One night I was having dinner in an eatery when the owner came over and said, “Mee-stur HASH-bee, you have a phone call.” Huh? The café was in an unknown village in the Netherlands, and few if any people knew I was there, or cared. The call was from an American friend, Phil, who worked at the Guardian newspaper in Britain. He had an idea for a story, so he called my paper in Houston and tracked me down to my hotel here, where the manager told him the name of the café he had recommended for supper. The café owner probably spotted me as an American by my Stetson and spurs. According to Dutch law, the manager had also called in my passport name and number to the local police. Thus both Phil and the Netherlands government knew where I was and probably which fork I used.
America has 11.1 million illegal immigrants – wild guess – and haven’t a clue where they are. We can’t agree on what to do with them, if anything, who to let in and who to toss out. We can’t even agree what to call them. What term do you use? Illegal alien, undocumented worker, cheap hired help, busboy or yardman? What exactly is your idea of “comprehensive immigration reform?” What does that meaningless term mean to you? Open borders or landmines?
But they are not all illiterate, unskilled workers sneaking across the Rio. An estimated one-third of our (whichever term you like) arrive here quite legally with student visas, tourist visas, temporary work permits and professional experts on something. My sister-in-law is an immigration lawyer. Her clients are the Texas Medical Center, energy companies and universities – all desperately trying to keep some highly trained engineers or medical researchers here, rather than deporting them back to India. It is an irony that we receive a brain drain of students who come to be educated and want to stay – wouldn’t you? – and we toss them out.
On the other hand, this country has the most generous immigration policies in the world, we have no apologies to make, and I’m tired of being told how guilty and hard-heated we are.
Last year 779,929 people became naturalized U.S. citizens. From 2004 through last New Year’s Day we let immigrants with legal refugee status from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — including 164 from countries “unknown”– stay here. They totaled 69,909. Couldn’t the feds have let in 91 more to make it an even 70,000? Incidentally, some 75,000 refugees have arrived in Houston in the last 35 years. Houston has been the Number 1 city for refugees in the past two years. Texas is also Numero Uno in receiving refugees the past two years.
We also have lawful permanent residents (LPR) or “green card” recipients. Last year, 990,553 persons became LPRs. The majority of these (54 percent) already lived in the U.S. The leading countries of birth of new LPRs were Mexico (14 percent), China (7.2 percent), and India (6.9 percent). In fiscal year 2014, an estimated 77,200 children are expected to get apprehended at the border — including 59,000 children from Central America, and now we are allowing 4 to 5 million illegal parents of legal children to stay. Is there anyone left down there? Over the last decade, the number of immigrants – legal and otherwise — in the U.S. has steadily grown. The number reached a record 40.4 million in 2011. This includes illegal immigrants whose number rose from 8.4 million in 2000 to 11.1 million in 2011. The U.S. is by far the world’s leader in immigrants. (Oddly enough, far, far back in second place is Russia with 12.3 million.)
With Congress absolutely frozen handling this hot tamale, President Obama has taken the extraordinary step of finally doing something, and a lot of Americans don’t like this, including Republicans, of course. (Let’s start a rumor: Dan Patrick is an illegal Ebola-carrying Marylander.) Those in favor of looser immigration rules could do their cause some good if, for example, during protest demonstrations demanding for U.S. citizenship, the protestors wouldn’t march down the street flying Mexican flags. No kidding. They stopped that. But the GOP does have a point: When word of this latest easing of our immigration laws gets to Honduras, does that touch off yet another “y’all come” stampede?
How often do we see an immigrant who’s been here 20 years being interviewed on TV and they have to use an interpreter? If I lived in, say, Helsinki for that long I should probably have learned some Finnian. Then there’s Akmed who has also been here 20 years illegally and claims that’s too long to be deported just because he’s a lawbreaker. Using this argument, if I hold up one bank, I’m deported. But if I’ve been holding up banks for 20 years, shouldn’t I be allowed to stay? Is the longer you break a law make you less guilty?
What about those who are trying to obey our laws? In many parts of the world I have seen wannabe Americans standing in line outside our consulates in all sorts of rotten weather, clutching tattered documents in their hands. “Sorry, folks, but the first law in America is that you don’t have to obey our laws.” We should also examine those “leaders” and “spokesmen” who claim to speak for all Hispanics on immigration. Here’s why: An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll just out shows that 38 percent of Americans surveyed agreed with Obama’s executive action. This breaks down to 63 percent Democrats, 37 percent independents and 11 percent Republicans. No big surprises there. But only 43 percent of Latinos approved. Listening to all those “leaders” and “spokesmen,” wouldn’t you think it would be 110 percent? Look, newcomers, my ancestors worked very hard to build this country, and so did their slaves. As for that call from Phil, it was about a little Dutch boy plugging the dike in our border fences.
Ashby is legal at firstname.lastname@example.org