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Caseythoughts "Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breath free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore." Statue of Liberty inscription

"What has been will be again;
What has been done has been done again.
There is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1: 9-10

The masses yearning are no longer seeing that inscription nor its icon from a steerage compartment on decrepit transport ships, but after a precarious and often dangerous passage by land, on foot, and encountering much of the same hostility and propaganda that their European and Asian predecessors faced in the 19th and 20th centuries in this country. Deja vu all over again, methinks.

Let me give you a recent story for your consideration that didn't make much of a news splash. Then I'll supplement it with some numbers and surprising stats, and try to inject some humanity into this issue of 'huddled masses'. And I will start with saying that I'm not sure where I will land at the end of these 'Thoughts' but I think I can stay away from the malarkey of both 'sides'. I am convinced that this is an historic replay of the arguments of Congressional leaders and 'yellow press' in our previous immigration crunches which seem to accompany our economic booms, which predate much of living Americans' collective memory.

First of all, the House of Representatives last week passed a bill which would provide permanent legal status and a 'path to citizenship' for hundreds of thousands (yes, hundreds of thousands aged one to eighteen years old) of young immigrants who 'came here illegally', as children. Often called 'dreamers', the bill offered a conditional permanent resident status to these 'dreamers' for ten years. To qualify, these kids would have to met continuous residence requirements for the previous four years, and have no criminal convictions.

Sound reasonable? Remember, this isn't about the parents who entered illegally; it's about kids who are currently bound to stay here, knowing no other life, studying here, looking for employment eventually. They can be educated and search for employment legally. In other words, be citizens in toto with approved application.

Where is this bill now? Nowhere: Mitch McConnell in the Senate is not likely to take up the bill. He wants a 'comprehensive' bill that includes a wall. In political terms, no dice on the bipartisanship effort which might break a logjam which has bedeviled the country for decades. Sigh...the vote in the House was 237-187 with seven Republicans voting 'aye' and the bill had the support of liberal immigration groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and of all people, the conservative Koch brothers. This bill is stillborn at the foot of a ten foot border wall?

So, to continue my thinking, bear with me as I pull some numbers out of my hat.

The U.S. Labor Department now reports that the share of U.S. workers born outside of our country is at the highest level in decades: foreign born workers are defined as not born in the U.S. nor having U.S. citizens as parents. These workers are now 17.5% of our total workforce (also at an all-time high). This includes those who are now counted as naturalized citizens, immigrants and those in the U.S. temporarily. The same report said that on average these foreign-born workers are increasingly better educated and are more likely to be Asian. You read that correctly. I had to read it twice, too. But the White house is railing and ranting about our southern border being the Wild West war zone.

The raw numbers instead of percentages (I never found a way to spend a percentage point) will be a sobering point, as well: currently 27.2 million U.S. workers were born outside of our country. Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute (touts itself as a non-partisan think tank) said the "top overall reason for people to come to the United States is for employment".

The White House claims that the people just cited above are competing against the most vulnerable Americans, but political statements like that can't be totally true: Wages are rising in the lowest categories of work (I can attest to that first-hand) not the higher categories, and unemployment is currently 3.6% nationally, something which we baby boomers have never experienced. So, the 'foreign-born' worker is WORKING, working hard, and filling jobs as fast as they become available, and we still have more than six million jobs that are currently unfilled. These people who are being castigated as criminal, or worthless, or uneducated by certain elements of U.S society are not stealing jobs. They're doing what Americans no longer can do or want to do. You need go no further than asking Lansing or Cayuga County dairy farmers to verify this.

And here's a few more stats (if you'll bear with me) that I find fascinating, from the U.S. Labor Department. The labor 'participation' rate for foreign born workers is higher than native workers at all education levels. Labor participation among Hispanic immigrants with a high school diploma (72.2%) is nearly twenty points higher than similarly educated native whites (53.8%) and amazingly equal to native whites with bachelor degrees (72.7%).

It made national news last month that the U.S. (along with many other so-called advanced economies) is now at its lowest birth rate in over thirty years and it doesn't look like the rate will reverse any time soon. If we're going to effectively move into a 'brave new economy' that touts AI, automation, robots, self-driving cars, drones, and even more leisure time (don't get me started) then we also need to recognize that our world still needs millions of people who actually keep our humdrum workaday lives operating and functional. Who actually keep the world running? Where the heck are the plumbers, the mechanics, the skilled tradespeople and laborers who make our world livable? We need those huddled masses, folks, and many of them are living and working among us, they are at our borders asking to come in and work. They are working among us, paying taxes, going to school, going to churches and filling the void of jobs that need to be done, but we're too busy to notice, while our people in Washington bring up the same old tropes, the old 19th century prejudices, against 'foreigners' and 'others' who supposedly won't assimilate and will mongrelize the 'American' breed. Who won't assimilate, or won't this, or won't that.

