Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Immigration: Dear Arizona, Here's The New York Model

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand 
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame 
Is the imprisoned lightning, 
And her name Mother of Exiles.
- Emma Lazarus
Inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty

Imagine for a moment not the fevered Arizona, ramparts up and bristling, on the border with Mexico preventing itself from being "overrun" by brown-skinned immigrants to the south, but an Arizona with Scandinavia, Germany, Holland and Belgium as its neighbors. Tens of thousands of fair-haired, ruddy-cheeked young men and women enter Arizona's sacred space. 

Would the Arizona legislature pass a law permitting all fair-haired, ruddy-cheeked people to be stopped anytime, anyplace, anywhere in the state to have their "papers" checked? 

Have a Nordic/Germanic accent? Turn around and put your hands behind you! Bad boy, bad boy, what you gonna do when they come for you?

Don't make me laugh, Arizona. Anyone with a brain the size of a chipmunk knows what racism looks like. And it's ugly.

There is another way, the New York Model, that has been forged through blood and tears over almost four centuries. New York, the Mother of Exiles.

Wave upon wave of ethnic groups dating to the 1630s have disembarked on the shores of the New York metropolitan region of roughly 20 million, beginning with the Dutch, English, Scots-Irish and Africans who displaced the native population. The Indians were pushed aside by the first northern Europeans. (There are about 120,000 people who claim Native American ancestry in New York City's 5 boroughs.)

Next, Germans nuzzled their way into the in-crowd, followed by the Irish who were met with such hue and cry - due to their Catholicism primarily, but also their poverty-stricken state created by the potato famine and British oppression - one would have thought the Know Nothings/Nativists were beset by a clone army of typhoid carriers. 

But New York was just warming up. Next came the garlic-breathed Italians and Greeks, and the ultimate outsiders, the Jews. The exotic Chinese initially came in small numbers, though by World War I were jostling Jews and Italians for their own piece of real estate on the Lower East Side.

The next "problem" groups were Great Migration blacks from the South and Puerto Ricans, although the establishment could not do much about them except to discriminate once they barged into New York, since they were as American as the next folks by dint of citizenship law.

Voila the long, well-known story abbreviated: the Puerto Ricans begat the Dominicans, the Dominicans begat the Haitians, the Haitians begat the Jamaicans, the Jamaicans begat the Bahamians, the Mexicans, the Central Americans, South Americans, Koreans, more Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, Pakistanis, North Africans, on and on.

Fully 60% of New York City's population is composed of either foreign born individuals or the children of foreign born people. (Make note to inform Arizonans: we all work, study, shop, ride, etc., together without having the sky fall upon our heads on a daily basis.)

To say that the waves of immigration did not and do not place heavy burdens on the region's social services would be disingenuous. But, immigrants to New York are almost ridiculously quick to adapt, get to work, and assimilate.

According to a report by the Manhattan Institute in 2009, 52% of foreign-born residents of the New York metro area are naturalized citizens. In the rest of the country, the figure is just 40%. Ninety-four per cent are legal residents or visitors in New York. In the rest of the country, the number is less than 75%.

Immigrants learn English more quickly in New York. Among adult immigrants who have arrived in the past five years, 40% speak English very well versus 32% in the rest of the country. Among recently arrived foreign-born kids, the difference is even stronger: 47% versus 36%. (Click here for a touching story about immigrants learning to read, check this out by Clyde Haberman in the NY Times the other day.)

What makes New York City so facile at absorbing immigrants? Our national caricature paints us as rough n' ready, brusque, cold and self-absorbed. Yet... 

The big city has many things going for it.

New York is not racially or ethnically binary like so many other places. The city’s immigrants come from every corner of the globe, and no single group makes up more than 12% of the foreign-born population. That makes it almost impossible for any single immigrant group to form a large isolated ghetto. 

Sure, the city has ethnic neighborhoods and always has, but it is easy for anyone to head elsewhere to work or shop. New York doesn't have "No-Fly Zones." The day the immigrant lands in the city of dreams mom and dad can parade the kiddies and grandparents down 5th Avenue, Park Ave., anyplace in the city they like.

Even in well-etched ethnic enclaves, the immigrant encounters native-born Americans and representatives of cultures other than his or her own. The city is a public place where residents have no choice but to share quotidian experiences. As immigrants and natives share experiences, they become more alike. Immigrants don't come here to displace us, they come here to be just like us as they add a little more seasoning to the broth.

In my day-to-day life in this past week alone, I interacted with West African cab drivers, Indian newsstand owners, the Greek diner staff, a Bosnian building super, a Yemeni deli guy, many Dominicans, a small number of Mexicans, a British-born baseball coach (yes!), a few native Irish floor re-finishers, and a sprinkling of native Italians. None of them were born here. (This is to say nothing of the countless Americans from other regions I encounter on a daily basis. When my young neighbor smiles and says "I'm from Des Moines," she might as well say "Hallo. I am from La Cote d'Ivoire.")

