Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Immigration and New Jersey: We, The People

“It was the perfect setting for an immigration related press conference: an old train terminal in Jersey City’s Liberty State Park, within view of the Statue of Liberty, where countless immigrants poured off ferries from nearby Ellis Island to board trains for points West. It was here that Gov. Jon Corzine signed an executive order creating a new blue ribbon panel on immigration during a well-choreographed, well-attended event. But there was a less jubilant undertone as well -- it was clear that the Governor did not want the tension that characterized the recent Morristown anti-immigration rally to replicate across the state." (Friedman, PoliticsNJ.com)

New Jersey shares the immigration history with New York. And I think it is great that Gov. Corzine has moved to establish a commission to deal with the issue in New Jersey.

However, it is not unlikely that the issues and the proposed solutions facing Morristown will begin to replicate themselves around towns in New Jersey. It is a very questionable solution to the immigration issue to deputize all local law enforcement officials. The already overburdened local police cannot necessarily take on yet another task that should be borne in cost and labor by the federal government.

It is not unsurprising, though, that the federal government lacks the staffing at our borders and at the Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS] to deal with the immigration issue. Prior to 9/11 the matter was just not a priority in anywhere but the border states of Arizona, New Mexico, California and Texas. And the Border Patrol and the INS were agencies that received huge cutbacks to help pay for the Bush tax cuts. So, know what your tax cuts are paying for before you buy them.

It is estimated that there are somewhere between 12 to 20 million ‘illegal’ immigrants in the United States. That is not a number reached over night. It is a combination of lack of attention by the federal government and small business owners that like the cheap labor. You cannot simultaneously yell and scream about the ‘illegals’, and enjoy the benefits of tax cuts and the cheap labor.

In my home town of Flemington, there is a growing population of Latino families that work day and night to provide for their family members. They work sometimes two and three jobs; they pay high rents and live in overcrowded apartments, walk or bicycle to work, have no health care, and are subjected to racism nearly every day. Indeed, the landlords who rent these overcrowded apartments and the employers who hire Latino workers at below minimum wage aid and abet in the creation of these problems.

Flemington has a mayor who has referred to the Latino population as ‘the ethnics’ or the ‘ethnic problem’ in public, and made jokes about the ‘five-footers’ in private to other Council members. I am compelled to think that such a person is ill equipped to handle this issue as the matter comes to a head.

We need to remember that more than half the population came from immigrants, through Ellis Island. I cannot say that every member of my family [or any family, for that matter] came here legally or illegally dating back more than 125 years ago. But they came, they worked, they learned English without any government requirement that they do, and their ancestors flourished. From factory workers, tailors, garment workers, push cart vendors, and union organizers, etc, they became lawyers, doctors, teachers, business owners, mayors, councilmen, senators, presidents and political organizers.

These is America, and let’s not forget what makes us great. It’s we, the people.


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