Prejudice precedes immigration restrictions

STATE COLLEGE, Penn. (U-WIRE) — On Monday, the U.S. government extended its slightly dirty hand toward Mexico in order to better relations between the two countries.
While cooperation on the War on Drugs takes up most of the limelight, one issue that has plagued people of both countries for years has been pushed to the wayside — immigration.
While the conference between President Clinton and Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo did address cooperation along the border on positive issues such as environmentalism and disease prevention, the greatest threat to social health and well-being is the United States’ ridiculous fight against illegal immigration.
According to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, about five million undocumented immigrants were residing in the United States as recently as 1996. Mexico is the leading country of origin of immigrants. Mexicans total upwards of 54 percent of all illegal immigrants.
Though these numbers show how significant of an issue this is, I don’t want to argue how we should relax immigration regulations for our good neighbors to the south. I do, however, want to say that this issue reflects negative attitudes of the American majority: racism, greed and a propensity to forget history.
Our restrictions on immigrants from Mexico, and many other countries too, for that matter, have many underlying issues. Throughout our short history as a nation, the United States has discriminated against many groups by keeping them from entering the country.
The government started out with unfair quotas, disparate restrictions and ignorant treatment of non-English Europeans coming with the turn-of-the-century flood of immigrants. Now, the representatives that make up our government — children and grandchildren of those immigrants, no doubt — continue this despicable trend against Latin Americans, not to mention Asians.
Arguments used in defense of strict immigration laws are said to be economic. Immigrants are taking “American” jobs. They don’t bring in any of their own capital to stimulate our economy, and they don’t pay taxes (as if an exploited migrant field hand or sweatshop worker adds that much in income tax). I know of many multi-millionaire “Americans” that don’t pay their taxes either.
The United States is the wealthiest nation on earth. We look to our southern neighbors’ lawn and notice it’s a bit more brown than ours, and we don’t even care. When people want to cross an imaginary line we call a border to find a better lives for themselves — to play on our lawn — we arrest them, turn them away and implement harder restrictions on getting here than before. As long as our own economic well-being is intact, why should we extend help to others?
The real reason, though hardly admitted by anyone in Congress, is a latent racial prejudice of Mexicans as poor, lazy and dirty. They aren’t smart, they don’t speak English and they don’t understand what it means to be free, like “us” (come to think of it, couldn’t that be said for a number of government officials?).
Immigrants have continually proved their value to society in the United States. They bring in the diverse ideas and cultural flavor that make our country great.
Immigrants founded the United States, albeit a bit heinously against the Native Americans’ best interests. Just about everyone who lives here is an immigrant, or is descended from one. It’s about time we remembered this, and in respect to our ancestors, start welcoming oppressed and economically suppressed peoples with open arms.
During spring break next month, I’m leading a backpacking trip with the Penn State Outing Club to Big Bend National Park on the Mexican border in Texas. We’re going to be taking advantage of our luxuries as citizens by hiking around the desert for fun for a week. One of the only stipulations set by park rangers and government officials is not to help people get across the Rio Grande River.
I think I’ll bring a portable bridge and a welcome mat!
This article was written by Mark Schoneveld and originally appeared in Pennsylvania State University’sDaily Collegian.