Inalienable Rights -They Make Our Jobs
By Samuel Tsoi
“They are taking our jobs!” That was a common refrain at the turn of the 20th century in the American West about the influx of Chinese laborers, which coalesced into the nation’s first and most blatant race-based anti-immigrant law: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Last week, the US Senate celebrated the passage of a resolution to formally acknowledge and express regret for the discriminatory legislation. The law effectively made all Chinese settlers illegal for over 60 years, and barred access to citizenship and property rights. It was not overturned until it became politically expedient to pit Chinese allies against the Japanese Empire circa World War II
Our immigration policy has evolved ever since, for the better, as America has become a scientific, creative and entrepreneurial powerhouse. However, the memory of “paper sons,” the fear-mongering images of immigrants from China, Ireland and the Jewish Diaspora as parasites devouring America, still makes us all ashamed today. The regret is compounded with the enduring legacy of the Trans-Continental Railroad and of our great cities, built by those very immigrants.
Eerily, but to no one’s surprise, we are hearing the immigrants-hurt-our-economy cry again. This palpable fear has translated into anti-immigrant laws enacted in places like Arizona and Alabama, which are driving migrant labor away from the very same industries necessary for a strong recovery. For decades, our current immigration system has been in desperate need to catch up with a newly globalized world. The system is not only backlogged, but it is deporting aspiring students and separating families. Our immigration laws are incongruent with our labor needs, allowing unscrupulous employers to exploit workers, and failing to provide legal and realistic means to welcome unskilled and high-skilled immigrants alike.
In this age of austerity, unemployment and debt, we need to acknowledge the economic bedrock that immigrants provide; and the dreams, work-ethic and determination that define American optimism. It is encouraging to see Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), whose career embodies the full incorporation of immigrants and Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), the “no amnesty” legislator, lead the long overdue effort to acknowledge a painful chapter in this nation of immigrations. It is all the more urgent for both parties in Washington to act on immigration reform, reform that will squarely learns from the lessons of 1882 and subsequent periods of tough economic times, which immigrants, natives, and all communities united to overcome – and will again.
Samuel Tsoi is a Policy Associate at the Mass. Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition