Remember what Lady Liberty stands for

By Roy Ribitzky

“Overrun by foreigners.”

That was the overwhelming response by Germans in a recent survey charting attitudes towards immigration. Looks like the immigration debate isn’t just heated south of our border, the debate is hotly contested in Europe, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying attempts “to build a multicultural society and to live side-by-side and enjoy each other has utterly failed.”

But what does it mean for a country to be “overrun” by immigrants? Perhaps the focus should be on who’s asking the question, rather than talking about whom the question focuses on. Using “overrun” and “foreigners” in the same statement implies that foreigners are a negative addition to society. Herein lies the contradiction: we want immigrants to come to our country to do work, but we don’t want to have anything to do with them. It also puts the battle over immigration into a hegemonic context: natives are better than immigrants. I take issue with some of the arguments against immigration policies, especially being a son of those “foreigners” German and American conservatives have such a problem with.

The fact is, foreigners created America. Not just any foreigners, but illegal foreigners. Illegal immigration began in 1492 when Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean and sparked a genocide to which we owe our sacred freedoms.

Yes, we have a problem with both legal and illegal immigration. Arizona attempted to solve the problem of immigration, but that did more harm than good. Arizona immigration law SB1070 is more about mostly white law enforcement officers racially profiling Hispanic-looking citizens than blocking illegal immigrants from crossing the border.

By definition, people who cross the border illegally have committed a crime. That is not up for debate. But we would be naïve just to judge someone on one singular action. I find it surprising that whenever we talk about illegal immigrants coming from Mexico, we only talk about what is wrong with them and not our immigration policies.

I’m not sure if you missed the first part, but many illegal immigrants are from Mexico. So the question has to be just what is going on in Mexico that is causing Mexicans to put their lives on the line to come to the land of dreams? What is living in poverty like in Mexico? What about the surge in drug-related violence across the border regions killing people left and right? My question, then, is what is wrong with the Mexican government’s policies that make their own citizens risk everything to travel north of the border for a few dollars? Stereotypes of immigrants need to be dispelled, or racist politicians will continue to thrive and white supremacist groups will have ammo to recruit followers.

When it comes to illegal immigration, we need a bipartisan approach from both the Republicans and Democrats – yeah, that seems likely – and the United States and Mexico. This is an issue for both parties and both nations, and we need to tackle it together.

Bipartisanship aside, there is still an “us vs. them” dilemma. I do not know of any academic studies to back this up, but from my personal experiences, most of my first-generation American friends take more pride in being American and American values than do many of my friends whose families have been here for generations. Of course, what I have experienced cannot be generalized to the mass public, but it still resonates with me. From the time I could speak, my parents did everything they could to make me appreciate the freedoms of living in America and the sacrifices they went through to bring the family to Boston. Had my family stayed in Israel, I would be three years into my military service.

I believe that every immigrant who wants to come work and live in America needs to learn English. However, many Americans take for granted our language and how it is everywhere in our country. From bus stops to classes, we never have to worry about language barriers.

As this country is a melting pot, I say every student in a public school should be required to learn another language. If we expect immigrants to learn our language, than we should expect of ourselves the effort to learn a foreign language. Studies have proved that individuals who are bilingual are more successful in their careers. Many companies today are looking for people who speak another language. I, too, am learning a second language; that way I won’t look like an idiot asking for directions in Europe.

America is still the best place in the world, yet our imperfections are many and visible. This does not make us bad, it just means we have room to make this country better. We are a nation of immigrants. I think that is something we should be proud of.

Roy Ribitzky is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].