Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Immigrants All

In 1923, my father, Bernard Wieder stepped off the boat at Ellis Island, having fled the Rumanian Army where his older brother died in World War I.  Dad did not wish to suffer the same fate for a blatantly anti Semitic Austro-Hungarian Empire.  He was of military age and he would have none of it.
Bidding a sorrowful good bye to his parents and five brothers and sisters, he took a  train from Budapest travelling to Hamburg and boarded a ship for America, in below deck steerage class.  As a child,  reading "Nick Carter" mysteries centered in New York, he had decided that was where his future would lie.
People rode in Automobiles, dressed in fancy clothes, and lived in heated houses with indoor plumbing. And Nick always found the murderer.

The following year the US Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924, discriminating against Eastern Europeans (Jews) who wished to come to America, frustrating Dad's plans to bring the remainder of his family to America.  Every year, he returned to Hungary for the Jewish High Holy Days, and dutifully throughout his time here until 1939 when the war erupted, he sent his diabetic father insulin.  Dad married in 1939 and planned to take his bride to meet his parents that September.  After the war started, his Dad, my grandfather, died of diabetic shock in 1940, unable to receive the life saving medication from his son.  Dad said his father was lucky.
All of the rest of his family, his mother, and brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins all perished in Auschwitz, except for two sisters who survived and also came to America as immigrants after the war, in 1945.   They lived into old age and had children, my cousins, who married and lived, as did I, the American dream.

Dad used to quote the well known, Emma Lazarus who talked about the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the tempest tossed," words found at the base of the Statue of Liberty. And from his first days bought and read the New York Times to learn English and of America

Dad made a success of his life, working industriously in Miami Beach and in New York City in all manner of jobs and in his own businesses.   His first job was at the Nemo hotel on 1st street here in Miami Beach as a busboy.   My mothers parents, landed in 1900 also having fled Hungary.  So I am really only a first generation American, born in New York City during the darkest days of World War II.

Many of my friends tell  a similar story, although I do have some friends who grew up in Georgia and whose ancestors employed slaves, but had a relative who fought in the Civil War, although on the Union side over the darkest stain in American history,  involving African Americans who travelled here in suffocating below deck slave ships, their arms and legs in shackles.  They too were immigrants.

Some clich├ęs bear repeating.   We are and always will be a nation of immigrants.  It is just that some of us have conveniently forgotten our heritage, and seek to exclude others who are currently fleeing the same deprivations their ancestors did decades and centuries ago.

The economic forces that have created migrations are people who seek a better life--that is what America represents.

It does not stand for leaders ripping children from their parents.  It does not stand for values that are un-American.  If we are a nation of immigrants, we should be taking in as many as we can.  No matter what  price we pay, no matter what the cost.  History will look kindly on us if we do.  The economic benefits bestowed on this country by immigrants has always been positive.  We remained Ronald Reagan's shining city on the hill.  We remained Roosevelt's arsenal of democracy.

Edmund Burke said that evil triumphs when good men say nothing and Republicans in congress should remember who their first President was and what he stood for.  They should re-read Lincoln's second inaugural address.  They should read the Constitution, and the lives of our founding fathers who understood deeply what we should be as a nation.   Alexander Hamilton was an immigrant too.


  1. David,

    Part of what you're saying is that the concept of "legal" immigrants is fluid, and it has nothing to do with the immigrants. Your father was legal one year, and his family would not have been legal the next year. I suspect this applies as well to Trump's father (Drumpf, according to John Oliver). He was legal, well, just because. And it happened to be a favorable year for him.

    A few years ago, I was canvassing in my neighborhood, and a probably 70-something Cuban woman was complaining about the "illegal aliens" she thought she should be kept out, or sent back. I pointed out to her that the only reason she wasn't an illegal alien was that in this country, at the time she and her family came here from Cuba, we simply chose to have an open door and open arms policy toward Cubans. As I told it to her, we understood that things were bad back in the old country, and we welcomed Cubans to come here. There is absolutely no reason we could not make the identical gesture to Mexicans, Haitians, or anyone else. It's all arbitrary. It has nothing to do with the people.

    For the powers that currently be, it's about selfishness and general meanness. And, as you point out, complete absence of insight and appreciation. "I already got mine, and I don't care about you." Those people do not seem to be personally embarrassed. They're just an embarrassment to the rest of us.


