My grandfather, Michael Anthony Urbano, for whom I am named, came to the United States from Sicily, not knowing a word of English. He, like countless others, heard that the streets were paved with gold and that anyone could become successful, if they worked hard enough and took advantage of the opportunities available.
He arrived in North Adams, Massachusetts, with a few dollars in his pocket, no job prospects, but a strong back and a willingness to work hard in the textile mills that abutted the Hoosac River. At the turn of the century, North Adams was the largest town in the US.
By that time, my grandfather had opened a successful barber shop, which doubled as a “men’s emporium”. He was successful enough to feed and support a large family, as was typical at that time. My grandfather was allegedly a member of the “Family”, but not the family of Mario Puzo fame. It was the Italian males bonding together to protect themselves and their families from attack by the Irish, Poles and the Germans, who resented the newcomers coming in and “stealing their jobs”. Sure, they did book making and had a numbers racket, it was done more as community bonding than an operation of crooks. Say what you will about my grandfather’s background, he led the effort to build the first Italian church in the Berkshires, which is still standing today, opposite the MassMOCA Modern Art museum. He went to church each Sunday, dressed in his finest, including his boater in summer, and sat in the front rows. I was told he was good friends with the parish priests, who frequently came to his establishment for haircuts and “other activities”. This tradition of attacking the next wave of immigrants continues on with non-whites of all nationalities the targets.
As much as we kid or romanticize the activities of “the Family”, during my grandfather’s day, it was a necessity. The dark-skinned “guineas, dagos, wops, etc.” were easy prey for the lighter skinned ethnic groups already established, so they formed a group to protect themselves and their families. This type of race bashing has been the history of the United States. The newest ethnic group or groups become targets of prejudicial hostilities because they “are different” or “they’re taking our jobs” They speak a different language, they have different values and they smell different. We speak a different language, have different values and smell different to them, too.
I remember the resentment of the Vietnamese immigrants by some people in Lowell, Massachusetts, in the 1990’s, even though Lowell was very much in the middle of the high tech boom Many of the Vietnamese were working 3 jobs and saving the money to open their own business. That is what America is supposedly about, taking advantage of the opportunities available to you.
From the beginning of this country, we have been a nation of immigrants, except for the Native Americans, whom we have brutalized, stole from and then ignored. I am 15/16 immigrant; I’m also 1/16 Mohawk Indian, another nationality brutalized and beaten to submit. This is also a pernicious tradition throughout the history of the US, xenophobia, both internal and external to our borders; internal and external to those discriminated. Whether it’s Joe McCarthy’s Red baiting, Bull Connor’s attack dogs, or the post 9-11 terrorizing of Arab-Americans, a country that prides itself on tolerance and diversity, has often shown little of either.
President Obama has said that immigration reform is the most important legislation to be passed in his second term. The Senate has passed legislation, But the legislation proposed by Congress is wrong and wrong-headed. Currently, the residency requirement is 5 years. There is a US history and current affairs test, but, depending on the state, it’s easy. My friend and former ESL student, Hakam, born in Egypt, was able to pass it on his first try.
This is consistent with the residency requirements of most countries.
Canada – 3 years, but must show proficiency in French and English.
France – 5 years, but must show proficiency in French
Mexico – 5 years, but most proficiency in Spanish
Japan – 5 years, no proficiency in Japanese.
China – Virtually impossible.
Russia – 5 years minimum
Australia – 4 years and a history of Australian laws and history. Take a test or have an interview.
Italy – can be from 2 to 10 years depending on various factors. It’s complicated, but what do you expect from Italians?
And my favorite:
United Kingdom – 5 years, but must be of sound mind and good character. So I wouldn’t be accepted.
Each country states that you must be of good character and not have a criminal record, except Russia, which includes you must not be a terrorist. I guess Chechnyans need not apply.
(Above sources: the naturalization web pages of each ountry).
On August 15, 2012, the Obama Adminstration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which particularly focused on “The Dreamers”. Through July 31, 2013, 430,000 have received deferred action, a/k/a stopping deportation. The following is from the Department of Homeland Security website:
On this day, DHS began accepting requests for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – a policy that provides young people who were brought to the United States as children with temporary protection from deportation if they can demonstrate that they meet several criteria.
