Editorial: Tension at the border

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Close your eyes and imagine this scene:

U.S. border patrol agents fire tear gas across the U.S.-Mexico border, upon hundreds of Central American migrants amidst what began as a peaceful march.

This scene is not a figment of your imagination, it’s a reality. A reality that was met with admiration and acceptance from the Trump administration.

While it may be thousands of miles away from Lehigh students in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border should be top of mind no matter where you live.

Lately, the U.S.-Mexico border has been portrayed as a violent and uninhabitable area. It is villainized by people, politicians and the media. All you have to do is look north to find a border at peace.

While the southern border is viewed as a militarized zone, the fact that it is an area of prosperity is often overlooked, and in turn, affected by the crisis. Shopping at outlet malls is quite popular by citizens of both countries, and since the border crossing was closed as a result of the crisis, businesses have suffered losses.

One surprising border business is the dental industry, as many Americans flock south to get their dental work done for far cheaper rates in border towns as part of “medical tourism.”

In his “Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America,” journalist Peter Schrag argues that U.S.-Mexico twin cities — sets of border towns, such as El Paso and Juarez, Calexico and Mexicala and Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, in close proximity to one another where “lives and businesses are deeply intertwined” — are significant to both nation’s economies and prove that the border fence is the only thing distinguishing them from one another.

Both Americans and Mexicans cross the border to utilize the other nation’s medical, educational, environmental and cultural resources. However, the general consensus is that Mexico does not give, it only takes.

The U.S. is fortunate to share borders with relatively good neighbors, compared to what many countries around the world have to deal with. Not only do we border just two countries, but also, we are sandwiched in between two large bodies of water. From a security standpoint, we’re doing pretty well.

So why would we need to build a wall? Why are affairs so tense at the border?

Many with anti-immigrant sentiment claim that immigrants take jobs from hard-working Americans. In reality, when immigrants do get jobs in the U.S., they “take” them from the lowest income bracket, and many of which are jobs that most Americans would not think to take, according to an article by Brookings. Hard labor, long hours and brutal working conditions are only part of the realities immigrants may face in the workforce.

Second and third-generation immigrants also tend to contribute to and boost the economy. And according to the Pew Research Center, as the number of legal immigrants in the workforce has grown since the previous decade, the number of illegal immigrants in the workforce has declined.

It is unnecessary to vilify the border and those who cross it to get into the U.S. The majority of people are simply looking for new opportunities or a fresh start to their lives, according to UNICEF. Shooting tear gas across the border and adding to an ongoing humanitarian crisis is not at all a respectable foreign policy move by the U.S. There are already enough crisis for this generation in places like Syria, Yemen and Myanmar.

All in all, the U.S. government should be more respectful and appreciative of our border with Mexico, and the people that come across it, given there are countries much less fortunate than we are, who have legitimate concerns about sharing borders.

Russia and Ukraine, Israel and Gaza/West Bank, North and South Korea are all examples of countries that have shared tense, violent and spiteful cross-border exchanges both currently and in past years.

With the continuation of harshness and brutality sent forth by the U.S. government at the Mexico border, it will only harm relations between this country and Latin America.

We have seen enough U.S. intervention gone wrong to know that our “best” intentions can lead to a hated image. 

The scenes at the U.S.-Mexico border are startling. It may seem like it’s only a problem for those living there or those hoping to get across, but we are all affected by the way our own government views and treats immigrants and conceptualizes immigration policies. It is about time the government, and every American for that matter, remembers that the United States was founded as a nation of immigrants. 

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4 Comments

  1. Amy Charles '89 on

    Pastuck, eh? The ship manifests say Iwan, Piotr, Pawel, Magdalena, Katarzyna, Dymitr. Names like that, from the early 20th c. All Pastuck.

    Around the time that immigrants like those were coming in, it took about four or five hours for your average immigrant to get through Ellis Island and be admitted into the country, if not welcomed, exactly. I don’t really think that Iwan and Pawel and Magdalena would’ve made it through today, do you? I don’t think they’d have had a great-grandson named Henry who was able to go to college and have a business and run his mouth when and where he pleased, in public. I’m guessing Iwan & co had sweet fanny adams to their names and no education, either. Less even than many of our caravaners. Not Desirable.

    Dos Passos wrote about it, showed the Henrys of the day, showed how they saw: wrote about their visions of the immigrant ships, more and more immigrant ships, their decks black with people. There were terrified Henrys even back then, and yet if not for those ships and the open door, no Henry. No American Henry at all. The American Henrys these days like to talk about how their families came here legally, which may (or may not) be true, but they also know that the definition of “legal” then bears no relation to what the would-be immigrant has to go through today to get in. Our Henry knows it; he was a poli sci major. But he’s still frightened enough that he’ll quote Reagan to justify gassing children.

    I find there’s something particularly revolting about people who, having been handed a magnificent opportunity like this just by luck, turn around and try to make sure nobody else can get a piece of it. It strikes me as…how shall I put it. Un-American. Anti-American, even. Squatting on opportunity like an immigration Gollum.

