Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What rights for illegal immigrants?

Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...just make sure they don't come from south of the border.

Or at least, that seems to be the pervasive feeling amongst Americans these days. A new poll by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute shows that an overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites don't think illegal immigrants should be allowed to apply for driver's licenses or pay in-state tuition at colleges, and they're split on whether their children should be allowed to attend our public schools.

Wisconsin residents overwhelmingly oppose allowing illegal immigrants to apply for Wisconsin driver’s licenses by a margin of 76% to 19%. On the question of allowing illegal immigrants to receive discounted tuition at the University of Wisconsin, 86% oppose the idea while only 10% support it. It is only in the area of allowing illegal immigrant children to attend local public schools that there is some serious movement. On this issue 46% of Wisconsin residents favor it, while 46% oppose it.
I understand that it's an intensely complicated issue, made all the more difficult to figure out by the level of emotion often involved in the debate. From the far-right, you have accusations of job stealing, rampant criminality, and a straight-up feeling of xenophobia. From the far-left, you have calls for complete amnesty. But certainly there must be a middle ground, a place where America finds a way to improve its severely tarnished reputation as a place where anyone can come to improve their lot in life.

Will granting illegal immigrants the right to apply for driver's licenses wreak some sort of havoc on our state? I doubt it. As it stands, illegal immigrants are going to keep driving cars to get to jobs and schools, regardless of whether they have licenses or not. The vast majority of them are here because they want to work hard to make a better life for themselves and their children. And, frankly, it's hard to get a job that's within walking or biking distance from your place of residence (hey, we've just wandered into the infill vs. sprawl debate, too!). So they drive, without a license, without insurance, as a risk to themselves and everyone else on the road.

They're going to keep driving, so we really ought to have a system in place that makes it possible for them to be licensed and insured to do so. It makes everyone on the road with them safer, and shouldn't that be our ultimate goal?

It's the old "you can build a fence around the pool, but you should still teach your kids how to swim and to wear a life jacket, because no matter what, they're going to find a way to go swimming" lesson.

But then, apparently it's my generation alone that actually supports this idea. According to that same poll, "The only real support in the state for allowing illegal immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses came from young people between the ages of 18 and 24, where 64% favored the idea while only 36% opposed it. In every other major age group there was uniform opposition to the idea of allowing illegal immigrants to apply for Wisconsin driver’s licenses." (oops, looks like I'm two years over the cut-off there, but I think I still count)

Why is it that the youngest generation of voters thinks giving immigrants a chance at getting a license is just peachy? I know some of the more curmudgeonly commentators will blame "youthful ignorance and/or idealism" and write us off as inexperienced know-nothings. Frankly, I think it has more to do with the possibility that the younger generation has more experience living/working/leaning in an environment with a greater diversity of people and ideas.

Foreign language speakers don't freak us out.

The idea of what America was and is supposed to be all about is a place of improvement, of freedom, of making something better. Very few of us are real "natives" here. My ancestors came over from various European countries. Some of them probably stole land, kept slaves and forced the native peoples out. How is that not far worse than those people who come here now simply looking for work and a good education? How is it not supremely hypocritical of us now to deny basic services and rights, to build Cold War era-like fences, to send unofficial trigger-happy "minutemen" out to patrol the borders, all in an ultimately futile effort to keep those tired, poor and huddled masses out?

Maybe we're just mad that they're coming in through deserts and the Rio Grande, instead of the traditional front door, as overseen by the more postcard friendly Lady Liberty.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Further reading:


Anonymous said...

Aren't you assuming a lot in your comments on this poll and assigning a lot of anger where none might exist? Where does the poll ever mention Mexican or Latin American illegal immigrants - assuming that's what you mean by "south of the border?" Where does it ever mention that "foreign language speakers" freak out anyone over 24 years of age?

You also assume the younger generation deals with a more diverse society, except of course for the vast melting pot that has occurred for years in this country far before you or I were born. The major difference is that while the past immigrants wanted to make this country better, the newer immigrants only want to make their own lives better and live in their own isolated communities. The Kennedy ideal of "ask not" is completely missing from many immigrants' thought process.

Being 39 years of age and the son of an Asian immigrant, I can tell you that the problem I have with illegal immigrants is not their nationality or their language, it is with their flaunting of the rules of a civilized society. That difference is also reflected in the ages and generations, where it seems the younger generations do not want to take ANY responsibility for their own actions or consider that there are any rules that need to be followed to live in an organized society. The term "illegal immigrant" is there for a reason. There are "legal" immigrants who are following the rules, making an effort to contribute to the country and trying to live safely and civilly in this country.

If we use your proverbial pool in the backyard, I have no problem if a child from the neighborhood were to ask to use my pool, provided he/she came over during reasonable hours, swam safely and didn't leave a mess. If the same kid climbs over the fence in the middle of the night without my permission and trashes the pool, you imply that not only shouldn't I arrest the kid, but it is MY job to give him/her swimming lessons.

Emily said...

