After many discussions since my return from my 10 week summer immersion in Guadalajara, Mexico, I believe it is time for me to discuss the immigration issue. I don’t claim to have all the answers (and anyone who does really doesn’t have them all either), but I have seen the poverty and need of a group of Mexican people close up and we, you and me, need to keep a certain perspective about this situation.
What has prompted these discussions is an email I received from a very good friend of mine. Below is the email forwarded to me, as well as my comments intertwined in the text of the email. After you read the email and my comments, then I have a few more things to add. The names in the email are not my friend, but apparently the original authors of the letter. My comments are in italics, bolded and have my name at the beginning of each comment. Now for the email:
From: “David LaBonte”
My wife, Rosemary, wrote a wonderful letter to the editor of the Orange County Register which, of course, was not printed. So, I decided to “print” it myself by sending it out on the Internet. Pass it along if you feel so inclined. Dave LaBonte (signed)
Written in response to a series of letters to the editor in the Orange County Register:
So many letter writers have based their arguments on how this land is made up of immigrants. Ernie Lujan for one, suggests we should tear down the Statute of Liberty because the people now in question aren’t being treated the same as those who passed through Ellis Island and other ports of entry. [John O’Neill] This is not a proper way to react – tearing down the statue of liberty will do nothing, but there is some truth to the thought that we are not accepting immigrants the way we used to. Read further.
Maybe we should turn to our history books and point out to people like Mr. Lujan why today’s American is not willing to accept this new kind of immigrant any longer.
Back in 1900 when there was a rush from all areas of Europe to come to the United States, people had to get off a ship and stand in a long line in New York and be documented. [John O’Neill] It is much the same system now with one exception – there is no single point of entry for those who want to enter our country. I believe that many, if not most, of the immigrants from our south would be happy to comply if there were an easier, less costly and more effective way to come into the US. A line at the border where people would register and state their intentions – perfect plan. One of the major deterrents that we (the US) has to this is that you have to apply for an entry Visa before you leave your country. The cost to apply in Mexico (whether you get one or not) is $100.00 US, which is about $1100.00 pesos Mexican. Now, at $45.00 pesos a day (for their minimum wage – equvalent to approximately $4.05 US – do you know anyone who could live on $4.05 a day?) it would take over one month’s wages to pay for the Visa application, and you need to get one for each person migrating – so if you had a family for 4, it is almost 5 months wages to apply – whether or not you get a visa or not. This does not make any allowance for the cost of travel or to have any money to live once you get to the US. Now I know the many stories of early immigrants landing in the US with only a few coins in their pockets – and that is exactly what these immigrants from Mexico are doing – coming here with little or no money. But as soon as they arrive, they become gainfully employed and start putting money back into our economy – because they have to eat, have a place to live, pay utilities, and buy clothes, etc. Some would even get down on their hands and knees and kiss the ground. [John O’Neill] You would be amazed at how thankful these people are that they have arrived in the “promised land” of the US. I have talked not only to families in Mexico, but also people in the US who work very closely with this group of people, and they are extremely thankful for the chance at the opportunity. Many of them go to the nearest churches and give offerings of prayers and sacrifice, thanking God that they will now have a chance to feed their family. They made a pledge to uphold the laws and support their new country in good and bad times. [John O’Neill] If they are given the chance, I would wager that these people would also. In fact, the US government now has a plan where a potential immigrant can join the armed forces and fight for the US in Iraq & other lands and gain their citizenship – more on that later. They made learning English a primary rule in their new American households and some even changed their names to blend in with their new home. [John O’Neill] Most of these people are trying to learn what English they can, and just like the immigrants of old, the first generation will not learn it as well as the second generation who actually go to school here in the US. It is a generally known that since the US was born, the first generations of any immigrants that have moved here only learn enough to get by (on average) and their sons and daughters are the ones who learned the language well. This is not new – this is the same as before.
They had waved good bye to their birth place to give their children a new life and did everything in their power to help their children assimilate into one culture. [John O’Neill] I believe these people are doing exactly the same, except that for many their family cannot come with them at first, because many had to cross the border illegally just to get a job and start saving money to do just that – bring the rest of their family here. Nothing was handed to them. No free lunches, no welfare, no labor laws to protect them. [John O’Neill] We have yet to hand anything to the Mexican immigrants that is different than those that came before. The labor laws don’t seem to help the migrant farm workers, or gardeners, or roofers, or hotel workers, or dishwashers, or etc., that do a lot of the manual labor in our cities. If you are here and undocumented, you will not even try to take advantage of “labor laws” because you may be found out and sent back. You keep a low profile, keep your nose clean, and work hard for the future of your family. No different than before.
