Who issued green cards to the Pilgrims?


It’s week four of the National Conversation on Race, and this week is a toughie. Our moderators over at Equity Blog are pushing all of us to go past the “lowest common denominator” conversations that we usually have about race and actually talk about finding solutions to serious problems.

The two they propose aren’t easy to solve: the incarceration rate among young men of color and the battle over immigration reform.

One of the commenters, Raul Ramos y Sanchez, contributes some historical context to the immigration debate.

As to the “legality” of today’s undocumented immigrants, let’s not
confuse morality with geography. If the Ellis Island immigrants from
Europe could have simply walked across the border instead of having to
cross an ocean in a ship to find a better life, do you think they would
have waited patiently behind an invisible line?

Sanchez points out that America has a history of illegal immigration – starting with the Pilgrims, and continuing with the move westward across the continent. He says that history doesn’t justify unlawful immigration today, but it does at least put it in context.

All of this made me think: we as Americans argue over ideas, but rarely over policy. We fall into two camps on immigration: kick ’em out or legalize them. But how? How, specifically, do we fix the problem of undocumented immigration in this country?

I guess we usually leave the “how” up to the legislators, but, more and more, I am beginning to doubt that as a wise choice.

So, I’m asking you: if we’re going to do something about illegal immigration, what specifically should we do about it? What are your solutions? How would they work?

We’re really good at maligning the other side, but not as good at figuring out what to do. So, let’s practice. Tell us what you would do if it were your job to reform immigration.

We might just be surprised at how smart we really are.

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  • Great post. One component of immigration integration that's rarely discussed is the importance of coalition-building within Black and Latino communities to ensure that whatever policies are enacted do not infringe or violate immigrants' rights.


  • In reply to jaydi25:

    Janet, this is a great point. All major social justice victories have been won because the group or minority fighting them has been able to convince everyone else that their cause was just and affected everyone, even if it didn't seem like they were directly impacted.

    During the Civil Rights movement, black leaders were able to convince whites and others that their cause was worth fighting for.

    Recently, leaders in the gay community have been successful in convincing many in the straight community that their cause is just.

    The same needs to happen with the immigrant community. But of course they first need to determine what exactly their cause is.

  • amnesty, blanket amnesty and demilitarization of the border would be a good start. the border serves as a convenient dumping ground for xenophobic rhetoric and cheap political points.

    The narcowars raging in Mexico are the result of US demand for drugs (there are reams of empirical evidence proving that). Migrants seeking work in the US have been displaced by neoliberal policies flooding Latin American with subsidized US produce (especially corn) and the abysmal wages paid by maquilas (factories) run by US companies who wanted to increase their margins.

    I'm dead serious that I think blanket amnesty and border demilitarization are sound policies, and in the interest of human rights they should be pursued immediately.
    It makes no sense at all to open borders to capital and close them to people (as most sane economists would agree).

  • I'm not sure what the best solution would be, but I take issue with the notion that immigrants of past generations would not have waited if there was an "invisible line."

    If their lives were at risk, they would not have waited, no. In some cases that was true. There were Irish immigrants who came here because of the potato famine. Their lives were literally in danger because they were in danger of starving. Other groups may have come because they were so severely persecuted. Jews for instance. There were pogroms. People's lives were truly in danger. So they came here.

    I'm not certain if the Hispanic immigrants of today are coming here because their lives are in the same kind of danger. If I'm mistaken, please correct me. Having been to Mexico more than once, it doesn't seem to me like there is anything to fear except extreme poverty (which we have in the U.S. as well) and lack of opportunity (again, we have that here too). Sure, those are good reasons to immigrate, but one's life is not in immediate danger, right?

    My own family including myself came to the U.S. from the U.S.S.R. in 1989. I was nearly 9 years old. We came here legally with the help of the American Jewish community and many others.

    It was still an exceedingly difficult decision to make, as you can imagine. Leaving one's home and country for the rest of your life (because we were stripped of Soviet citizenship upon leaving; not that we really wanted it, but still...). We knew the U.S. would afford us a place to live that would be more tolerant of Jews and my parents knew it would offer me and my sister greater opportunities.

    Something HUGE separates us and many Hispanic immigrants who come here though. We were educated. My parents both had gone to college and my father had the equivalent of a Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering. So we were much better prepared for our new lives in America. Today's Hispanic immigrants are not and as a result they are easily exploited by the horrific labor market which is these days exploiting college graduates too. Though at least we don't have to work in meatpacking plants (the worst job in the world --> http://select.nytimes.com/2006/06/19/opinion/19herbert.html)

    Another reason Russian immigrants are so successful is that we are very enterprising. Many people start their own businesses after a lifetime of not being allowed to do so in the U.S.S.R. I'm not sure what level of entrepreneurial spirit there is among Hispanic immigrants, but if they are here illegally, they obviously can't start a legal business. This is a problem. They also can't work legally so again, they are easily exploited by employers who can basically blackmail them into doing anything so long as they are not reported.

    Some people (mainly conservatives) say this is where the problem should be attacked: on the supply side. If we can get these employers to not hire cheap immigrant labor, we can remove the incentives for coming here illegally. I'm not sure that can work. I read a book recently that described entire towns in the Midwest that would be long gone if it wasn't for large populations of Mexican workers who come there to work, but then end up buying homes, improving the town, etc. If they were not there, the town would die completely. The factory that employs them would move to Brazil or, ironically, Mexico where they could pay even less. But this is a problem of globalization that I again don't know how to solve.

  • I have no solutions to offer, but am really encouraged by the approach taken here and the discourse that it is spurring. It's great to see some honest and respectful conversation! Keep up the great work, everybody!

  • Who issued green cards to the Pilgrims?

    The point that is made in this article is terrible. Just because we didn't have laws in the past doesn't justify breaking them now. The US evolved into the most dynamic and powerful country because we created laws (from property to criminal) that were enforced.

    It would be like saying that the Wild West was won over with guns and killing. I guess that's how things should be done today? Sounds good to me.

    On how to fix the problem, that's a 15 minute write-up, which I don't have time today to post.

  • In reply to Harvesto:

    So sorry to hear you could not spare us fifteen minutes to solve the immigration issue. I

  • In reply to Harvesto:

    Actually, one key way the U.S. evolved into the "most dynamic and powerful country" was by breaking laws. The U.S., for instance, ignored the internationally recognized borders of Mexico in the 1840s and drummed up an excuse to wage war with that country, taking most - yes, most - of its land, essentially at gun point. Why was it ok for the U.S. to basically steal AZ, TX, CA, NM and CO? The point is, there were laws for much of our past that the U.S. has selectively chosen to ignore when it was convenient.

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