The immigrants, aside from generally appearing exhausted from work or worry, seem earnest, eager, fascinated with America and New York, and extremely interested in my own family's immigrant journey. What happened to my family in the 1870s and 80s is possibly more important to them than it is to my own social and ethnic peers. The biggest assimilation machine is The Golden Dream itself, past, present, and future.

Importantly, we in New York have a history of dealing with immigrants - not always pretty, but very concrete and incredibly well-documented. We've made our mistakes and have moved into a new era. New York has a helpful network of legal advocates and local assimilation institutions born of our contentious past ready to help immigrants navigate contemporary rapids.

Most New Yorkers don't live in gated communities, or play golf on private courses, travel in private cars isolated from each other, or swim at residents-only beaches. Our kids thrive in a huge, roiling mash-up in schools, sports, theater classes, dance, music, and on public transportation, cabs, shops, libraries, medical facilities, and the thronged streets. We also mix with 55 million visitors per year from all corners of the Earth.

There is barely time to ponder one's role in this large millennial swirl of humanity. But one conclusion you reach pretty quickly is that human beings are pretty much alike no matter where they hail from.

I am sure New York officials would be happy to take a few minutes to speak with those old, scared and cranky folks down in AZ. Give us a call, ya hear? We'll tell you how it all went down.

You know us in the crazy city. We LOVE to talk. You could learn a lot, Arizona. But the first things you have learn is some humility and you do that by finding your humanity. People crossing the border only want what your grandparents or great grandparents wanted, that which the United States delivered so well.

When the census form arrived a few weeks ago, I deliberated whether I should check my race as white or not. It seemed absurd to check "other" and write in "Italian-Irish." These days, in this place, it would have felt affected.

Eventually, I did actually check "other," then scrawled in "New Yorker" in a prominent place.


  1. What an excellent essay! Thank you.

  2. Last year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) ran the numbers at my request. Here’s what they found: For a single 25-year old male with very low earnings, today’s value of his and his employer’s contributions to the Trust Fund will fall $15,596 short of the value of the Social Security retirement benefits he will eventually receive. A single female will receive $20,936 more in benefits than she pays into Social Security. If the immigrant is married but the sole wage-earner, the couple will eventually drain the Trust Fund by $52,460; if the immigrant is married to another very low earner, the drain on the trust fund will be $39,037. The legalization of one million illegal immigrant couples who work for very low wages would be a $101 billion blow to taxpayers. And amnesty for all illegal immigrants would multiply this figure many times!

    When it comes to taxes, amnesty supporters like to say that illegal immigrants will pay their “fair share” of taxes after being granted amnesty. This is deceptive.

    Low-skilled workers often pay no taxes and receive a check from the Internal Revenue Service in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit. Putting illegal immigrants on the IRS rolls will actually cost the federal government money.

    Since most illegal immigrants have less than a high school education and have well below average incomes, even those illegal immigrants who pay taxes pay far less in taxes than they (and their families) consume in taxpayer-supported benefits. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation found that the average immigrant household headed by an immigrant without a high school degree receives over $19,000 more in total government benefits each year than it pays in federal, state and local taxes!

    But the impact goes far beyond these direct costs.

    There are nearly 16 million Americans out of work, and about 8 million jobs are held by illegal immigrants. By simply enforcing immigration laws already on the books, we could create millions of job opportunities for American citizens and legal immigrants who played by the rules and entered the U.S. the right way.

    Instead, the Obama administration has all but abandoned worksite enforcement efforts. Administrative arrests are down 87 percent; criminal arrests of employees are down 83 percent; criminal arrests of employers are down 73 percent; the number of criminal indictments are down 86 percent; and the number of criminal convictions is down 83 percent since 2008. This insults unemployed and underemployed American workers who need the jobs held by illegal immigrants.

    The hit is on your wallet! Illegal immigrants are a fiscal drain on American taxpayers. And the Obama administration’s policies only make it worse.

  3. Citing the Heritage Foundation as an accurate source of anything having to do with immigration is like citing a circus clown ideas on a funeral service.

    When an impartial survey - Gallup, even right leaning Rasmussen - hand out the figures, maybe one can believe them.

    George W. Bush had 8 years to figure out the mess and what did he do? Oh, right, what he did with everything else, make tough situations unbearable.

    IF "Americans" had wanted all these wonderful jobs, don't you think they would have been filled long before the arrival of immigrant labor? Fact is, few "Americans" want to muck out the stalls.

    As to your numbers... if there are 11 million total aliens in the country and roughly 75% are here legally, then at the very most the jobs they are supposedly taking from "Americans" can number about 2.75 million. However, the number is much lower given that among that remaining 25% there are children, students, people taking care of children, people too old or too infirm to work, plus those who can't find employment. So, maybe they are "taking" a 1.5 million jobs Americans MIGHT fill.

