Saturday, September 02, 2006
Prejudices cloud vision on immigration
BY SUE ONTIVEROS, SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
My, my. One little brown woman sure has a lot of people very angry. She must be on the right track.
That’s my reaction after reading the e-mails on last week's column on Elvira Arellano, who, along with her American-born son, Saul, has taken sanctuary in Adalberto United Methodist Church to protest her deportation to Mexico. You all sure started e-mailing early and often!
The biggest point of contention is that Arellano came into this country illegally. “She broke the law” is mentioned repeatedly. Of course, not one of them ever fudged on their income tax returns, “borrowed” supplies from the workplace, figured out how to hook up “free” cable TV or purchased a bootleg DVD. Oh, no.
Yes, Arellano broke the law. But, I’m sorry, no one, unless you’ve been in her situation, can say for sure you wouldn’t have done the same. She, like so many others, sees opportunity here, and because there isn’t a timely fashion to enter the country legally, did so illegally.
When it’s convenient for our government, it pays attention to undocumented workers. It looks the other way when it is not. As I’ve said before, people have been coming here for at least 100 years to work because businesses need them. At the same time that a very vocal contingent is yelling, “Send them back where they came from,” industries, such as agriculture, are saying, “Hey, wait -- what are you trying to do to our work force?”
I’d like to see the folks who are so up in arms over immigration enter a grocery store and find apples selling for $5 apiece because picking crops has become so costly. For that is exactly what many in agriculture warn will happen. They’re willing to follow a legal system, but say the current one is cumbersome and doesn’t work.
For the life of me I cannot understand why, especially with the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11 so near, no one seems concerned about the other border. Seeing Arellano and others like her being escorted over the southern border is going to make me safer? Right. Osama bin Laden himself could probably cross over from the north and there’d be someone available to carry his bags right in. Why? Because we’re so busy letting our prejudices about our neighbors to the south cloud our vision.
Yes, prejudices. Because for every e-mail that spoke of the legality of Arellano’s actions, two others dredged up bigoted stereotypes and overall distaste for anyone who doesn’t look or speak like themselves as reasons to deport her.
They’re incensed she had a child out of wedlock. (If she’d been a popular actor, those same e-mailers would have been buying magazines galore to see her offspring.) It angers them that Arellano’s spoken English isn’t up to their standards and she appears to be more comfortable speaking Spanish. Hey, if we were going to start deporting people because of the way they fracture English, I’d say from the e-mails I’m getting, a lot of my critics would be on the way out, too. Studies have found that with all immigrants to the United States, by the third generation, everyone is speaking English as their first language. So relax; English is here to stay.
These same critics have decided Saul isn’t really an American. Wrong! The way it works here is if you are born in the United States, you’re a citizen. That’s all it takes. If we start limiting citizenship because of heritage, what’s next? How much longer until economic or religious requirements exist? How soon before the only folks eligible for citizenship are those with the physical features Adolf Hitler liked?
The immigration system in our country is broken and needs fixing. That’s why Arellano sits in that church, why thousands are marching this weekend to U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert’s home office. Our leaders need to figure out a system with realistic numbers for entering this country. We need a clear path to citizenship. If politicians such as Hastert had done their jobs, instead of just “stirring the pot,” as my old granny used to say, and getting people all riled up, we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in today. Real solutions are needed.
Maybe the speaker of the House will think about that when guess who comes to dinner on Labor Day.