All they had were the skills and craftsmanship they had brought with them to trade for a future of prosperity. [John O’Neill] Our Mexican immigrants are doing the same. Some are skilled farm workers, some do gardening and lawn work, many are skilled in construction, some have been taught roofing, others have crafts of woodworking, metalworking, cooking, etc., that they trade for wages or open small shops/businesses and do good work for their clients. When I had my roof replaced, it was a Mexican crew that did the work. They worked very hard, did a quality job, cleaned up after themselves and did a fair days work for a fair wage (I guess – I did not pay them directly as I hired a contractor to do the job who then hired the crew). Most of their children came of age when World War II broke out. My father fought along side men whose parents had come straight over from Germany, Italy, France and Japan. None of these 1st generation Americans ever gave any thought about what country their parents had come from. [John O’Neill] The US has an invitation to those immigrants who would join our armed forces that they might earn a chance at civilian ship if they fight for our country now. Plus, over the years, many Mexican Americans have fought in many conflicts – it is usually not the first generation, but the second and third. I don’t think it would be any different with those coming now. If there is a need for the next generation to join in battle alongside other men from the US, I am sure they will do just like the others in the past that have gone before them. The Mexican people have a strong heritage of defending what they believe is right, and in fact fought for their own independence from Spain just like we did from England.
They were Americans fighting Hitler, Mussolini and the Emperor of Japan. They were defending the United States of America as one people. When we liberated France, no one in those villages were looking for the French-American or the German-American or the Irish-American. The people of France saw only Americans. [John O’Neill] We are all Americans to the Iraqi people, the Afghans, or the Iranians.
And we carried one flag that represented one country. Not one of those immigrant sons would have thought about picking up another country’s flag and waving it to represent who they were. [John O’Neill] Maybe not, but they did not let go of their family’s heritage either. If you will remember, many of the churches and neighborhoods that grew in these times (the 1900’s and before) grew ethnically. In other words, there were Italian neighborhoods and churches, Polish neighborhoods and churches, Irish…, you get the picture. Even as those that came from Asia immigrated there were China towns and other neighborhoods of Korean and Japanese, etc. And lets not forget our black friends who were originally brought here by force, they also formed neighborhoods and churches that would support their culture – keeping rich their own heritage of history. But in America we are a melting pot of all these different groups and we all call ourselves Americans. But it wasn’t always that way. We persecuted the blacks because of their color, we persecuted the Irish because of their heritage, many were persecuted by others because of their religion, the Jews know something of this persecution, yet many Jewish men and women fight for this country along side the bigots who persecute them. I think the Mexican immigrants are feeling that same persecution now – just because of where they came from. It would have been a disgrace to their parents who had sacrificed so much to be here. These immigrants truly knew what it meant to be an American. They stirred the melting pot into one red, white and blue bowl. [John O’Neill] If these people are given the chance, they will too, in fact I would say many already have because they have been here for many years.
And here we are in 2006 with a new kind of immigrant who wants the same rights and privileges. [John O’Neill] Are they new, or are we looking at them differently. The same basic ingredients are there in both cases – people come to this country to have freedom, freedom to worship, freedom to work and get paid, freedom to have opportunity that is not available where they came from. Only they want to achieve it by playing with a different set of rules, one that includes the entitlement card [John O’Neill] What are these entitlements that they are mentioning? Is it the ability to have their children get an education? The old immigrants wanted that. Is it the ability to get some help when needed? The old immigrants wanted that. Is it the ability to be recognized as human beings and not be treated as criminals? The old immigrants wanted that. Is it the desire to be respected for who they are and not bunch them into a generalization about them just because of where they came from? The old immigrants wanted that too. and a guarantee of being faithful to their mother country. [John O’Neill] Every person that I know has some fondness and love for their mother country. The Italians do, the Germans do, the Polish do, the Irish do, even those from England (who we fought for our independence from) still have a place in their heart for where they came from. I’m sorry, that’s not what being an American is all about. [John O’Neill] I believe that is exactly what America is about – the ability to live, work, worship and grow in a country that offers you the ability to keep some of your heritage, but also demands that you change and grow to fit into your new environment, but you also bring who you are into it. If that is not who we are, then why are there so many different church denominations??? Or why are there so many different type of restaurants??? Or why are there different types of movies, sports, or types of entertainment??? Different people can live together in the same place and do different things – that is exactly what America is all about.
