Immigrants and ugly chairs

May 6th, 2010

My father is an immigrant. He came to this country from Great Britain when he was 18 years old. With only twenty bucks in his pocket, he got a job, got another job, worked his way through college and sent part of each paycheck back home to his family in England.

After college, he landed a job as a delivery man for a company that sold office furniture. Real cool, right? Wrong. But the company had a chair it dubbed “the ugly chair.” It was old, ugly, and no one could sell it. So one day my dad bet the sales team that he could sell  it. And he did. 

The next day, he was moved to the sales team. 

Point number one: I may get my good looks from my mom, but my killer work ethic definitely comes from my dad.

Point number two: Immigrants are the bedrock upon which this country was built. The blue-collar attitude they first brought to this country continues to spin the wheels of American industry even today. 

But while most Americans only have to trace their family lineages back a few generations to find relatives that made that first trip to Ellis Island, antipathy towards immigrants has always been present in American society. This antipathy has fed a persistent effort to keep our borders closed. Every year, tons of money and resources are wasted on policing our borders and building walls to keep illegal immigrants out. And yet every year, more illegal immigrants pour into this country. 

The controversial legislation recently passed by Arizona, which gives police the power to detain anyone they think might be an illegal immigrant, has thrust the issue of immigration back into the political spotlight. Hopefully, the Obama administration will finally put an end to this wasteful and ineffectual policy. But what policy can be used instead?

In 1984, The Wall Street Journal published an editorial that put forth the simplest, cheapest, and most effective way to deal with illegal immigration. It read, “If Washington still wants to ‘do something’ about immigration, we propose a five-word constitutional amendment: There shall be open borders.”

The United States can complement this policy by addressing the social factors that lead people to immigrate to the United States in the first place. Mexico, for example, is plagued by gang violence, drug trafficking and a lack of economic opportunities. Open borders would free up resources to combat drug trafficking. Strengthening U.S.-Mexican political ties and increasing economic integration would also help.

This type of policy would treat immigration not as a single issue but as part of a bigger picture. It would uphold and respect human rights and embrace immigration as a proud and essential part of American society. And finally, it would improve the welfare of our neighbors, which would result in a more peaceful and prosperous regional community.