Rich Elfers, “In Focus”

Rich Elfers, “In Focus”

Looking beyond America’s borders

The United States has always been a settler nation, made great because of immigration.

“Beyond America’s borders live not a lesser people.”—Beau of the Fifth Column

Immigration is in the news on a daily basis. Conservatives call the issue on our southern border a crisis. Progressives and moderates see the issue through the perspective of the famous poem by Emma Lazarus found in the inscription on the Statue of Liberty:

“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!”

So, whose perspective is correct? That depends on two things: your political perspective and your level of fear. We’re living in an age where journalists are often required to give differing points of view even when there is only one right answer. With some issues there is no equivalency. One perspective is correct and the other is grossly wrong. The issue of immigration, though complex, really has only one answer—one of empathy over fear.

We are a nation of immigrants. There have been times in our history when Americans feared Irish, Germans, Italians, Jews, Eastern Europeans, Black rebels, and all Catholics. Later in our history we feared the Japanese, whether citizens or not. Currently our fear turns us against Muslims, Mexicans, and migrants from Central America. This fear is based partly on racism, or in other words, it’s based on the belief that people who are non-whites, especially if they are poor, are inferior to whites. The problem of fear arises among many conservatives because they lack empathy—feeling what it’s like to be someone else.

Now that American demographics are shifting to make our nation a plurality of races, there has been a desire and an actual attempt, mainly by white males, to end our democracy and to set up a dictatorship. Fortunately, that attempt of Jan. 6 failed, but the threat is not gone.

If you have ever had conversations with conservatives over immigration as I have, you will soon find that showing any empathy toward the Haitians and central Americans crossing our southern border will elicit, the “What about…” response: “What about immigrants stealing American jobs, grabbing up housing, using taxpayer money, living on American welfare, raping, stealing from, and murdering American citizens?” All these “Whataboutism’s” are really attempts to deflect from the humanity of those beyond our borders, from those who are different from the current white majority due to the color of their skin and their culture.

These fearful statements are often not based upon reality. The jobs illegal immigrants are taking are usually jobs Americans do not want. Picking fruit and vegetables, slaughtering and preparing chicken and other meats, jobs that are labor intensive and dangerous. If immigrants didn’t do these jobs, then our food prices would increase as they are doing right now.

Arguments are made that immigrants are stealing taxpayer money by getting welfare and free medical care and filling our public schools with children whose parents don’t pay taxes. In reality, illegal immigrants often have to pay into Social Security with no expectation of ever getting the money back in their old age. In order to keep their jobs, they have to work and pay taxes on their labors.

I haven’t seen any proof that immigrants take more from our society than they put into it. Examples are cited about illegal immigrants who steal, rape and murder Americans. While this does happen, most illegal immigrants are hardworking law-abiding people who want to avoid any contact with police for fear of being deported. These statements are used as talking points by many conservative politicians who gain votes by engendering fear of “the others” in their constituents.

We have a labor shortage in this country, especially in the lower-paying tiers like daycare, working in nursing homes and food production and distribution. The reality is that businesses, seeing our declining population will, over the next twenty years, be pushing the government to pass laws that bring more immigrants in to fill the shortages. “Compassion” will come as a result, not due to empathy, but because of capitalism and the desire for profit.

Emma Lazarus’ quotation sees immigrants as assets, not as people to fear. The United States has always been a settler nation that has been made great because it has been built upon immigration. It’s time to find ways to show empathy to immigrants while setting firm yet compassionate standards and regulations for their entry.

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Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at
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