I believe that the immigrants who landed on Ellis Island in the early 1900’s deserve better than that for all the toil, hard work and sacrifice in raising future generations to create a land that has become a beacon for those legally searching for a better life. [John O’Neill] I believe the Mexican immigrant is looking and searching for the same thing – the problem is, it is not being made available to them for a cost that is affordable and in a system that is practical for their needs and ours (remember – many of them are the ones who pick your fruits and vegetables and make it affordable for you to buy a can of corn or peaches – could you afford to pay $3.00 for an apple?). Again I say I don’t have all the answers, but something needs to be done.
I think they would be appalled that they are being used as an example by those waving foreign country flags. [John O’Neill] I agree – they should not have waved foreign flags in their protest, but they did – and I hope they will/have learned from their mistake and are ready to understand why that was hurtful to so many American people. But they were also many non-Hispanic people waving those flags, Americans – white, black, Irish, German, etc., who were showing their solidarity with those from Mexico and other countries.
And for that suggestion about taking down the Statute of Liberty, it happens to mean a lot to the citizens who are voting on the immigration bill. I wouldn’t start talking about dismantling the United States just yet. [John O’Neill] Bad thoughts – bad words by the person who suggested it, but the thought of not living up to the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty – there is some truth to us Americans not listening to what they say and opening our arms to those in need. The inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty includes these words:
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!
(signed) Rosemary LaBonte
P. S. Pass this on to everyone you know!!! KEEP THIS LETTER MOVING!! I hope this letter gets read by millions of people all across the nation!! [John O’Neill] If you passed on this before – feel free to pass this on to those same people with my comments.
Now, back to my posting. I hope this gives you some food for thought. Seeing the immense need in Mexico did not change my mind about immigration, it solidified in my mind and heart that it is an issue that is much bigger than a legal issue. If someone is in need, it is our duty and calling as Christians to help them. The US is the wealthiest nation in the world in many areas – talent, resources, money, jobs, consumer goods, diversity, freedom, and compassion. But it seems many of these resources suddenly become unavailable to many who are in need. The poorest people in the US are wealthy compared to the poverty stricken people in Mexico. We must remember that they do not have a welfare system like we do, they have no Social Security, there is no such thing as food stamps, and even though the Church helps where they can, it is stretched to its limits also. A friend of mine pointed out some interesting facts about immigration (he is a second generation immigrant of Hispanic and Italian descent – so he has first hand knowledge) that I did not know. Click here for a link to a site that gives a good history and other information about immigration.
There was a recent letter to the editor in the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic that I would like to post in its entirety. Fr. Daigle has some relevant insight – especially his final point about whose law do we follow.
I thank Father Paul Donovan for his insights into the leadership of the Church at times (Father Donovan praises courageous Mass changes, July 23 Forum.) He hit the nail on the head this time.
Too, I would just like to comment about the immigration situation. The immigrants of today who speak Spanish are not illegal. According to the Gospel they have a right to be here working and sending money home to their families. The right is God-given even though it conflicts with our nationÂs laws. God’s Law has always been the law of the Catholic Church.
John Paul II, from the beginning of his pontificate, called for richer nations to share with poorer ones. I do not think we have done a very good job of sharing with our southern neighbors. Because we have not followed the Gospel teaching of “love your neighbor as I love you,” the immigrants have a right to what they
are acquiring in the U.S.
Pause and ponder how many of our laws are against the laws of God. Pre-emptive war, for example, is totally against the teaching of the Catholic Church. Capital punishment and abortion are two more examples.
Hispanic culture is directed toward the family. U.S. culture is directed toward having things. Hispanic culture promotes many children and taking care of their elderly. U.S. culture is directed toward maybe two children (preferably a daughter and a son) and “Let’s find a good nursing home for Dad.”
Hispanic culture promotes family life together, at home, while U.S. culture promotes
busy, busy, busy and more busy. The United States has much to learn from the Hispanic
culture if we would just open ourselves and learn.
Our immigrants from the South are not illegal in the eyes of God even though they are illegal in the eyes of our U.S. law. Whose law are we taught to follow?
Father Christopher Daigle
Back to my post. That is all I have for now. I welcome your thoughts and comments, but more so I welcome your action in responding to their cry for help. Be blessed.