The voice mail was thought-provoking, the kind that makes you go “Hmmm” in between cringes.
“I was just calling about this article in your paper on Tuesday (March 25), written by that Thomas Sowell,” said a woman, who sounded pleasant enough. “All about these foreigners and how they’ve gone up and how they’ve done so beautiful and how they’ve worked so hard. You know, that’s a bunch of crap.
“They’re the ones that were given the American Dream when they came to this country. They were given five years of businesses with no taxes, places to live, food, money. They were treated like we should have been treated. They were given our American Dream, besides taking all of our things that we make here and shipping them overseas, too. These foreigners get treated great, and we should have had the same chance.”
As I said, it was thought-provoking, because when I wasn’t wondering how somebody could grow to be so bitter, I was contemplating the veracity of the claims. I’ve heard the argument before, that immigrants are lavished with freebies and handouts, but I never bothered to find out if it was true.
So I called Mercedes Riggs, an immigration lawyer who went to Stanford as an undergrad, went to law school at Santa Clara, and landed in Vancouver by way of Seattle.
“They aren’t handed anything,” Riggs said. “A lot of them are pulling themselves up by their bootstraps; they come here with nothing. A lot of people have that perception, but it’s really not easy for immigrants, especially illegal immigrants.”
So immigrants, legal or otherwise, are not given five years of tax-free businesses?
“That is completely untrue,” Riggs said. “I don’t even know where she got that.”
I don’t either, but I have a pretty good guess. The Internet is filled with anti-immigrant rants and rages. And if our good caller didn’t get her information from the Internet, she likely heard it from somebody who did.
“I think a lot of the popular opinion is driven by xenophobia,” said Riggs, understating the obvious.
There are other misconceptions, as well. Illegal residents, Riggs said, are ineligible for federal benefits, although some states might have different laws regarding state-funded assistance — and although children born here, and therefore U.S. citizens, are eligible.
And then there’s this one: “Everybody in the United States is obligated to pay their taxes, whether documented or not,” Riggs said. “Most of my undocumented clients do pay their taxes and are eager to pay them. They’re paying into a system they won’t benefit from.”
Not that Riggs is the only voice of clarity on such matters. Take the Affordable Care Act and the oft-shared claim that illegal immigrants will receive free health care. PolitiFact rated that assertion a “Pants On Fire” lie, and Time magazine also quashed it, writing that undocumented immigrants “are barred from accessing federal subsidies to buy insurance through the ACA.”
Which brings us to the crux of the issue: We need to talk about immigration in this country. The estimate is that there are 11.7 million illegal immigrants in the United States, and Congress has been deadlocked on what to do about that. Democrats favor sweeping immigration reform (re: amnesty); Republicans support piecemeal legislation to tackle one issue at a time; and neither side is doing a darn thing.
For many citizens, the frustration is that the United States has laws that the federal government is simply ignoring or failing to enforce. Whether it is border security or allowing illegal immigrants to scam the system and collect unwarranted benefits, the options should be clear: Enforce the laws or change them, but don’t ignore them.
To get to that point, we need to talk. And reiterating lies won’t enhance the discussion.