  4. As to the spurious numbers you asked SSA to run, you're a liar or of subhuman intelligence.

    The TOTAL Expenditure for Social Security in 2008 - OASI, DI, HI, and SMI - was about $1 trillion. This can be found in "THE 2009 ANNUAL SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE TRUST FUND REPORTS."

    Are you suggesting that $101 billion over the course of (how many years of use of the SS system by this million strong you invented? - you didn't say) let's say 10 years of retirement is going to bankrupt the system?

    That's $10 billion per year, which means a low wage earner would have to put in about $400 a year over 40 years to cover him or herself. (Although - surprise - the system doesn't really work on an annuity basis.)

    Do right wingers simply get off on inventing facts and dreaming up fallacies? No wonder you don't have any ideas. No facts = no ideas.

  5. Unfortunately you are also busted on the administrative arrests figure... sure it's down... but it was so low to begin with it's nonsensical to cite it. There are fewer than 6000 admin arrests in '08. So... now we're down to 3000. Whoopee... the sky is falling.

    Let's see we had 10 people at last year's community picnic but only 2 this year. Aha! Attendence is down 80%!

  6. Arpaio is new Hitler! white devil

  7. I am a LEGAL immigrant and resident (not yet a citizen) in the US. Please stop putting me (and all other legal immigrants) into the same pool as the Illegal immigrants. We have and will follow all the laws, pay all taxes, carry documentation and willingly subject our immigration status for checks when demanded. Legal immigrants are the biggest opponents of amnesty to illegals (even if we are from the same country or belong to the same race) who are an insult to our hard earned legal status and make us all look bad.

    It is also painful when the so called messiahs of "diversity" and "inclusiveness" are hijacked by the illegals who pull out the racism card even when asked to show an ID.

  8. Not sure who this is addressed to... the main article says: Ninety-four per cent are legal residents or visitors in New York. In the rest of the country, the number is less than 75%.

    The point is that without pulling people over for "driving while foreign" there are many paths to legality, NY being a place that has proved it.

  9. I lived in New York for 5 years and I can attest that people generally get along pretty well.

    But, in your essay, you stated that, "The city’s immigrants come from every corner of the globe, and no single group makes up more than 12% of the foreign-born population. That makes it almost impossible for any single immigrant group to form a large isolated ghetto".

    The same cannot be said for Arizona and a lot of other border states who do not see an influx of "every nationality". Huge hispanic ghettos have formed, and unlike New York, make no attempt to assimilate. It is entirely disengenous to compare places like Arizona to New York where the dynamic is very different.

  10. liberals simply do not have in their vocabulary "illegal alien". Anybody who gets a foot on american soil is lumped into "immigrant" be they legal or illegal. illegals cost us money; they work off the books; they use every public service without contributing a penny. what are going to do with the LEGAL immigrants who are going through the uscis process?? here's my two-pronged approach: those who wish to do the uscis process, do it, an make it free. no fees, no administrative costs. those who could not qualify under current law; forget uscis, pay some amount of money, let's say $25k for starters to buy a green card; the pay another $25k to lift conditions; then a final $25k to get naturalized. do it on installments so at least we'll get some of the money that illegals don't pay taxes with. If you want to collect ss, then you must pay taxes and contribute.

  11. btw, prior comment notwithstanding, as a lifelong NY'er over half a century of prescience, I can surely say that, lowlives and crime aside, the thing that makes ny the most fun is cultural and ethnic diversity. I always laugh, even at my wife and rels from the carib, when they're amazed at my knowledge and appreciation for food and music of so many different cultures, I always say the same thing, "I'm a new yorker; everybody's here." It must really be limiting to live in a place with only one kind of people.

  12. Perhaps the racism of whites that sees people from south of the border as "other" is what creates the ghettos. Once upon a time, places like New York were predominantly white, then white and black, then white and black and Hispanic, then south Asian, Asian, in addition, etc. New York as it is today didn't emerge yesterday full blown from the head of Zeus. It's hardly disingenuous to suggest that an entire 400 year historical model can serve other parts of the in the 20th century. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. Ahistorical thinking is one of the baseline failures in states like Arizona. One of the reasons that practically all immigration into places like Arizona is Hispanic, is because of its perceived hostility to "others." California is a border state and it doesn't seem to have a lack of diversity, and even Texas has many other ethnic groups besides Hispanic. Arizona is a unique case and its radical conservatism and racism is at the bottom of it.

  13. Anonymous said...

    liberals simply do not have in their vocabulary "illegal alien".

    Apparently you did not read the original post on the blogsite... There was not one mention of anything pro-illegal. However, I think that when an immigrant-heavy region reaches 94% legality as has the NY Metro area, other regions ought to take notice. Maybe NY can push it to 97 or 98% legal. But beyond that, I do not believe "perfection" is possible. Somehow the NY metro has solved many of the problems associated with illegal immigration without resorting to racist laws. And illegals are indeed a problem... there, you've now met a liberal with "Illegal alien" in his vocabulary.