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Norb’s Corner: Immigration

The plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty reads: 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-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

One thing that goes unsaid in all the talk about immigration policy is that immigration has made America great. Unless you are a full blooded Native American, you are descended from immigrants. And even they allegedly migrated here through Beringia, which included parts of modern East Asia and North America that was connected by the Bering Land Bridge.

America has been its best when it has been big-hearted, particularly when dealing with people deposed by poverty, war and violence. The immigrants who have come to America have added greatly to the vitality of our society, both economically and culturally.

The Irish potato famine, which took place between 1845 and 1852 brought many Irish immigrants to America. South Buffalo is traditionally known for its large Irish-American community. The Irish laborers turn out to be instrumental in the growth of America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is thought that 3,000 Irish laborers helped to build the New York Erie Canal, which was dug with shovels and horsepower, and many Irish worked on the railroads, farms and in the mines. The Western New York, Irish Famine Memorial is within view of the Erie Canal, the grain mills and the steel mills where the Irish helped to shape American industry and establish their place in America.

Between 1870 and 1892, it is estimated that as many as 20,000 people of Polish descent arrived in Buffalo. Barracks were often built as temporary housing. The Poles soon found work in local foundries, shipyards, and other industries and they founded a community on Buffalo’s East Side.

By the 1970s, there was an estimated 300,000 Polish people living in Western New York. There is still a small number of Poles (34,254) living in the East Side Polonia neighborhood which is around Broadway/Fillmore and the Broadway Market. There are also a small number of Polish businesses in the blocks around the market.

It would be xenophobic hypocrisy for the people of Buffalo, a city which honors itself on its ethnic variety to reject or denounce any new immigrants that are here legally. Immigration has always been an American and a Buffalo success story. Immigrants add much, much more to our economy than they take. Immigrants are two times more likely to start a business and they commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans according to what I have read. It is hard for immigrants to get here and they hate to waste that opportunity.

Accusing immigrants as being a group of rapists, murderers or drug pushers has become a part of current conservative dogma. Now we have a large group of individuals from Honduras who are escaping their country due to violence and poverty. In fact it is their intention is to ask for asylum, which is their right under international law.

It is the right of the United States to forbid asylum to anyone who is determined to be undesirable. Now when our unemployment rate is low and job openings are going vacant, we need immigration, if only for economic reasons.

Recently the president raised the question about birthright citizenship, the Dreamers. The difficulty is the 14th Amendment gave us birthright citizenship for an important reason. Without it we would become a country with second class citizens. People, who were born in this country who would have fewer rights.

Defining citizenship by place of birth rather than by blood descent feels distinctly American. But that birthright, isn’t America’s alone. Unrestricted or nearly Unrestricted birthright citizenship is a feature of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Peru and all the countries of Central America.

The obvious reason is that the majority of the people in these countries trace its descent to immigrants and settlers, people who immigrated and who already had some other citizenship. The people who have a justification to limit membership to persons with the correct ancestry are people like the First Nations or native Hawaiians. They were here first.

I am descended from Immigrants. My own DNA reveals that my personal genetic makeup is European consisting of British, Irish, French, German, Scandinavian, Balkan and a few other nationalities. I am told the Balkan part is Prussian. Also my grandfather was Canadian.

The concept of belonging came to America with the British colonists. It didn’t matter if you came from Spain, Britain, France, or Ireland. If you were born in New York you were a New Yorker. Doing away with birthright citizenship would not bind the country together, but conversely tear it apart more. The undocumented population that would be excluded from the rights of citizenship would increase, as their children and grandchildren would fail to gain membership either.

It’s abundantly clear to me that a revocation of the 14th amendment would be totally unreasonable, at least according to a conservative reading. Undocumented or illegal immigrants might be breaking the law and they are clearly subject to the law which is what the words “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” in the amendment mean.

As we await the Honduran “invasion” I am reminded that if it weren’t for immigration I wouldn’t be sitting in my living room writing this and you probably won’t be where you are reading it. Let them enter the country legally.

Research Sources: theweek.com, dailypublic.com, the-scientist.com, Buffalospree.com, Wikipedia.com, and my own opinion

Image: bandini

Written by Norbert Rug

Norbert Rug

Norb is a writer from Lockport. His email address is nrug@juno.com. If you have any fun stories or memories to share of Buffalo's "good old days", feel free to send him a note.

Norb has now written 500+ articles, over 90 restaurant reviews, and has been published in the Buffalo News, Lockport Union Sun and Journal, Niagara Falls Gazette, the East Niagara Post, The Lockport Star, The North Tonawanda Extra, the Niagara Reporter, and Artvoice. His work has been published on Press Reader, Good Cookery, the National association for Home Care and Hospice, and Konitono. He also has his own blog at whywny.home.blog.

Norb's writings deal with Buffalo nostalgia. He wrote a series of articles on early Buffalo television including Rocketship 7, Captain Kangaroo, Howdy Doody, and Mr.Rogers. Norb has also written on his childhood in the Bailey Kensington area, The Mohegan Market, and sailing on Lake Erie. He continues to write weekly on the city that he loves.

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