    Happily, Henry is, generationally, soon to be a memory. I spent the afternoon working with a former Dreamer, now (after decades’ worth, not five hours’ worth, of effort) a green-card holder, and a first-generation American who watched his father start over, leaving behind everything, to give him the opportunity he’s using; both have gone much farther than Henry has with their educations. Working harder, I suspect, than Henry ever has in his life. Tomorrow I go work with an immigrant landed here 20 years ago, and, if she shows up, a young woman whose father was recently deported because of the Henrys of the world and is trying to keep her education from falling apart, too; a would-be immigrant, several other children of immigrants. An ordinary day in higher ed.

    It wasn’t a university, though, where the entitlement of immigrants to America, how they are the most American just by virtue of having gotten themselves here and standing here breathing hard, struck me hardest and most beautifully. It was at a community college, nearly a quarter-century ago. I was supposed to teach a night class some poetry, and I don’t know anything about how poetry’s made; I can only read it. So I said okay, let’s read some good poetry, have the sound of it in your ear. The class had a lot of immigrants, and they were having enough trouble learning English, I wasn’t going to trouble them with anything very old or abstruse. I had the big Norton Leaves of Grass, which I was reading at the time, and I said all right, let’s go around the room, read it one line at a time. Which they did. And to my astonishment it was magnificent, the meter supporting each student as they stumbled across those lines with broken and accented English: the poem had been written to be read by immigrants. I’d had no idea. They all heard it, too, and something happened as the poem travelled around the room; everyone seemed astonished by the beauty of it and the fitness of their voices.

    It was one of the best and most beautiful moments of my life. It would also be many years before I knew that Whitman had wandered old New York listening to all those immigrants on the street, putting the rise and fall of their voices in his poetry.

    • So Amy Charles thinks that people who ignore our immigration laws are going to model citizens all of a sudden.

      “I find there’s something particularly revolting about people who, having been handed a magnificent opportunity like this just by luck, turn around and try to make sure nobody else can get a piece of it. It strikes me as…how shall I put it. Un-American. Anti-American, even. Squatting on opportunity like an immigration Gollum.”

      I find it particularly revolting that someone prioritizes Mexican or Honduran citizens over American citizens. Since you don’t believe in borders, do you not believe in the admissions process? Should anyone be able to attend Lehigh? Or wherever you teach? Or do you have some particular set of standards?

  2. For real? I think the “easy to get in, hard to stay in” model makes considerably more sense than ours and allows more people to get a good education without taking on gargantuan debt. You also skip the insane admissions process that has the kids and parents making themselves miserable with admissions pageantry and financial frights from ninth grade on. The work’s serious at universities that follow that model, there’s less hand-holding, a greater percentage of courses are taught by permanent faculty rather than grad students and adjuncts, and the resort environment doesn’t exist, which is part of why tuition’s so low — in Canada it’s about $4K CAD a year, depending on what province you’re in and what school and curriculum you choose. (UT costs closer to $7K CAD, and is much more highly ranked than Lehigh is — 21st in world rankings v. Lehigh’s 500th or so.) You’re there for an education, not a cotillion. If you’re capable of taking advantage of a college-level education, meaning that you clear some relatively low entry bar (you finished high school, usually), and do well in the courses, then yes, of course you should be able to attend. Certainly you should be permitted to try. If you can’t get through the courses, then you’re not ready to be there, and you don’t proceed. Maybe something else is for you, or maybe you need to do remedial work and try again.

    What makes most sense of all, to my way of thinking, is the sort of state-university system we used to run before the legislatures, state and federal, walked away from a commitment to the students and before certain people decided that the universities were get-rich-quick vehicles, took them over, and ran up enormous debt, mostly in real estate. Or decided they ought to have giant salaries for working there. There was a reason the US system was once the envy of the world. And just about any kid who’d finished high school could go, and could afford it, and graduate with no debt or trivial debt. Not anymore.

    The countries that run either system are countries that actually want an educated population.

    As for my own personal standards in teaching: so long as a student is willing to work and wants to learn, I am willing to teach. Doesn’t matter whether the student is a cabbie or a decorated scientist. I’ve taught illiterate students, learning-disabled students, students working 30 hours a week or more while taking full courseloads because they had parents and children to support. And bigots, racists, misogynists. Future Republican congressional staffers. Future researcher-doctors. International students and immigrants with marginal English. If I can get by in their language, I’ll work with them in that. And I teach frat boys. Some of those frat boys sure do complain a lot about not much, and those are the ones who eat a lot of time, because they so often have to be convinced that it’s a mistake to try to bully or negotiate with the prof rather than doing the work.

    It’s a lot of fun, working with the future. You work with them a while and you realize you’d have to be some kind of nut to try to put up gates. You want the whole generation to do well, not just the ones who’re bright or at least well-trained at 18. They won’t all do equally well, but if they have the will, then generally they can do quite a lot better than they do when they arrive. This is a good thing too.

    As for who the model citizens are: yes, this ex-Dreamer is a model citizen. If we’re having a model-American-citizen contest, him or you, I have no problem at all putting my money on him. As far as I can make out, he’s smarter than you, has more vision and ambition, and does more to help others succeed. I bet he’s more productive, too. But then I’m trying to remember the last time I met a very able or generous person who was afraid of opening a door for others, who felt threatened by the idea. And I can’t remember any such time.

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