Peter Brimelow writes: Banu Suresh is "an English as a Second Language instructor at the College of Alameda," a telling example of the way in which immigration is creating self-reinforcing interest groups. What I find interesting about his response, given that its extreme emotionalism is typical if depressing: an intense disinclination, rationalized in various ways, to accept that "American" is a legitimate and meaningful term. So America is not merely being transformed, as I said in my original article - it is also being deconstructed.
[Note: The original article spelled Brimelow as Brimielow throughout. This was corrected to avoid confusing the search engines.]
Published Sunday, December 12, 1999
PETER BRIMELOW'S article (Contra Costa Times, Dec. 4) titled "Immigration policy stupid, evil and hurting Americans," is itself stupid, evil and hurting immigrants. Not to mention inflammatory.
We need to stop being afraid. We need to keep reminding ourselves that skin color doesn't run.
The writer is sadly half-informed or blatantly envious of the apparent success of immigrants in this country. If anything, immigration should motivate "native-born Americans" to clean up their act and get a better education. Brimelow needs to encourage people to compete. A little competition is good for the soul.
If only he could see from the other side of the fence. I have lived in four ethnically diverse countries Australia, India, Singapore, and now the United States - and the story is always the same: xenophobia, or the fear of the unknown. Just get to know one "immigrant" and you will see what I mean. If you can even visualize what hardships many of these "immigrants" have gone through, the humiliation they have experienced, you just might begin to understand life from their point of view.
Some of us feel big by making others feel small. An "immigrant" on the bus with bright smiley earrings was confronted by an elderly woman who came right up to her face and said with a gentle smile "I love those earrings. They make up for your face."
Brimelow argues that "Americans as a whole are no better off economically because of mass immigration." Define American.
Are Americans those who, according to recent studies, originally drifted to this continent from Asia?
Are Americans those who were born of the immigrants who stepped off the Mayflower?
Are Americans those who were born in captivity when the slaves were brought to this country?
He also says the immigration policy "second-guesses the American people who have shown through smaller families that they want to stabilize population size." Has it occurred to anyone that people are so busy trying to make a living that they cannot cope with the thought of sharing their lives with yet another child? Have you considered that religious factors may have prevented some immigrant families from keeping their size small? Have you considered ethical reasons that may have prevented immigrant families from seeking an abortion? Have you considered that fear of being alone once the children are gone may have something to do with having more than one child?
Brimelow also says " ... and ultimately threatening the American nation itself — what Abraham Lincoln called "the last, best hope of Earth — with cultural and linguistic "fragmentation."
Have you ever experienced learning another language? If you studied it with your heart, you might hail it as a divine experience. Here are some real-life facts. People whose first language is not English appear to make a greater effort to learn English than the other way around. And as long as the United States continues to entice people of a non-English speaking background, I believe it has a responsibility to give them the same linguistic opportunities to succeed in life as main-English speakers.
I am sure Congresswoman Barbara Jordan meant well for the poorer people already in this country when she recommended that the United States halve its immigration intake, but I am equally sure that Sen. Spencer Abraham must have had greater foresight when he "sabotaged" the most recent chance of reform, the Smith-Simpson immigration bill, in 1996, Instead of finding excuses for our lowly performances, if we could improve our lot through education and training, we may not need to close our doors to competition.
Needless to add, Professor Borjas' book, "Heaven's Doors,"[sic, actually Heaven's Door] has been hailed as "brilliant" because of his honest admission that his "thinking on this (immigration) issue has changed substantially over the years." I am sure there are other successful people like Borjas whose views on immigration may have changed over the years. But scholarly statistics aside, we are talking about real people here, not numbers. People with families to feed, educate and clothe; people with the same burning desire to succeed as the Borjases of the world, who want the same opportunities that their predecessors got. And maybe in 30 years time, these folks too will write "brilliant" books about why the United States should stop immigration.
Brimelow also says "the benefit to native-born Americans is infinitesimally small." As compared to what? Without the contest provided by immigrants, we may not even see this "small" benefit. So let us be grateful for small mercies. Unless you wish to add "as compared to what we have to put up with ... "
He also says "current mass immigration is not benefiting Americans overall — but it is transforming their country. For nothing." May I remind that this transformation began hundreds of years ago, possibly thousands. And certainly not for nothing. Immigrants down the centuries have always had to work twice as hard for half as much. And this is an undisputed fact if only you would care to interview some of them.
Brimelow argues that "almost half of the increased wage gap between high school dropouts and high school graduates can be attributed to immigration." Instead of "attributing" everything to immigration, why don't we motivate our young people to think beyond high school? Then there need be no concern about such disparity.
He argues that immigrants tend to be unskilled, but many immigrants actually come to this country quite skilled in various trades, occasionally in areas that cannot be used in this country. That does not diminish their aptitude for retraining. Neither does it mean that we should stop training our own "native-born Americans." In case you are not aware, many highly qualified immigrants actually have to go through with what I would like to call "the equalization process." Their overseas degrees are assessed for equivalency, and almost inevitably reduced by at least a couple of years. Occasionally, overseas experience is blatantly discounted because it has not yet stood the "rigorous" test of American standards.
While I am not against such practices that protect those who immigrated to this country earlier, I may point out that degrees from main-English speaking countries are generally given approval right away. The rest have to fight it out the best way they know how. Foreign Ph.D.s are required to retake their master's here. Overseas doctors have known to take up jobs as CNAs because of such practices, and often can diagnose a patient before the local student doctor can even begin to understand the problem. But he must hold himself back, because his overseas experience is not recognized here.
Brimelow also says that employers prefer to import cheap young immigrant programmers, but he left out "better." The fear of competition is clearly against the capitalistic culture this nation boasts. In the words of Bill Gates "If all the Indians were to leave America, I would follow them." Gates would know, wouldn't he?
If immigrants tend to accept low-paying jobs in unskilled markets, it may not always mean that they are unskilled. It might simply mean that they are going through the painful process of resettlement.
But all immigrants bring to this nation a wealth of experience, expertise, and above all, hope. So let us not discount their experiences nor dismiss their past by a sweep of the pen, brandishing all immigrants as the culprit of our problems.
Suresh is an English as a Second Language instructor at the College of Alameda.