Anonymous: I do hear where you're coming from, and I will be the first to admit that I have no definitive solutions for or understanding of the problem. I am guilty of making a few generalizations in my post, but so are you. To assume that all illegal immigrants have no interest in giving back to their community or assimilating in some way is a gross generalization, and implies a lack of interaction with said people.

Yes, I agree that those who wish to live here also need to accept responsibility for their lives and for the betterment of their new community as a whole. Yes, I agree that too many people eschew personal responsibility in favor of a one-man-island attitude, but I really don't see that limited to my generation alone.

And you're right, not all illegal immigrants are coming from south of the border: but 57% are of Mexican origin and about 24% are of non-Mexican Latin American origin, for a total of 81%. To ignore that large of a percentage is to ignore a large part of the issue.

Emily said...

Source for percentages:

Anonymous said...

Simple... because allowing them to get a drivers license is giving tacit approval of their status and contrary to your thinking gives no gaurentee that once licensed they will even bother to sign up for car insurance. Now considering that the average illegal immigrant is living below the poverty line (average of 9,000 in the state of California) do you really think they will part with $1000+ dollars per year to insure their vehicles (also based on california average auto insurance for first time drivers).

To further compound your ignorance is the fact that at the beginning and end of your post you mention the poem on the statue of liberty. Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the Statue of Liberty named in french, "La liberté éclairant le monde" or "Liberty Enlightening the World" was gifted to the United States by France in 1886 the 100 year anniversary of our countries independence from England, something the French played a large role in, as a gesture of good will between the two nations. The idea behind the statue was to serve as a beacon of democracy and inspire other nations with oppressive governments to rise up for democracy in their own nations. Furthermore, the poem that you seem to love to quote (The New Colossus) was inscribed at a later date (1903) and on the interior of the statue on a plaque not the exterior as is a common misconception. Also this poem was only inscribed after the poet (Emma Lazarus) died as a tribute to her for her works. So now overtly emotional arguement you make using the statue of liberty as its crux is completely defunct... unless you don't believe in math or believe that our immigration policy should be dictated by a poet. Perhaps you also believe that if one of the Bush Daughters decided to move to England to be with Prince Harry then The United States of America should go to war because that is what the noble Greeks did in Homer's poem The Illiad. Why not just base all of our countries foreign and domestic policies off of literature and poetry from over a century ago. STFU you ignorant cock sucker.

Emily said...

Wow, you had an interesting argument right up until that last sentence. Way to negate almost everything you said in one fell swoop. Please take the nasty name-calling elsewhere, or next time I will delete it. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I think you had many good points. I am an illegal immigrant.
What prompted me to write this comment, which will be annonymous of course, was because the 39 year old asian man bellow me used an absurd example with a pool! I am a Mexican immigrant, and i am 16 years old. A pool does not compare with the United States. What this article states is America's hypocrasy in aiding the immigrants.
I understand that it is not fair that many illegal immigrants work and do not pay taxes, well my family and many other illegals I know do pay taxes. "NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION." Does that sound familiar to ANY of you? My father or mother cannot vote(that means they are not represented) and yet they still pay taxes.
My father has been paying taxes for OVER 5 years, dont you think it is fair for him to become a legal citizen? Thomas Jefferson made it a law that if an immigrant was to live in the U.S and PAY TAXES for 5 years they may get their citizenship. Well my father has not gotten his yet, all we want is a better education and a better life. We keep getting denied by the country we addopted and we are loyal, thats right we still follow the laws and we take responsibility for what we do.
Have you seen what other countries are going through? All the violence and poverty? Wouldn't you flee this country if it was going through something like that too? Wouldn't you want Xenia at the country you escape too? (Xenia: Greek word for hospitality). Just for the record, Chihuahua (state in Mexico) is passing through great turmoil and violence, so Mexico is suffering too.
I agree with you Emily that not all immigrants are from "south of the border" but haven't you noticed that we are the only ones being persecuted by the ICE? Many people see a Latin American and assume, "Wet back", "illegal", or unintelligent. I know because i have experienced it first hand.
Another point I would like to address is that we do try to give back to our community and country. Likr I said I am an illegal, i came here through a plane 13 years ago, I work with an organization called MOP (Metro Organization for People) this organization was made by PICO. The participants of this organization is to make the comunity a better place according to the people, we get letters or we interview the people on issues the community presents at the time being, like for example: Gangs, solution: make affordab;e Rec centers. I can give back to my community even though I am illegal, I am rather smart, and I am illegal, I go to a private school, but i get funds from scholarships, why? Because my family pays taxes(you have to send a record of taxes to recieve ANY form of finacial aid) it is not fake, nor stolen or borrowed. Yet we still have to endure the unjustice of having been denied our citizenship and not being able to vote. What if the tables were turned? What would you do?
i hope you view this subject differently now that you got the other side of the story...and i thank this person that wrote this article with ALL my heart, I truly wish the best for you and hope that one day change will be able to come.

Emily said...

Thanks for the insight, anon, and good luck to you!

The Lost Albatross