By removing the threat of deportation for young people brought to this country as children – known as “DREAMers” – DHS has been able to focus its enforcement efforts on those who endanger our communities rather than students pursuing an education and seeking to better themselves and their communities. As the President stated when the policy was announced, “[t]hey are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”
“Because the Administration acted, hundreds of thousands of ambitious, hardworking young people have been able to emerge from the shadows, no longer living in fear of deportation. As of July 31, over 430,000 young people have received deferred action. These young people are not just numbers, they are aspiring Americans each with a unique story.”
After much publicity regarding the meetings of “The Gang of Eight”, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and Congressmen developed a proposed immigration legislation, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 and say that it’s the “toughest border security and enforcement measures in U.S. History.” The Senate has passed this legislation. The dysfunctional House of Representatives has not brought this legislation up for a vote. And it shouldn’t.
This legislation is wrong and wrongheaded. The focus on “border security” is code for “preventing the U.S. Mexican immigrant population from growing larger”, even though the net immigration from Mexico in 2012 was a net zero. This also means spending billions of tax dollars on making the U.S. – Mexico border militarized, which will provide additional millions of dollars to defense contractors, like Halliburton. It would also create a massive, miles long, wall to allegedly keep immigrants from crossing the border illegally. Good luck with that idea. If they want to come, they will find a way to come, wall or no wall. The 1% will be able to maintain their NIMBY needs. All their friends must have white faces.
The proposed residency requirement changes from 5 years to 13 years depending. Depending upon what?
If you have the skills, such as engineering and technology skills, the requirement becomes 5 years. This is to encourage Asian and Russian technologists to immigrate, since the decline in U.S. technology education is not producing enough graduates with advanced technological skills and abilities. If you have certain labor skills, like harvesting crops in California, the residency requirement is 10 years. Of course, the legislation does not adequately provide for the increased administrative personnel needed to process the new requirements. This proposed legislation is xenophobic. No longer does the poem of Emma Lazarus describing the flow of immigrants to enter the US at Ellis Island, New York, apply:
From “The Colossus”:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The image to the world of the US is no longer the Statue of Liberty, but a barbed wire wall patrolled by private contractor guns for hire. This image is shameful. Is this what we’ve become as a nation? No longer proud and brave, but cowering and militaristic?
Currently, the net immigration for Mexicans is zero. Latinos will soon become the largest ethnic group in the US and either the rest of us accept that and adjust or run the risk out being treated as a minority. The dreams and aspirations of these people is no different than those of my grandfather’s or your ancestors, to build a better life for themselves, their families and their future generations.
Let’s get real, real fast. Many of the immigrants are doing jobs that most Americans don’t want to do, manual labor such as landscaping, construction, security and cleaning. Working at Starbucks and McDonalds is preferable to these forms of work for many young workers. The US economy benefits by the immigrant’s services, because they do their jobs “more efficiently”, to use the asinine standards of the US Department of Labor in defining worker productivity. Since most of these workers are here illegally, they get paid under the table, so no employer share of Social Security is paid, and no other benefits are paid, so the productivity (worked performed divided by cost per hour) is greatly increased. These workers are not just hired by small businesses, either. Look at who is cleaning the floors at night in the buildings of large corporations. Tax dollars are wasted, and itinerant workers remain exploited.
What makes sense is to declare a worker’s amnesty and issue guest workers cards to those who are working hard and just getting by. Let having a guest worker card allow them to apply for drivers licenses. They have to get to work in the suburbs, too. Keep the residency requirement at 5 years. Why should someone have to 20%+ of their adult life waiting to become an U.S. citizen?
The bigger challenge will be to increase the number of teachers of Spanish, for corporations to provide Spanish speaking and other foreign language courses for their American workers and ESL English classes for their immigrant guest workers. What also makes sense is to increase investment in Mexican industry under the Maquiladora program of NAFTA and increase foreign aid to Mexico and other South American countries to boost their economies. This serves a dual purpose: help them provide jobs so that their poorest people don’t need to come to America just to have a job, and increases the market for US goods and services – sort of a South American Marshall Plan.
Each new generation of immigrants has enriched and strengthened the American economy, but also society, by reminding us of what the real basic values this country was based. They are to be embraced and assimilated, not forced to work in fear and shame. It’s to all our benefit.
Our forefathers and ancestors would expect no less from us. So would my grandfather, rascal that he was.