Small World: Changes coming for America

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

More than 52,000 Hispanic children and another 39,000 women with children have crossed the U.S. border in the southeast. Coming mainly from Central America, they say they are driven out by dire poverty and criminal and police brutality. The estimate is that the number will reach 90,000 by the end of the year and 148,000 in 2015. The immigrants’ plan is to find salvation here and later bring their families up.

Not going to happen, the White House warns, and seeks $3.7 billion for improved security and humanitarian conditions along the border.

Those are the current headlines on immigration, an issue that seems to have paralyzed Congress and badly confused the public. All agree that the influx of foreigners needs urgently and wisely to be managed. But how? The choices made now — if, in fact, ever made — will shape our politics, economy and culture for years to come.

First, a few facts: Despite vast expenditures and blather, our borders are hardly “sealed off.” Witness the current “Children’s Crusade.” The country harbors maybe 12 million illegal aliens — many of whom have become respectable residents imbedded in their communities but fearing deportation if they come forward. Congress and President Reagan gave amnesty to over three million of them in the 1980s — a measure that is now anathema to the Tea Party Right.

The inadequate American education system requires that we import persons with special skills = 13% of the annual total arrivals. We also have a humanitarian obligation to take in refugees from regions of strife and disaster = maybe 17%. Two-thirds of total admittances, however, are family members of immigrants (children, spouses, parents, brothers, sisters.)

In 1970, first generation immigrants in our population totaled 9.6 million; in 2007 the figure was 38 million. In 1970, 60% of foreigners were from Europe; in 2000 the figure fell to 15%. The top sending countries in 2006 were Mexico, China, Philippines and India. The states with largest (over 200%) increase in immigrants (1990-2000) were N.C., Ga., Nev. and Ark. Maine’s immigrants increased 1.1%.

Plainly, this immigrant surge will work major changes in the lives of settled Americans. If a liberal immigration bill (i.e., with some sort of amnesty) is passed by Democrats over Republican opposition, many Hispanics will give their votes to the former for many elections ahead, especially in states now dominated by Republicans, e.g., Texas, Ariz., Fla. and other southern states.

The enlarged ranks of newly-arrived consumers will be stimulating for the economy. At both the skilled and unskilled ends of the employment spectrum, however, traditional American workers will find competition for jobs much intensified. Men and women who are out of work become natural recruits for drugs and crime. Study harder, learn Spanish will be among the positive lessons.

Throughout our history, we have foreseen big, complex problems coming, but done little on nothing to mitigate them. It was commendable to free African slaves; it was tragic that they were thrust into American life without adequate preparation. We understand now that inequality is increasing between the few rich and the many poor; nothing is done with taxes or other instruments to level the economic and social arenas. Money is allowed to play a role in politics; one-man one-vote is no longer the rule.

It would be a great blow of unpredictable scope to our national values if massive numbers of people from totally different backgrounds overwhelm our systems. The melting pot doesn’t work on automatic pilot; it needs a talented chef at the controls. I see only squabbling and self-interested amateurs preparing the future servings.

Can anything be done to control the flood? Two options face us: One is the slowing of the U.S. economy, which will change Latino perception of this land of opportunity. That’s not a choice anyone would pick.

The other tactic would be to strengthen the economies and societies of the sending nations. Economic development will mean creating jobs, improving education and health (the kinds of things we ought to be doing up here for our own people) and most important, but rarely discussed, slowing population growth by making contraception and abortion cheaply available.

Otherwise, standby for the deluge.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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