Who Are We? What Have We Become?

……………………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!

I am writing again about immigration, but I hesitate because so much has been written on this subject already, and so many eloquent voices have spoken their piece. Yet, I cannot stop myself and I hope that my humble point of view might contribute in some way.

I am an immigrant. I came to the US in 1977, as a political refugee from Communist Romania. Prior to being admitted, I waited for my clearance in a refugee camp in Greece. At the time, the cold war was on and any person escaping from a communist country automatically received political asylum in the US, once that person passed the background check. There was a well-established path, called ‘the third country program.’ One waited in a third country (one other than the US) for the background check. While in the third country, different religious and charitable organizations helped the refugees — in my case it was the United States Catholic Commission. Greece was one place where refugees gathered. There were other centers in Italy, Austria, Germany, France, and maybe the Scandinavian countries as well. Once I came to the US, I was in possession of a provisional Green Card with the right to work. The permanent Green Card was granted after two years provided one did not break the law. After five years, one qualified to apply for citizenship.

I was well prepared to come to America. I was young, I spoke English, and I had a Masters degree in mechanical engineering, a practical profession. I am white. From Greece I had corresponded with friends in the States, who sent me books on how to look for a job in America. When I arrived (in New York) I had my resume ready and printed on glossy white paper and I purchased the Sunday New York Times at midnight on Saturday, in order to be among the first to apply for the best jobs advertised in the newspaper. I went on my first interview after three weeks and I started working as an engineer after five. Everything else went up from there.

I look at the Southern border situation and wonder what has happened to America. What about the tired, the poor, the wretched, and those yearning to breathe free? Are we no longer offering sanctuary to those who come here fearing for their lives, in spite of what our laws and hearts say, and in spite of what we say that we stand for to the entire world? If, as I saw on TV, the refugees are not allowed to come in through official border crossings, and they arrive at the border because their lives are in danger, than what choice do they have but to cross illegally? ‘Zero tolerance policy’ — what does that mean? Do we punish them by taking their children away? In other words are we punishing babies and toddlers for what the parents do? (I heard the justification that criminals who are sent to prison, go there without their children. True, but in most cases there is a family network that protects the child.)

Are there no humane solutions? How about a third country program for refugees from Central and South America? Wouldn’t that work? Instead of having these desperate people tracking all the way to the border with the US, what if they went to capitals and large cities where the governments are stable and in control and where they could apply in an orderly fashion for asylum at US embassies? If sanctioned by the US government and the governments of the host countries, I am sure that charitable organization would step in as well. They asylum seekers could live in camps, the way I lived when I was in Greece. How much more would this cost? Certainly much less than what we spend now.

Yes, people would say, but can we accept all these refugees? Yes, I would say, we can. Look at Israel, a country of about 8 million people that accepted and absorbed about a million newcomers (mostly from the former Soviet Union) in the last decade of the last century. If they could do it, proportionally speaking we should be able to handle 40 times more. But don’t worry America, there will never be 40 million people suddenly rushing to our shores in one push.

And there is another aspect too: In Israel, there is a government agency entrusted with helping newcomers get settled. It is called the Sochnut. Newcomers are met at the port of entry (Lod Airport), and immediately sent to places (Ulpans) specially equipped to house immigrants. They stay there for up to six months, and receive medical insurance, free lodging, meals, and intensive language and general training. When they leave they are assisted in finding jobs, assigned an apartment with reduced rent and benefit from tax-free purchases of a first car and household appliances. We could do something like that, couldn’t we? Getting immigrants up on their feet becoming productive and paying their taxes sooner rather than later — isn’t that a good and profitable thing? Yes, you would say, but Israel is a country of immigrants. Well, so are we. At least that’s what we claim to be. (But, you would continue to argue, where would we find the money? Well, I would say, and you would not like my answer, we have 11 aircraft carriers. The next countries with powerful navies are China and Russia. They each have one. Let’s not build another aircraft carrier, and use the billions to help the refugees instead. But if we had this money, you would say, shouldn’t we first help our homeless? Yes, we should do both.)

Hypothetically, should the inflow of refugees reach 40 million, than what? Our population would grow by about 12%. Take a look at population densities around the world (for reference, the world density is 132). The US is at 86. The place with the highest density is Macau with 55,268 people per square mile, according to the Internet. Israel’s density is 1041. England stands at 1098; Germany at 601; and France at 321. If we added 40 million to our population, we would jump to a density of about 97. What’s the harm in that? Our customer base would increase and benefit business. Our tax base would increase and benefit the federal and local governments. The new people would build towns, roads and bridges, schools, and businesses. They would bring in new music, poetry, foods, customs, and make us all better, and our culture richer. Remember, they are not idiots, and contrary to what some say, they are not rapists and violent gang members.

Agreed, you would say, we have vast stretches of land in this country but the newcomers would want to crowd cities like New York and Los Angeles. Wrong, I would say. Most of them don’t know where they want to go. They don’t know America, and they run for their lives. This morning, I read in the paper that the European Union has reached a much-needed consensus on dealing with the migrants from Africa. They will help the people, but the people would not be given the choice of a particular country. They will go where they are told to go. We can do the same thing, and help the refugees and ourselves in the long run.

The country seems to be moving in a direction opposed to our declared and accepted value system. Truly, if we don’t care for others, and we want to lock ourselves in and wait for the Norwegians to immigrate (who don’t want to come), than there is very little chance of changing anything. But in that case, there is one thing I ask.

Remember that hundred-and-fifty-year-old mighty lady standing at the entry to New York Harbor? Well, be consistent, and tear her down!

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Under the pen name Tudor Alexander I have written and published five novels and one collection of short stories. Please visit www.tudoralexander.com.