The Common Good
May 1994

Welcoming the Stranger Among Us

by Aaron McCarroll Gallegos | May 1994

When poet and author Luis Rodríguez speaks to the diverse groups of students in our inner-city schools, he tells them, "Respect is the bridge to understanding" between themselves and the ...

When poet and author Luis Rodríguez speaks to the diverse groups of students in our inner-city schools, he tells them, "Respect is the bridge to understanding" between themselves and the police, their parents, gang rivals, or people from different racial and ethnic communities. When it comes to living with immigrants among us, this is a lesson that we all must learn.

For the majority of Americans who have never left this country, the experience of pulling up roots, bidding farewell to friends and family—maybe forever—and placing oneself in the midst of an unknown culture is entirely foreign. It is helpful to remember the heroism inherent in the leap of faith these immigrants take; like Sarah and Abraham, they head off across the wilderness for an unknown country, in some cases with a repressive government or military breathing down their necks.

The volume of im-migration has risen in recent years, though the rate relative to the U.S. base population is still far below past levels. Behind this new wave of immigration are many of the same causes that brought most of our ancestors to the United States—in-cluding flight from political, cultural, or religious persecution or war, as well as the search for prosperity. With global telecommunications and a world-spanning economy, it’s now possible for people around the world to be tempted by the American Dream, fueling the increase in migration.

The recent Los Angeles earthquake has shaken up the debate on immigration. California Gov. Pete Wilson’s proposals to restrict earthquake relief money to legal residents is only one in a series of anti-immigrant proposals that the governor—along with politicians in other states that receive large numbers of immigrants, such as Florida and New York—has offered.

In recent months, Wilson has proposed denying citizenship to children born in this country to illegal aliens (something that would require a constitutional amendment) and denying health and education services to undocumented immigrants. With the realization that a tough stance on immigrants wins votes in these states, even liberal Democratic officials are jumping on the anti-immigration bandwagon, including a proposal from California Sen. Barbara Boxer to send the National Guard to patrol the border with Mexico.

This backlash against immigration, both legal and illegal, is taking place now for a number of reasons, the primary one being the slumping economy that has had a tremendous impact on much of the country, especially California and Florida. Many fear that immigrants come to this country only to mooch off public assistance, and that they are heavily involved in crime.

Numerous studies have shown these beliefs to be false. Immigrants, both legal and illegal, pay as much and often more in taxes than the cost of public services they use, and they are

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