These people at the border (hundreds of thousands, now, by official count) are braving a thousand miles of discrimination, hunger, danger and potential death, many with a child or more on their backs, to apply for food stamps or our welfare system? I don't think so. They want a peaceful life and a job. The same as you and me in our privileged cocoon. Are there bad ones among the huddled masses? Sure. Can't we weed them out with a little bit of tech and imagination? And where are the NGOs that can make a huge dent in giving these people solace and comfort while waiting for permission to enter, waiting for testament that they have a family waiting to house them and keep them from 'living off the dole'?

You know what? I am wrong about twice a day on average, but I'm pretty convinced that assimilation, whether now or almost two hundred years ago, begins with a job. And that's why they're coming here. To work. Yes, thousands are escaping poverty, crime, lousy government, fear and destitution brought about by right and left wing tin horn dictators. But, they get on the dusty and dangerous road to America knowing that the first thing they need to do, when allowed to do so, is to work. The same aspiration and thinking as the Italians, the Irish, the Germans, the Hungarians, the Russians, the Latvians, the Poles. And, yes, the Chinese who built (and died by the thousands) our railroads and canals, fitting into that assimilation model, as well.

The first generation will speak its own language, cook its traditional food, worship in its age-old ways and work like the dickens, while they angst about their children. But their children will speak English as well as the oldsters' language, and will also work hard and study hard, too, because that's been what we have always valued, and they know this perhaps better than 'we' do. If you doubt that last statement, take a look at our nation's campuses.

What will we do about the mothers with dependent children? I don't know, but maybe someone should think about immigrant charter schools. What will we do about the stress on our education system? I'm not sure, but to quote wags from the previous decades, we put a man on the moon, why can't we figure out (fill in the blank). One thing I feel fairly sure of: they are not overburdening or stressing our workplaces or electoral system (and you can't say with any rational thinking that these huddled masses are one political persuasion or another). They are assimilating, and making us strong just as the European immigrants did (while we called them myriad epithets and names, and tried to keep them in urban ghettos and 'in their place'). I have recently wondered what Harvey Fireside (Bless his soul) would say about helping these people instead of holding them at bay by the thousands as if they were a herd of cattle-like criminals, instead of a nation of passive and patient hopefuls.

And, is it possible for a moment to consider that they are coming in record numbers to take part in this new and booming American economy that the White House is so anxious to take credit for? How can we applaud economic nationalism and deny its potential side effects of immigration? Does this economic nationalism slide inexorably to xenophobia, or thinking that tariffs apply to people as well as cars? And, call economic immigration a side effect if you wish, but it has its upside and American history proves it.

Just as Japanese and Chinese immigration showed us how good they were at filling unwanted jobs, and learning how to compete with Americans at our own capitalist and hardworking game, our new huddled masses at the southwest border are desirous to do the same, I daresay.

We've gone through this before, folks, but this time we seem to have lost any ability to learn through compromise, to recognize some simple facts about demographics (and demagogues), economics and human aspirations. We're letting Washington (and the biased cronies of political recalcitrance including unions, political hacks and talk show nabobs) hold this country's future hostage. Now it seems we'll even let the White House hold the sword of Damocles over the head of our recent economic comeback, corporate surge, job-building and economic strength just to prove what seems more and more to be political point-scoring and stone-faced obstructionism to gain re-election. Who knows, maybe it's just the same old 'Know Nothing' race-bating and papist hating of the 19th and early 20th century come back in a new guise. Or new border.

Aren't we better than this? Isn't this the land of the free and the home of the brave? And how can we welcome these people who want to be like us? Some would tell us that 'They aren't like us and never will be.' I look at the 20th century: the Cubans, the Vietnamese, the Cambodians, the Africans, the Haitians, the Koreans and say: "They are very much like us, they have the same humanity and the same dreams". They deserve a chance. And, with imagination and open mindedness, we can say Yes. Are we going to allow politicians and their minions to say No, over and over again?


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