Whenever I visit a metropolitan area, I like striking up conversations with the cab drivers. Inevitably, the driver is from some far-away country. I try to guess where by the sound of their accent. I have met drivers from Ghana, Iraq, and Sri Lanka, to name just a few. I ask about their families, their language, what brought them to the U.S., and of course, their politics. I have been amazed at how knowledgeable these foreign-born cab drivers are about U.S. politics. The cab drivers I met can carry on, in their broken English, intelligent conversations about domestic politics and U.S. foreign policy. They seem much more engaged in public policy than most U.S.-born citizens that I know.
What is most interesting to me is how they seem to have a great sense of appreciation and pride for both their country of origin and the United States. For example, earlier this year, I met a cab driver in Denver who was from Ethiopia. He spoke about his family, and how great it was to live in America. But when I asked him about Ethiopia, he became very animated as he told me all about his country of origin. With great pride he told me, “Ethiopia is the only country in Africa to have never been colonized.” He went on telling me about how empire after empire had tried to conquer Ethiopia, but each time the people of the country had fought back their invaders.
Immigrants are proud of their cultural heritage, but they are also proud of being part of the American Dream. The “Papers Please” law that was passed in Arizona earlier this year brought new attention to the immigration debate. Immigration has also come up in discussions about controlling spending and in the healthcare reform debate. In 2005, Senator Dianne Feinstein said, “We know that people come to this country illegally. They come for many different reasons. Some out of fear of persecution, some for work, all for opportunity…About 50% of the agricultural workforce are illegal workers…With respect to agricultural work, I know that it is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to get Americans to work in agricultural labor.” (Congressional Digest • June 2005 )
The bottom line is that we need immigration reform. We need to find a way for people who are here and working to gain citizenship. Chances are they are being exploited by an employer, and their low wages are harming the labor market for U.S. citizens in those industries. If people have skills and can find work, they should be welcomed. If people are refugees and need our help, they should be allowed in the country to get temporary help. The extreme-Right wing (e.g., Tea Baggers) want Americans to be scared of “illegals”. They want us to see them as a drain on our economy. These perceptions just do not match up with reality.
Comedian Stephen Colbert recently testified before congress to bring attention to this issue. The entire hearing is presented in part here—it is worth listening to the entire hearing: