Dealing from the Absolute Bottom of Another Trumped-up Deck

A rigged poker game. Photo by: Chris Poh

“They didn’t ask us what our immigration status was, they just said that they needed help and a lot of it…”  Mauricio Avila – a volunteer from Ecuador who assisted with rescue efforts immediately after the 9/11 attack

In the days following the attack on New York’s World Trade Center, private contractors were brought in to assist with the initial rescue and recovery, and then ultimately the cleanup of the site. This almost overwhelming task required a tremendous amount of additional manual labor. As usual, many of those who would swell those ranks were  undocumented immigrants. And as usual, a good number of those private contractors would not be inquiring as to their legal status–taking advantage once again of those who so often give more than a good day’s work for less than a good day’s wage.

Operating under the assumption that the air around “Ground Zero” was safe to breathe, as alleged by government officials, many of the illegal immigrants that worked the pile would eventually face those same life threatening health issues that were affecting their properly documented counterparts. A deadly mix of lead, cadmium, mercury, benzene, and the fine particulate from the millions of pounds of pulverized building materials would eventually hasten or cause a host of medical conditions–some of which that would prove to be fatal. But for those workers and volunteers living outside of those laws that define what constitutes an appropriate presence within our borders recompense and recognition was seldom granted.

It is ironic that most of those who carried out the attacks on September 11th had their paperwork in order, while the names of the undocumented victims of that crime will not appear on any memorial.

Fourteen years and four presidential election cycles later with virtually nothing resolved concerning comprehensive immigration reform,  a man who is still questioning the legitimate citizenship of the current President of the United States has managed to be at the forefront of the topic. While in my heart, I would like nothing more than to viciously attack and condemn Mr. Trump for his comments about Mexico and her citizens, I will refrain from doing so other than to point out that simple truth that whenever political candidates have nothing to offer–they offer up fear.

Tragically though, that particular tactic of focusing the anger and frustration of potential supporters against another group of people has in many instances led to some of mankind’s darkest days. We need not look back any further than 9/11 or the Second World War to see the results of intolerance and race-baiting. But perhaps Mr. Trump’s venomous diatribes  will serve some useful purpose. It might just cause those worthy candidates from both sides of the political spectrum to seriously address the issue of immigration.

As for my own point of view, I’ve tried to maintain a fairly welcoming disposition. But I also understand that our current immigration policies put undue burdens on the government and social services being provided by a small number of states. Overall, there seems to be some solid economic evidence that more liberal reforms would in the long run provide a substantial net economic gain for both the private and government sectors. But of course those people who favor closing our borders completely can point to their own set of statistics. As usual, any debate based solely on statistical analysis yields suspect results. There are though a few provable facts that should be clearly stated when dealing with those voices that would champion the rhetoric of Donald Trump.

  • The country of Mexico during any given business quarter ranks second or third in terms of trade with the United States. For the most part, both economies enjoy strong benefits from this relationship.
  • Many more American jobs will be lost to technology than as the result of additional immigration. There may be more to fear from Silicon Valley than from the Mexicali Valley.
  • There is no evidence to support the notion that immigrants, legal or otherwise, commit more crimes than the general U.S. population.
  • While the drug cartels have brought their own people into the United States in order to establish distribution networks, American citizens are the number 1 consumers of illegal drugs on planet earth. The solution is quite simple. If you want the bad guys to stay home or go elsewhere, stop purchasing their poison.
  • In the course of the Mexican Drug War it is estimated that as many as 100,000 people have been killed, many of them innocent civilians at the hands of  the cartel’s enforcers and foot soldiers. Those same cartels purchase a large percentage of their firearms from American gun shops.

Perhaps we should be viewing those sneaking through our southern borders more as refugees from tyranny and war and not just as criminals trying to skirt the law. Their plight in many instances is solely about safety and survival.

Then there is that Karma thing. While I do not believe that we necessarily need to apologize for the misdeeds done by those that have gone before us, we would do well to remember just how we established some of those borders that we don’t want others to cross. On more than one occasion, we violated treaties and territorial sovereignty in order to acquire land and resources. And once we had completed that sea to shining sea acquisition we had no difficulty building out that immense piece of real estate with the sweat, toil and suffering of immigrant labor.

