred feet high was built around the country, and if we all had to show evidence of being Americans for anything we did (e.g. applying for work, school, and even going to the doctor).

The issue of immigration is one that makes me very uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable because I always feel that people listening to me discuss it instantaneously assume that I have a conflict of interest from being Mexican. There have been those who tell me that my opinion is always going to be pro-immigration because immigration has benefited me so much. I’m fairly successful and educated because the immigration laws allowed me to come to this country and be educated and well employed. In their minds, my own drive had nothing to do with it. Likewise, they think that immigrants have nothing to do with their own success. In their minds, immigrants are just taking advantage of the system.

My opinion on immigration at this time is actually a quite balanced one. Should the borders be wide open? No, not at all. It’s a matter of national security and national sovereignty to have a secure border and secure our coasts. All sorts of bad things could make their way into the country. Should we deport every single person who is in the US illegally? Of course not. Many of those people are actually productive citizens of their communities. They’re the children of immigrants who have only known the United States as their home. And they are the parents of American children, whether you like it or not. The people who should be deported are violent criminals, or people who have committed crimes that have injured many people (e.g. fraud). But to arrest and threaten to deport a collegiate athlete? That’s not only wrong, it’s un-American.

I also happen to believe that all the money we’ve poured into programs designed to discriminate against illegal immigrants, like the Arizona ID-check laws, could have been better spent on programs to aid poorer countries and their people get back on their feet. When that happens, their people stay home and don’t come to the US illegally. You see it time after time in communities in Mexico. As their economy gets better, their able-bodied workers stay. When the US economy took a plunge in 2008, illegal immigration slowed down and even reversed itself from some countries. I’m not talking hand-outs, either. I’m talking investments. Imagine if we imported our stuff from Mexico instead of China. How many Mexicans would want to come here instead of staying there and manufacturing products for the world? (This is happening in Brazil right now, by the way.)

The other day, as I was going through the gates at the metro station, a young Hispanic man was arguing with one of the transportation officers. He said that his ticket was not working. She was trying to explain to him that he was placing it wrong in the slot that reads the ticket. He got frustrated and called her a slur in Spanish. I told him to cool it and have more respect for the law. His reply to me was that I should be on his side because I’m Brown, like him. He cursed at me for not defending him, even after we both got on the train.

I’m sorry, but my allegiances are not determined by where I was born, the color of my skin, or what language I speak. My allegiances are determined by what is right and wrong, what is legal and what is not, and what is fair and unfair. It is only fair that people here in the US, of any national origin, be allowed to live in peace and without fear of being arrested and deported if they are here and being productive. And, by “productive,” I even mean the mothers of children who are homemakers and work hard at home to help kids do well in school. It is only fair that someone who is able to do a job well earn a living wage. And it is only fair that someone given the privilege to live in the world’s superpower and number one economy but who instead decides to turn to a life of crime be sent back to where they came and away from this society.

Know what I mean?

Featured image credit: VinothChandar / Foter / CC BY

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René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.

3 replies

  1. First, we should have *no* undocumented aliens. That said, the reality is far from the perfection of no undocumented aliens. The reality is that we have quite a few. Not as many as some far right types would have all believe, but we do have far too many.
    We waste massive amounts of money chasing down illegal aliens, most often catching those who were productive members of their community before they were caught, frequently leaving children parentless.
    What I do find amazing is how so many on the far right will proclaim how “we’re BROKE, we can’t spend money on xxx!”, then in their next breath go on at great length and high volume how every undocumented alien should be hunted down and deported. If we don’t have money, where do these people think that immigration agents, judges, guards and clerks get paid from?!
    The reality is, we have a significant number of undocumented aliens who do contribute to their community and this nation. They typically keep a low profile to avoid immigration officials and deportation. It would cost hundreds of millions at a minimum to track all of those people down and deport them, then being stuck with US citizen children, even more to support them until adulthood.
    In these days of tight budgets, it only makes good economic sense to grant a limited time amnesty, document those who are then documented and move on. Contrary to what the far right wants all to believe, US citizens are not clamoring for the jobs that the majority of undocumented aliens are performing. We don’t have US citizens line up around the corner to cut trees, slaughter livestock and chickens, do heavy manual unskilled labor or pick crops. Immigrants take the lower rung in the employment ladder, the lowest slot reserved for the undocumented alien and that becomes a familial caste position, as advancement is impossible.
    The problem did not occur overnight, but all want the all American quick fix. Regrettably, the average American quick fix tends to be a band aid covering a bullet hole. It hides a problem, but leaves the hemorrhage to continue unabated.
    While undocumented aliens are far from being akin to a hemorrhage, their undocumented status is a problem. A solution is a longer term solution, not a quick “hunt ’em down” approach, as that is a waste of scarce assets that could be far more effectively utilized elsewhere. An amnesty and registration solution would be inexpensive and effective, once the undocumented aliens come to realize that such events are not a “grand roundup”.

    That said, the land would have been far better off without all of those immigrants. I’ve heard that and agree fully with every Native American that I’ve heard say it.
    Because, if you, the US citizen reader are not a Native American, you *are* of immigrant stock and for those who object to immigrants, a hypocrite.
    Me? I’m in a relatively unusual place in that view. I do have some Native American in my maternal line, my paternal line is 100% Sicilian immigrants that passed through Ellis Island.


  2. Ah, if it were all that simple.

    My family was of a wave who homesteaded in the Yakima Valley over a hundred years ago from West Virginia. It took a bit for them to get accepted (a brother had arrived in the 1880s). Then the Okies came during the depression as outlined in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath… and more recently the Mexicans who now own and run several orchards and businesses. It is worthwhile that the local paper includes them with,

    I guess I should mention the Japanese, because my dad’s friend was Nissai, but they never returned after being interned during WWII (see The Burning Horse: The Japanese-American Experience in the Yakima Valley 1920-1942 by Thomas Heuterman, possibly through an inter-library loan).

    Still there are always more annoying stories that should break your heart: Medical school beyond reach of UW grad brought here illegally.


    1. @Chris, perhaps you should share with George Takei. He’s on G+/
      History is illuminating, it’s also shaming and worse emotionally.


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