If you hang around Congress these days or happen to visit the White House, there are three words that you dare not utter. One is “obstruction,” another is “collusion” and, for some unexplained and sad reason, the latest dirty word in the Republican-controlled House and Senate is “immigrant.” As a relative of many Holocaust survivors, I truly resent the current hateful campaign against immigrants.
There’s no doubt that there are millions of Americans who came to this country many years ago, but to this day have not attained citizenship. But they work hard, raise wonderful children, pay taxes and are the pillars of their houses of worship and communities. The vast majority of them didn’t sneak over the Mexican border, but rather came here by plane or boat, and may have come at the invitation of longtime citizens.
No matter where you or I go, we see these people. They staff our restaurants, cut our lawns, work at other modest-paying jobs that no one else will take, pay taxes and eke out a meager living. But they are living their version of the American dream, and aren’t sitting around collecting welfare checks. They aren’t criminals, and they raise their children to be studious and hard-working. Their children are the so-called “Dreamers.”
Despite the fact that these people take those jobs that no one else will, there are many members of Congress who want them immediately deported to the countries they left 20 or more years ago. These lawmakers stand on the floor of the House of Representatives and pontificate on how we have to deport these people en masse. There isn’t one member of the U.S. Congress who can trace his or her family lineage to the Indians who were in this country long before the rest of us arrived. There might be one whose family came to America on the Mayflower, but those family members were immigrants at the time.
Five years ago, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a study on the economic impact of the city’s immigrant population. It concluded that immigrants accounted for over $3 billion in revenue for the city, state and federal governments, and that they had jobs that would go unfilled if their population disappeared. Last year, on a trip to California, I drove through hundreds of square miles of vegetable and fruit farms, all of which rely on migrant workers, who are also a target of this Congress.
I’m not soft on immigration policies, and believe that any immigrant who has a criminal record should not enjoy the benefits of living in America. I also know that our current immigration system is flawed and badly in need of repair. Repair is the right word, not destruction. If President Trump could have his way, incoming immigrants, it appears, would all be white, and would probably be coming from Scandinavian countries. Citizens of Africa, India, China, Vietnam and other far-off places would be barred from entry.
I’m sure that some of you have had the misfortune to spend some time in a local hospital emergency room. If and when you do, take a good look around and notice how many of the doctors, nurses and physician’s assistants appear to be from countries that are now on the forbidden list. They are professional, caring and know how to treat your condition. Who would replace them if the current occupant of the Oval Office has his way? If you look around your village, town or city and don’t notice how many non-Americans are serving you, then it’s time you took an eye test.
Beyond reform of our system is the issue of the Dreamers. They face deportation unless Congress finds a way to allow them to stay. If you ever need a heart transplant, ask House Speaker Paul Ryan for his, because chances are it isn’t being used. Watching him sit on his hands at the State of the Union address when the Dreamers were mentioned was a lesson in cold-hearted leadership.
Let’s hope, for the sake of our country and people like you and me, that this year the word immigrant will cease to be a Congressional expletive.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.