Sunday, April 02, 2006

Don't let the door hit you on the way out !!!!

If the U.S. is so inferior, then why are you here?
By Conor Friedersdorf, Staff Writer

(This is a twice weekly column written by Conor Friedersdorf, who is managing the Daily Bulletin's blog, or special Web site, on immigration issues. The blog is designed to provide a forum for opinions and information on immigration. The blog is at can one say about Montebello High School? While rallying against tougher immigration laws, student protesters lowered the American flag, raised the Mexican flag, then flew the Stars and Stripes upside down beneath it.A protest can be chaotic and unpredictable. These students rushed out of class, their adrenaline pumping. Emotions ran high -- some were rallying against laws that directly affect their mothers and fathers.
Special Section Online: Beyond Borders
Blog Site: Beyond Borders Blog Even so, why did they use their protest to make a statement about America versus Mexico? Among Mexicans championing immigrant rights, why is there a faction that insists on denigrating the United States? Why are some people itching for the right to live within the United States displaying symbols that suggest they find our southern neighbor a superior nation?It doesn't make sense --- though you probably understand it as well as I do.Some protesters blame America for the sorry state of their native country. As one immigrant e-mailed me, ‘‘We are here because it's YOU the U.S. who keeps our countries from developing, or seeking any kind of enrichment. It's you who occupy our countries, and build military bases. It's the U.S. that has throughout history supported oppressive governments to keep oppressing their people.''Other protesters -- and they don't speak for all the protesters -- look at America as a flawed country. They see poverty beside rampant materialism. Compared to most Americans, they're more likely to interact with a racist police officer or an unscrupulous contractor or a condescending shopkeeper in their daily lives.They see the hypocrisy in an immigration system that rarely punishes Americans who hire illegal immigrants, while routinely deporting the immigrants themselves.They've got a point: America isn't perfect. Many Americans are as quick to point out our flaws as any of the protesters we've seen this past week. Self-criticism is one of America's strengths. We find flaws; then we try our best to fix them.Even as we criticize this country, however, we know deep down how great it is. We don't need to say it out loud any more than we need to point out how athletic Michael Jordan is when we critique his baseball swing, or how beautiful a Hollywood celebrity is when we gossip about her ugly dress at the Academy Awards. We assume America's greatness even when we lament its politicians, or its social problems or certain parts of its foreign policy.Could it be, however, that America's greatness is no longer something that every immigrant feels? Could it be that we name our strengths so seldom and our weaknesses so frequently that all perspective has been lost?If that's the case, I'd like to address all those immigrant protesters who view America as a nation unworthy of admiration.Let me explain why so many Americans resent your judgment. Let me explain why we think you're wrong. I'll ignore every strength America possesses save those related to immigration, the topic you are protesting. I'll argue that whatever our system's flaws -- and they are many -- it is the best immigration system the world has to offer, which is a pretty good argument against disparaging our citizens and denigrating our flag.America accepts more immigrants than any nation on Earth, even if you don't count the illegal immigrants within our borders. If you think we provide too few opportunities for legal immigrants, as I do, you must still acknowledge that every country on Earth, the country of your ancestry included, provides far fewer opportunities.Once here, immigrants enjoy more economic opportunities than anywhere else on Earth. In America, Latinos aren't even our most successful immigrant group economically, yet Latinos earn more here than they do anywhere else -- their native countries included -- and far more than, say, Algerian immigrants in France or Moroccan immigrants in Spain.Let's take the largest Latino group, Mexicans, who last year earned sufficient funds to support themselves and their families --- and to send an additional $16 billion home to friends and relatives in Mexico. Do you realize how much that means to Mexico? Thirty-thousand dollars is an impressive annual income there. Sixteen billion is equivalent to providing roughly 530,000 Mexicans with $30,000 each. To be sure, Mexican immigrants work hard for that money.It is equally certain, however, that they'd lack the opportunity to earn that money but for America, where the free enterprise system and low levels of corruption allow for the creation of wealth.Do you perceive racism here? It does exist, as abhorrent as that is. Yet America is more welcoming to outsiders than any country on Earth. We protect minorities as effectively as any nation, and far more effectively than most.Of course, you know all this on some level, because you chose to leave your nation and to come to America among all the other nations on Earth, most of which wouldn't even allow anyone from your nation to immigrate legally.So if you are a legal immigrant, participate fully in the immigration debate. As someone who has written column upon column criticizing the current system, I'll admit as quickly as anyone how flawed it is.If you're an illegal immigrant, enjoy the fact that though you can't vote, you can speak your mind here with impunity, a privilege undocumented foreigners enjoy in very few countries. I'll acknowledge all accurate critiques; America is far from perfect.However, don't dare to denigrate this country. It insults us, sure, but that's beside the point, which is this: Given the merits of the American system compared to every alternative on Earth, and the unprecedented success so many Latinos have achieved here, it makes no sense to single us out for reproach.If it made any sense, why would you be here instead of someplace else?


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