I have no idea what the American Dream means to the 63 persons from 25 nations who were welcomed into the fraternity of the free and the brave in October ceremonies at the Old Capitol. In my version of it, it means being able to order affordable restaurant dishes from south of the border whose taste does not remind me of the border between Springfield and Jerome.
That I am able to enjoy such things owes to hard-working immigrants who bring their energy, their imaginations and, yes, their ways with a tamal to places like Springfield. The nativist deliriums of the left and right notwithstanding, foreign-born residents are not the cause of most of the problems in this country, but they could be the solution to many of them.
Consider our moribund economy. New York’s U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer’s notion to admit as a legal alien anyone who spends $500,000 on a house in this country would require them to rewrite the plaque on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your rich, your idle, your investors yearning to buy cheap.” Far more sensible is the plan advanced by Indian newspaper editor Shekhar Gupta under which we would grant visas to two million Indians, Chinese and Koreans. “We will buy up all the subprime homes. We will work 18 hours a day to pay for them,” he wrote recently. “And we will start new companies to create our own jobs and jobs for more Americans.”
In a nutshell, if we can’t beat ’em, let’s greet ’em.
It is a rare Springfieldian who does not know or do business with someone who knows the words to two national anthems. The Springfield Clinic could probably field a decent amateur cricket side, and for years the IDOT building was the closest thing that Springfield had to an ethnic neighborhood, so many were the foreign-born engineers and analysts and IT specialists who work there.
In terms of economic revitalization, however, a town wants businesspeople and artisans. It is this category of immigrant whose absence was lamented last year in a competitive assessment of Springfield prepared for the Chamber of Commerce. (“Boomerangers,” Oct. 13, 2011). The consultant-authors argued that to really make an economy perk you need the entrepreneurial energy and enterprise that immigrants supply. (Before the bubble burst, for instance, 25 percent of all U.S. start-up companies were being founded by immigrant entrepreneurs.)
The very idea will leave some readers reaching for the baseball bat secreted under the bed. They should recall that Springfield and central Illinois have been overrun several times by newcomers from foreign places, most recently by the middle and southern Europeans who arrived to work the factories and mines in the latter 1800s during Springfield’s industrial Golden Age.
These people spoke differently, had different ideas about family and government and God and about how to make a living, all of which occasioned social stress. Their presence also coincided with and to some extent caused boom times in the capital by doing work that most natives wouldn’t or couldn’t do. Back then the question was, If a coal vein is discovered and no one is there to dig it, does it make money?
A foundering Dayton, Ohio, has made it a matter of municipal policy to ease the way of new immigrants into the city’s life as an economic revitalization strategy. Pity that Washington, D.C., is not as wise. U.S. immigration policy is a dog’s breakfast that works more hardships on the ambitious immigrant than it does on the U.S. taxpayer, being incoherent and politically craven. Among other faults, it creates a whole new class of criminals by making it hard for worthy immigrants to enter legally. Last summer U.S. agents busted five people at Springfield’s La Fiesta Restaurant on various charges of using fake papers or entering the country illegally. Apparently one of them had been sent back to Mexico on three prior occasions. Under a sensible policy, the rule would be three strikes and you’re in.
Just as really poor foreigners fill the jobs Americans won’t do, really smart foreigners fill the jobs that Americans can’t do. Congress also has capped the number of skilled immigrants who can work here legally under the H-1b visa program that grants temporary, six-year visas for high-technology and health care workers. This quota was set mainly to protect U.S. jobs, with the predictable result that companies unable to import people to jobs here exported the jobs to where the skilled people are.
You wouldn’t think a politician who shoots himself in the foot in this way would be able to run for re-election, but they do, and so far have been able to run away from questions such as this: How does protecting jobs for Americans who graduate in the bottom half of their class help the U.S. keep up in a globalized economy?
Contact James Krohe Jr. at KroJnr@gmail.com.