  2. There are approximately 7.5 billion humans. Billions of these nice folks would benefit immensely from emigration to the USA. This post is an argument for admitting all of them, since a learned litigator would not fail to mention that he favored only those who enter illegally through our southern border.

    1. Mr Miller,

      I disagree that billions of people would benefit from living here, and certainly that billions of people want to. There aren't billions of people clamoring to come here, or to France, or anywhere else. Histrionic and ridiculous arguments don't help think through this problem.

      We, or the French, or anyone else, have less of a problem being able to accommodate other people than we have being willing to accommodate them. We construct foolish arguments, like that other people come here to use the emergency room, or to enroll their kids in school, and we overlook not only that it's a good and "American" thing to live among people of other cultures and backgrounds (and that we can easily afford to do it), but that we in some sense actually need these other people. They add value and diversity, which is good for everyone, and frankly, many of them, especially at the outset of their lives here, come from different standards and are willing to "work cheap." The next time you find yourself complaining about Mexicans, other Central Americans, and whoever else, go devote yourself to buying produce only from companies that hired American citizens, provided a living wage, and provided benefits. You'll have yourself on one hell of a diet.


    2. By the way, we should also remember (if we intend to be honest and decent about it) that all of us, except the people we now call African-Americans, and those we call Native Americans, came here for the same reason. Your people did, David Wieder's people did, my people did, and all of our people did. They were all trying to get away from something disadvantageous or dangerous, and they wanted what they believed would be a better life. As I told the lady down the street, we should welcome the newcomers the same way those here before us welcomed us. And don't hang yourself up on the available technicality: our people (or we tell ourselves most of them) came here "legally." That's a decision, and it changes from one day to the next. We can make anyone "legal" any time we want.


    3. Another thing about the lady down the street. When she and her family came here, we didn't ask any questions. Running away from Castro? No problem. Come live with us. We didn't ask how they intended to support themselves, if they spoke English, and whether they had "records." Some of them never supported themselves here, and a surprising number never learned English. The same is true in American Chinatowns and in some other ethnic enclaves. I once worked at a historic Italian place in Boston. I took Italian lessons at night school, so I could interact with Italians who had lived here for decades, and never learned English.

      We can do exactly the same thing for Mexicans, Guatemalans, Haitians, and anyone else that we did for Cubans, Chinese, Italians, David's people, and many others. Things are bad in the old country? No problem. Come live with us.

      Mr Miller, where did you say your people ran away from?


  3. I comment on David's posts only when reductio ad absurdum is necessitated. The absorption of immigrants is a process, affected by rate and employment opportunities. The prior immigrations you reference were during the Industrial Economy when ramp up to sufficiency was relatively rapid. The education needed for sufficiency in the Information Economy is a much more difficult prerequisite. It is intuitively obvious that most immigrants seek economic sufficiency, but a rational immigration policy would encourage an Indian computer PhD and discourage uneducated immigrants whose limited skills will soon be made worthless by automation. Barely related historical examples or expressions of compassion for individuals already enjoying a standard of living on the positive side of the global median are not useful as convincing arguments or as guidance to David's unfortunate tendency to be mesmerized by his own belief system.

    1. Well, I'm glad you recognize how absurd was your argument.

      You have missed both David's point and mine. Absorption of immigrants is affected only by a decision. It has nothing to do with resources. I recognize, of course, your wish to dismiss any reality other than the one to which you think you want to adhere, but they have existed, and they exist now. Are they "inconvenient truths" that don't help your argument? Yes, they are. But they are the truths, however inconvenient for you.

      Cubans were admitted here, no questions asked, without regard for the state of our economy. Their admission here was purely political. And it violated every requirement you think you would like to respect. The refusal to admit Haitians, or Mexicans, or anyone else is also purely political. It has no practical meaning. You tell yourself it's OK with you if Indian computer PhDs come here, because you think you need them for something. (You might find that some American computer experts disagree with you about how much we/they need Indian computer experts.) But as I said to you before, which you conveniently overlooked, if you think there is no place for "uneducated immigrants" who have not had the advantage of acquiring advanced skills in anything, prove this to yourself and all of us by buying produce that was planted, cultivated, and harvested only by properly respected Americans. Maybe some of those computer PhDs who were displaced by the Indians, if they're not driving Uber, will want to go pick tomatoes. Or you can go pick them.

      Who did you say was under the unfortunate influence of his own belief system? "Mesmerized," did you say?