Listening To Legal Immigrants

For several months, Americans have been embroiled in a national debate over illegal immigration. On one side you have those pushing for guest-worker programs, amnesty and open borders. On the other are those trying to keep U.S. citizenship and sovereignty intact.

All too often the voices that get lost in the cacophony are those of legal immigrants and their descendants. Whether Hispanic, Asian, Caribbean, European, Middle Eastern or African, they make up the “nation of immigrants” often referred to by open borders proponents. Except that these immigrants valued U.S. citizenship enough to pursue it lawfully.

If the hundreds of e-mails I received after my column on the May Day boycott are any indication, such voices are alive and well. Far from disagreeing with my contention that the boycott did more harm than good to its stated goals and that illegal immigration must be stopped, not encouraged, most of those I heard from were in full agreement.

Voices in Dissent

As for the boycott’s effectiveness, Blanca had this to say:

What a crock. And people like me of Hispanic background and born and proud to be an American thought that the boycotts were ridiculous. Biting the hand that feeds [you] is not the way to go.

Manny Madriaga of San Jose was not moved by the boycott, either:

I am a small businessman and a naturalized citizen. I immigrated to the U.S. because it is a nation of laws and it has a vibrant democracy. Any group that shoves signs in our collective faces that they are above the law [does] not have a place in the United States of America.

I believe that people who want to become a citizen of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English. I also think that immigrants should support the fundamental policies that make our nation great, such as equality under the law, and that no one is above the law.

Steve Anthony of Stockton reacted both to the boycott and to the participation of several Democratic members of the California Legislature:

It was outrageous for our elected officials to take part in this outrage, and you’re right, it did backfire. I am an American of Mexican descent, born here as were my parents and grandparents. All I can say is, “Can I order 364 more of those days!”

Like Marcella in South San Francisco, many were angered at the blurring of lines between legal and illegal immigration:

Being a legal immigrant myself, I was shocked that they portrayed this argument as one over immigration, rather than illegal immigration.

What a total slap in my face to have all the hard work, time, money and effort I went through to be legal in this country to have the protesters drop the illegal part. I couldn’t believe the complete naivete of a lot of these people who were continuing to spout about immigration with no concept it had nothing to do with legal, process-controlled immigration.

Art D. from San Francisco juxtaposed his own family’s legal pathway to American citizenship with the lawlessness of illegal immigration. In doing so, he showed that such views are not confined to the right side of the political spectrum:

I myself am Filipino American, born and raised in S.F., who primarily commiserates with the left. Only through my parents’ perseverance and hard work were they able to immigrate here. Why would I forsake that memory by supporting those who basically “cheated” their way into this country?! This is why I am firmly against this boycott and all illegal immigration of any type.

Amir said much the same thing:

My parents worked very hard to become legal U.S. citizens; it angers me greatly to see these illegals cheating their way through.

Jose from San Pablo echoed the sentiment, as well as calling Mexico to account for its part in the illegal immigration crisis:

I know many people that came into this country the right way. My parents came from El Salvador. I was born in San Francisco.

Trust me, there is no free lunch. I’ve worked hard for what I have and so have many people. It’s time for these countries (should we say Mexico?) to fix their issues of corruption, greed and lack of social services that help push their citizens to cross our borders illegally.

Perhaps most moving was the message I got from Ed Lucha, whose embrace of his new homeland and service to his country speak volumes about the meaning of true citizenship:

I came to the U.S. 42 years ago as a 12-year-old. I became a citizen at 18 (the earliest I could). I volunteered for the army back in 1971 and never regretted the hardships I went through, because I knew I was doing something good, my part as a citizen. I had many folks, friends and family, against my volunteering, but I did it. In fact, you may be interested to know, I received the greatest vote of confidence from my father in El Salvador. He sent me a telegram telling me how proud he was of me for doing my part for my new country.

I speak Spanish still and am proud of it. But English is my language now, the Stars and Stripes is my flag and the United States is my country. I feel shame when I see these demonstrations because I know the intent of most of the people marching. Their intent and interest is not in making a correct and profound impact, but the opposite. No one, not even these demonstrators, is owed anything. They are not owed any land. They demand that which is not owed to them. This is plainly wrong.

I am proud that my family worked for what is has. My mother did not ask nor accept welfare. She became a citizen as soon as she could and made it possible for my brother and me to do the same. She did it the right way.

I have my own story to share: My mother is a legal immigrant. Originally from Australia, she went through the long and arduous process of becoming first a permanent resident and then a citizen. She had to pass written tests, prove she could speak English, demonstrate that she was in a desirable profession for which American citizens were unavailable and undergo health testing, evaluation and even unexpected visits from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. After all that, is it any wonder that she, like so many other legal immigrants, resents those who are trying to push to the front of the line?

Other Immigrant Stories

Yeh Ling-Ling is a naturalized citizen who was born in Vietnam of Chinese parents. Sponsored by her sister, she immigrated to America in 1980. After working 10 years for an immigration law firm where she helped immigrants get into the United States, she underwent a complete reversal in her thinking.

Having been witness to the many local problems associated with immigration-fueled population growth, Yeh became a strong proponent of immigration reduction. She herself, according to a Washington Post article, would not be able to enter the United States today were her own proposals to be enacted.

Today, Yeh is the executive director of the Oakland-based Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America, a nonprofit organization that seeks to limit both illegal and legal immigration. What makes it unique is that the DASA is led by minorities, including immigrants, American Indians and African Americans. As they put it in their mission statement, “Current rates of immigration … hurt minorities and earlier immigrants the most.”

Other organizations comprised of legal immigrants say much the same thing, although most focus solely on illegal immigration.

You Don’t Speak for Me, a group of Hispanic Americans opposed to illegal immigration and guest-worker proposals, has become a presence on the national stage over the past two months. Formed in reaction to the pro-amnesty protests in April and the media’s frequent omission of the qualifier “illegal” when covering the topic, the group sought to make the distinction between legal and illegal immigration. Their presence is a reminder that Hispanic Americans are not a monolithic bloc whose views and politics can be automatically assumed.

Another case in point is Latino Americans for Immigration Reform. They too are staunch opponents of illegal immigration, and members have volunteered with the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps in observing and reporting illegal border crossings. One such volunteer, LAIR president Lupe Moreno, is a candidate for the state Senate in the 34th District. Although LAIR’s membership includes people of all races, the group’s very existence pokes holes in the contention, popular among illegal immigration proponents, that the desire for immigration enforcement is rooted in racism.

Of course, none of this has stopped the open borders lobby from trying to play the race card against its opponents. I’ve certainly received my fair share of e-mails from such readers accusing me of being a “racist” for wanting to curb illegal immigration.

But their argument refuses to take into account the true nature of the discussion.  It’s not about the color of someone’s skin, but rather national identity and a shared, unifying culture. At its core, it’s about what it means to be an American.

America is indeed a nation of immigrants. So perhaps we should start listening to what they have to say.


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