Today, whenever I peek into the kitchen of a restaurant, walk through the corridor of a nursing home, or head down to breakfast after a comfortable night’s sleep at a hotel I see the faces of immigrants. And interestingly enough, I do not encounter anyone that looks like me on the outside of those buildings clamoring to fill those particular positions.

For the sake of all Americans and for all those who still aspire to that American dream, it is time to enact reforms that are fair, just and in keeping with our founding principles!

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respected Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges…”
George Washington

“Citizenship to me is more than a piece of paper. Citizenship is also about character. I am an American. We’re just waiting for our country to recognize it.”
Jose Antonio Vargas

Posted by: Chris Poh

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Reaching Across the Divide

It has been some time since I have made any contributions to this particular forum, in fact, the last word came from my cohort and compadre, Ed Petersen, who back in April again posed that vexing question: “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

Now after having endured the close of yet another presidential primary season, the beginning of the main event, and the first two days of the Republican’s gathering of funny hats in Tampa, the prospect of getting along seems as unattainable as ever. But in the interest of promoting our policy of  defusing the prevailing air of pessimism, we will continue to voice our own unique brand of hope and optimism.

The following piece was recently published in our new online publication Parting Glass Media:

Having spent a substantial portion of my adulthood on both sides of that barrier that separates the patrons from the potables, I know from experience just how territorial people can be about what they perceive to be an almost God-given right to a particular place at the bar. And any newcomer to the establishment that infringes upon that preordained seating arrangement, at the very least, might be subject to a less than welcoming glance from those that believe that their time at the tavern affords them special considerations.

I have always believed that if you observe human behavior on a small-scale, one will gain much insight into the overall nature of mankind. And watching the masses jockeying for position at the bar in the hope of getting those rewards that await them on the other side reminds me very much of our current attitude towards those that may have entered the saloon, or crossed our borders, without the proper credentials. And with another heated presidential election season in full swing, the hand wringing and wrangling over the issue of immigration will once again be at the forefront of the fear mongering laundry list of political issues. Our mercurial position on the matter has always been dictated by economic self-interest, and by our own personal prejudice for or against that particular group seeking safe haven on these shores.

During my time as a bartender at Manhattan’s Peter McManus Cafe during the late 80s, I experienced a very different response to some of those that were here in the country illegally. Although these new Irish immigrants were not facing anything equal to the hardships and devastation caused by the Great Famine of the mid-nineteenth century, an abysmal economy at home had driven them to seek employment throughout the five boroughs of New York. And while these expatriates were not about to take on anything as ambitious as digging a canal or building a transcontinental railroad, a number of rundown city neighborhoods did experience gentrification as a result of this ready, willing and able-bodied pool of affordable labor.

The same friendly pubs that cashed the checks of these undocumented workers would garner a quick reward for their blind eye courtesy in the form of an ever-increasing thirsty patronage that could spend many hours treating their homesickness with a generous dose of beer and whiskey. The local collection plates also benefited from those displaced souls who still adhered to the tradition of mass on Sunday, no matter how many pints were consumed during the previous evening’s session. So it was no small wonder at the time that there would be advocacy and a call for amnesty from both the politicians and those in the pulpit who shared a common heritage with those that were now living in the shadows of America’s promise.

As we once more face the challenge of constructing policy that is just and reasonable not only for those who are coming into the country, but also for those that have established their rightful citizenship, let us be mindful of the fact that much of this nation’s good fortune and success can be attributed to that longstanding tradition of inclusion. Furthermore, the vast majority of immigration, legal or otherwise, is driven by conditions that if faced by any human being would prompt those people to seek a better life elsewhere, regardless of the cost or personal risk. In the course of our own history, Americans have crossed or moved the borders to suit our individual and national needs—and in many instances without sufficient concern for the wellbeing of those who would be impacted by such actions.

Lastly, let us not forget that within most of us resides this deep-seated desire to bridge the divide that separates all humans from our point of origin in the universe. In an attempt to make that journey we have adopted principles, philosophies and religious beliefs that call upon us to transcend culture, race, and national identity in our dealings with each other. For if any of us are to draw from that wellspring of knowledge, or to partake of that holy nectar—we must first find a way to sit together on this side of the bar.

Posted by: Chris Poh

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