Small World: Walking the streets of Brooklyn

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

This year, our extended family gathered in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the festivities of Christmas week. We stayed in a neighborhood that is mainly a fusion of Jamaican and Haitian immigrants, with a salting of Asians. Far from their balmy beaches, these folk have embarked on the search for job opportunities that might offer them and their families a better life.
It is a quest that is being played out on the territories of almost every developed country to which refugees — economic or political — can achieve access. (Japan is one of the few nations that have mostly managed to keep outsiders out). They arrive on leaking, overloaded boats in Italy and Australia. By hiking and hitching, they come to France and Britain. By relationships to formerly imported workers, they establish communities in Germany and Holland. Ties to the host country’s defunct empires give some status in Britain and Russia.
In America, new immigrants have come in all these categories. Many are people who have overstayed their visas. But, the largest category by far are those workers and their dependents, who make their way northward from Mexico and points below. There are, it is generally estimated, about 11 million of these “illegals” on our shore. They are the focus of the looming debate in Washington on immigration.
President Obama wants to give maybe one-half of them some sort of regularized status. He would limit his measures to immigrants who have lived here five years, have clean records, worked diligently, raised American-born children in their families — all good citizens without legal status, forever at risk of deportation. Some have driver’s licenses; some don’t. Some pay taxes; some don’t.
Many Republicans are dead set again this sort of “amnesty” — a measure that resembles one set up under President Reagan (who is little mentioned). Republicans loudly lament that Obama is bypassing the Congress in taking action by executive decree. But, they block any action whatsoever — and the problem grows annually.
The Obama plan would also tighten up the regulations affecting employers who hire illegal workers and it would speed up and simplify the procedures that foreigners seeking to emigrate here have to go through.
Beyond negativity, Republicans have no specific proposals for remedy. In fairness, they are concerned that liberal treatment of immigrants living here illegally will only encourage others to travel northward. They have a point. They also have a point that a nation that can’t control its border isn’t fully sovereign.
But, we would hardly be a peaceful sovereign state if we tried to use police powers to capture and deport the illegals among the many Jamaicans, Haitians and others who crowd our street. That is a prescription for chaos.
So, what is to be done?
First, we need to get our national priorities straight. The press reported the other day that U.S. air operations against the “Islamic State” had after a few months passed the $1 billion mark. It seems highly probable that the threat to America — as opposed to Middle Eastern friends and allies who are half-hearted in the struggle — will be much the same whether or not we bomb.
The Middle East is important — vital — to our well-being, but Latin America is the persisting, quiet danger that can only grow more threatening. I don’t suggest that we drop $1 billion worth of bombs on the barrios and villages of Latin American. But if we invested that sum or even more in education and development in those neglected places, we might, just might, persuade some youth to stay at home. An even more potent use of our money would be to put more of it, backed by our great persuasive powers, behind effective family planning programs.
Now that would require real political courage!
Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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