I did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING on Monday, December 26. Well, almost nothing … I had to do some post-Christmas clean-up, since we host a house full of relatives for Christmas dinner every year. So the Day After Christmas is reserved for Decompression and Recovery.
The one thing I’m glad I did was catch an HBO documentary called Citizen U.S.A.: A 50 State Road Trip, where director Alexandra Pelosi travels to naturalization ceremonies in all 50 states; meeting brand new American citizens to learn why they chose America as their new home. I found it inspiring and thought-provoking.
Two experiences I have had with younger, liberal family members made the story Pelosi tells all the more poignant.
Documented and legal vs. Undocumented and running scared
One young relative not only constantly shines the light on the dangerous sub-culture of illegal aliens (The PC term is now apparently “undocumented workers“.) … pouring across the southern U.S. border, he has actually spent time in that hostile environment working with charitable organizations trying to help these “undocumented workers” survive the physical ordeal of crossing the desert border region. It’s an admirable humanitarian effort, providing they aren’t directly abetting illegal entry.
We have gotten into some spirited internet discussions about the subject of illegal/undocumented aliens/immigrants/workers. My central point in these discussions comes down to what barriers prevent these illegal border crossers from going through the process of becoming legally announced, recognized and controlled immigrants? How difficult it is really to apply and obtain legal work permits, then enter the country and work here legally?
From my research, it appears that the only practical barrier undocumented immigrants face to become documented laborers is the bureaucratic wait to receive work visas from the U.S. Government. But a New York Times report found that H2-A visa for agricultural workers, one of the few unlimited visa categories, can be obtained on the same day.
The HBO documentary – on the other hand – showed thousands of legally documented immigrants, who not only came here to attend schools and/or to work, but who have flourished to the point where they persistently and successfully sought to become fully naturalized U.S. citizens. They did not have to live a life under the radar, isolated from helpful human services; constantly on the move; always looking over their shoulder due to the fear of being caught and sent home. No hiding, no running.
How can the undocumented worker lifestyle be any freer, safer or more productive for the individual when they determine it necessary to leave their home and sneak into the U.S. for work, better wages and services that would improve their family’s quality-of-life?
Legal entry is obviously the safer, cleaner choice for the immigrant, even with the bureaucratic hoops which – according to the above NY Times link – is not an unreasonable barrier to LEGAL entry. So for me, it is hard to argue with the premise that illegals would rather enjoy the improved lifestyle and new opportunities without having to contribute a fair share towards the human services (schools, hospitals, etc.) they and their families enjoy while here.
The part that doesn’t make sense is having to SURVIVE the ordeal of a border crossing so dangerous that charitable organizations are compelled to be there to provide survival assistance.
I am hardly one who fails to recognize the value that foreign migrant workers contribute to the U.S. economy. Their labor is indispensable to many areas of our agricultural industry. So I’m waiting – even hoping – for someone to disprove this negative view of a generally hard-working, productive people, who – on the surface at least – appear to be only interested in improving their lot in life. These are givens.
(As an interesting aside, in six months during 2006 Mexico deported over 100,000 illegal immigrants. It is illegal for foreign nationals to be in Mexico – including Americans – without proper documentation. Mexican immigration law allows authorities to arbitrarily check immigration papers and to racially profile groups determined more likely to be in Mexico illegally.)
America: An Ideal not a guarantee
In the middle of watching the HBO presentation, I caught my eldest son snickering at one newly naturalized citizen’s proclamation that in America you can become successful, accomplish anything, and realize a better quality-of-life.
I’m willing to bet this is a fairly common reaction in some people. Those who have come to believe that corporatism and the financial system keeps the lower and middle classes hopelessly bogged down; those who think that social inheritance and political opportunism will always trump hard work and creativity; the cynical who look at the faults one can inevitably find in a society as large and complex as ours and conclude the deck is fixed against all but the properly connected.
I prefer to look at it another way.
Living in America is an Ideal, not a guarantee. It is a Promise that Hard Work and Creativity will be rewarded. It’s not a guarantee that you will be made rich and amazingly successful or even that all your Hard Work and Creativity will free you of financial pressures or eliminate all social disadvantages.
The Ideal is an objective for which we should reach up and out. The Ideal may very well be unattainable, which any true Ideal worth working towards should be.
America is still an Experiment just as the Founding Fathers saw it 235 years ago. America is imperfect. There are flaws in every segment of the Political, Economic, and Social orders. Solutions to these problems, whether these challenges develop over decades or pop up suddenly like cracks on a windshield, are tweaks in the Experiment that in reality are experiments on the Experiment. And sometimes the Solutions end up causing more problems elsewhere.
As in any experiment, when the variables – like economic stability or political efficacy – get out of whack the results suffer. Sometimes the confluence of problems and events within The Experiment develops into a perfect storm that threatens much of what has been accomplished. The storms can hold us back; and sometimes they can ruin the Individual. But part of the Promise is that the Foundation will always be there for You, a Foundation that can protect you and help you to recover.
The Promise isn’t that You will be carried forever. The Experiment has developed mechanisms that allow You to be carried when You cannot carry yourself. Yet even these support structures were never guaranteed to be there always or to carry into perpetuity those who fall on hard times, especially when they have the basic capabilities to work for themselves. Certainly the Promise was never intended to be a substitute for Hard Work.
In the end, You get out of the Experiment what you put into it. And if You wait only for what America will give you, you only cheat yourself, and the Promise will turn into nothing more than that … a promise.
As I viewed Citizen U.S.A. I heard people who spoke of their love for America – their new home. They understood the distinction between the Promise of America vs. America as a guarantee. Some spoke of how much is taken for granted by birthright Americans … how many things we accept as givens, such basic concepts as physical safety, freedom of speech and religion, freedom from overt government harassment, even the simple conveniences of running water and electricity at the flip of a switch. Things that many of these newly naturalized Americans saw as Miracles of Democracy, because in so many other parts of the world even these simple expectations regularly go unfulfilled.