Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Immigration – responsibilities

It’s a really big decision to make – to leave the nation in which you were born and move yourself (and your family) to a different country.  To move away from the culture and likely the language you were raised in surely is a choice not to be made casually.  There must be something pretty seriously negative associated with staying where you are, and the situation in the country to which you’ve chosen to move must be considerably better with respect to your reasons for leaving.

The reasons people emigrate to someplace else are often economic – they see little hope for a prosperous life for themselves and their children in their native culture, so the move is to give them the chance for a better life.  Perhaps the people are being persecuted within their own nation for their ethnicity, their politics, or their religion, so they seek the freedom to pursue their lives as they choose without persecution or discrimination. No matter what the reason, there presumably must be something pretty bad about someone’s native land and the situation in their destination country must be perceived to be better in that regard.  Otherwise, it seems difficult to understand why someone would uproot themselves to go somewhere else.  Why leave and go there if there was little prospect to a big improvement?

 It seems clear to me that when an immigrant arrives in their new land, they should be willing to live by the laws of their new nation, and to adopt their new culture as soon as possible – that is, to become assimilated into their adoptive nation as soon as possible.  This doesn’t mean they have to wipe away any traces of their native culture – but how much pride can you have for the culture and traditions of a nation that you chose to leave?

It’s often the case that immigrants gather together in enclaves of fellow immigrants from the same nation/etnicity, rather than simply dispersing throughout their new land.   This way, their neighbors speak their native language, celebrate the same holidays, follow the traditional customs, and so forth.  It’s quite natural to seek the company of others of your own kind – tribalism is built into our genes.  The problem with this clustering is that it inhibits assimilation.  The immigrants seek to retain everything familiar to them, with the exception of whatever negative situation caused them to leave their home land. 

If immigrants live by a different set of rules in their enclave from those of their new country, this is permitting at least some (and perhaps most) of what they wanted to leave behind when they left their birthplace.  Immigrants have a responsibility to assimilate, to learn the language of their new country, to follow the laws and customs of their new home even as they honor whatever good things they retain about their original culture.  Seeking to have some sort of cultural autonomy is to sanction disregard for the laws and customs of their new nation.  If they have no respect for those laws and customs, it's illogical to move from your original home to that new country?  Go back home and return to the situation you left!

And the people in the nation to which they have moved have a responsibility to not allow biases against the immigrants (perhaps including animosities many hundreds of years old) to influence how they treat the new arrivals.  It’s simply stupid bigotry to allow such “traditional” hatreds to influence how one feels about the immigrant individuals.  Why punish someone in the present for misdeeds committed by their ancestors?  Let the actual behavior of the new citizens dictate your treatment of them.  If the immigrants are working hard to assimilate, then they deserve your respect and friendship, not your hatred and contempt. If not, then you have a valid reason to be concerned about those individuals, but be sure not to judge everyone by the bad actions of a few.

Especially in the USA, we should remind ourselves of the words on a plaque inside the Statue of Liberty:

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!

Our American nation and all of its good things were built by immigrants – for all of us (including most descendants of native Americans), our heritage includes immigrants.  Let us choose to discard the bigotry we may have inherited from our unfortunate traditions.  Racism and bigotry are simply wrong and go against the laws of the USA – you have no need to despise someone else to feel good about who you are and from whence you came.  Give individuals a chance to show what they’re made of before you judge them.  Don’t consider them to be inferior solely on of the basis of race or ethnicity, and thereby unworthy of your respect as fellow citizens.

1 comment:

Garrett Fornea said...

Well said, Chuck.

"There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all … The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality, than with the other citizens of the American Republic … There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else." (Theodore Roosevelt, 1915)