A few weeks ago as I was running to catch my ride home after a long day at the office when an old lady asked me for $5.00 to buy dinner. "$5.00 for something to eat? Please? I'm hungry." I was literally running as she asked me, and I told her, "I'm sorry, maybe next time." Then my conscience started eating at me.I kept hearing the words ringing in my ears, "For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat." I turned around, pulled $5.00 out of my pocket and ran back to find her, but she had gone.
This story is not an immigration related story, but it is a human interest story. I’ll get to how this relates to Amnesty further down. As you read it you had the opportunity to judge me (subconsciously of course) or see my character overcome a moral dilemma. Most people are interested in this type of story. That is why Presidents use them in the State of the Union Address. Stories sell policies because people connect with stories about other people. Here are a few other stories I've recently read, abridged of course:
For Danie, who moved from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to the United States in 2001 to live with her grandparents, there has never been a good time to go home.
Haiti, which has stumbled from grave political unrest to catastrophic natural disasters, remains one of the world’s poorest nations. So although Danie, 22, is an illegal immigrant, she has decided to stay in New York City...She hopes to become an elementary school teacher, but fears that her lack of a Social Security number will leave her few options beyond doing menial labor in an underground economy.
After my husband lost his job of 13 years due to outsourcing, we had to move from California back to Arizona. Our daughter, Elizabeth, decided to stay in California. Although her employers had promised to look into employee health insurance, they had not done so yet…
Some months later, Elizabeth said she'd been awfully tired, but attributed it to a recent move, long hours at work and her cat, Bert, who woke her up sometimes. I told her she ought to go to the doctor, but she didn't want to cost us if she didn't have to...Days later, my husband and I were ready to head back to Arizona from an optical convention in Las Vegas, we stopped to call our son, who was watching the house; he told us Elizabeth had been taken to hospital. ...Elizabeth apparently had an undiagnosed heart condition. She never regained consciousness. Surrounded by all her brothers, brothers-in-law, her sister, niece, and many, many friends, my beautiful Elizabeth died two days later -- the day after her 26th birthday. Bert now lives with us.
In the context of the original articles where I read these stories, the first story was promoting a change in immigration policy. The second story promoted a change in health care policy. For a moment, I'm going to ignore the specific pros and cons of both amnesty and national health care. The point is that there are two young ladies, both representing thousands - or millions rather - of other unique stories, and both representing opportunities for compassion.
Because these stories represent so many other unique stories, the question then becomes a matter of how can I help, not how can I help everyone. Roy Beck demonstrates this well with his gumball video. Essentially, if each candy represented a million stories, how many stories are we - and by we I mean the United States as a country - able to take responsibility for?
Back to my story, I ended up catching my ride; but after my change of heart, I was willing to miss it (and spend 2 hours on buses if that had been the consequence) to ease my conscience. To be clear, I am not implying that there is a moral responsibility for me to give to every human in need, nor am I implying that every time a person on the street asks for money that we have a responsibility to give what they ask. My point is that each person has a unique story, and when we hear those stories, oft times our conscience shapes our response. The next time I saw an old man with his hat upturned I gave him the $5.00.
I would argue that each story deserves an audience, and each human, regardless of race, nationality or any other demographic, deserves human compassion. These stories represent many needs, both here on the homeland and abroad. Because there are so many needs, we must make difficult choices on which stories to address. There are a number of people, though, who are only looking at a select category of immigration stories – the ones that support Comprehensive Immigration Reform (the current codeword for amnesty) – giving us story after story like Danie's for us to remember.
Of course, Danie’s story deserves an audience; however, there are other stories to remember as well. If illegal aliens are granted amnesty without fixing the real immigration problems this country faces, then because the real problems aren't fixed, employers push the newly amnestied citizens, many of them like Danie, aside for a new wave of cheap illegal labor. As evidence of this, unemployment is much higher in Hispanic communities than in other communities. Our current recession is hurting the Hispanic communities much harder than other “established” communities.
In other words, the amnesties that we have seen over and over since the 1970s have been false promises of equality. The current Comprehensive Immigration Reform (amnesty) is only a promise to be part of the underclass, fighting the next wave of illegal aliens, each with their own story, for a limited supply of jobs, only this time from the disadvantage that employers will now choose a workforce where they don't have to pay social security, health insurance, and other benefits. It seems that through all the amnesties that our nation has pursued since the 1970's, we've forgotten the stories once we've granted amnesty. We have forgotten many Danies already.
Now, I'm not an economist, sociologist, or lawyer, nor does my degree make me an expert on Comprehensive Immigration Reform. But I do consider myself a humanitarian, and because of that, I'm interested in the stories. The stories I wish I could tell are ones where a pregnant woman decided not to risk her baby's life crossing a border because she had adequate medical care in her hometown. Her hometown was able to put in a new hospital because the bright students who left her hometown to go to school in the United States returned to provide care instead of competing for US jobs. She has a good job working for an entrepreneur who decided to give jobs back to his community instead of entering the US markets.
We owe a lot to our immigration heritage - the stories of bravery and innovation. I value our diversity and multicultural heritage. What saddens me is that instead of the hypothetical story above, our Representatives on Capitol Hill have set up our laws so that many illegal aliens come here only to be mistreated - first as “undocumented immigrants” - and then pushed aside as nationalized immigrants or discriminated against because of language or ethnicity. Our Representatives have created the very problems they claim to be solving; and what’s worse, they are now ignoring the very stories used to promote their cause.
SOLOMON GIFFORD is NumbersUSA's Director of Technology
Updated: Tue, Jun 16th 2009 @ 3:30pm EDT