Immigration and Welfare: What’s a Civilized Nation To Do?


The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act

August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law a welfare reform plan that not only changed things for the nation’s citizens, but also for the nation’s immigrants. Title IV of the bill contained the details on the provisions that affected “aliens”.

Title IV opens with the explanation that the basic principle of United States immigration law is self-sufficiency. With that in mind, it declares that aliens living in the U.S are to depend on their own capabilities, sponsors and private organizations to provide the resources for the needs of their families rather than depend on public resources. Despite these premises, the Act acknowledges the fact that aliens have been receiving public benefits at increasing rates. The legislation explains that this is due to inadequate eligibility standards that do not prevent aliens from enrollment in the public benefits system. One of the purposes of this legislation was to reform eligibility rules so that aliens comply with national immigration policy.

For their first five years in America “aliens” are prohibited from receiving any federal benefit. Exceptions to this are immigrants who: need emergency medical care; need short-term disaster relief; qualify for school lunch programs; qualify for Head Start programs; who need immunizations or treatment of a communicable disease; are granted asylum and refugee status; are permanent residents who have worked 40 qualifying quarters contributing to Social Security; are military veterans discharged honorably or are active duty military. Aliens who were receiving federal housing assistance up to the date the new law was enacted are exempt and can maintain their housing benefit.

So, what about immigrants who were currently receiving benefits and now were in a “disqualified” class? Is the government going to suddenly turn off the spigot and immigrant families scramble to adjust their lifestyle to accommodate a sudden loss of income support? Legislators laid out a plan for a transition period for these people. They would have a year to determine what benefit denial they qualified for and prepare for what this would mean for their home budget. Many of these programs required recipients to reapply for benefits on a yearly basis. At such time, disqualified “aliens” would simply be denied their benefit based on the parameters of this welfare reform bill.

Just what were the primary welfare programs this bill was concerned with? They were food stamps, Medicaid, and Social Security temporary assistance for the needy (SSI). The exempt programs, such as school lunch programs, were considered benefits that were “means” based. In order to qualify, not only was the immigrant’s income to be considered, but also the income of the immigrant’s sponsor. This was also required for an immigrant who attempted to qualify for State funded, rather than federally funded, benefits. If it was found that an immigrant had received a Federal or State benefit they would have actually been disqualified from receiving because of a sponsor’s financial means, the Federal and State government can now demand reimbursement from the sponsor.

The overall goal of this welfare reform was to move recipients from a welfare lifestyle to a working lifestyle over a five year period and permanently keep them self-sufficient. It also sought to remove from recipient status those who were on the dole and shouldn’t be, one such category being the immigrant. Was this goal achieved? Was this goal good for America? In 1994 the U.S. welfare system logged 14.4 million caseloads. Five years later, these caseloads had dropped to 5.3 million. The gringa thinks it’s safe to say, “Mission accomplished! Way to go President Bill Clinton! Umm, maybe.”

Why maybe? You see, many of these families were not actually completely self-sufficient. They simply moved from government generated income to the status of low-income. Single mothers especially were affected by this, becoming even poorer than when they were receiving benefits. As these families lost their Medicaid benefit by entering the workforce, they were often faced with employers who did not offer affordable health benefits. A worker supporting three people would not qualify for Medicaid if they earned more than $11,920 (for a family of three) annually. Now, the gringa would like to know who in their right minds thinks a family can afford health insurance and medical bills for three people if they make less than, say, about $70,000? Washington D.C. was way off base deciding this number was the qualifying poverty line.

Families that were accustomed to a housing benefit that kept their rent very low, were suddenly faced with paying full market rate for the roof over their head. That could mean, for a family that was earning $11,920.01, a penny above the qualifying poverty line, their rent could go from $200 to $700. You tell the gringa if you honestly think these poor, working class people could afford such a thing? Many could not. Remember, they also still had to pay their electricity bill. Sheesh. What was Congress thinking? The problem was not in the legislation itself. The problem was with what Congress thought the economic threshold of “poverty” should be. This presented the nation with a demographic that still was in dire need of public assistance.

So, although welfare was definitely reformed and got a lot of people off the government dole, a whole other problem was created. More families and disabled people simply became impoverished. Many of these people worked but did not earn a living wage. So, for the many anti-immigrant xenophobes out there who thought it was the immigrants who poured across the border and stole American jobs, the gringa will tell you to look at the numbers. From 1996 until 2001 it was not the immigrants filling these low paying positions. It was former welfare recipients, about 9 million to be exact.

So, if you want to measure success by the caseload numbers, yeah, Clinton achieved his goal. However, if you want to measure success by comparing quality of life before and after, it’s a different story altogether. Consider that most of these transitioned welfare recipients could not work full-time or year round, especially single moms. Many earned minimum wage or just a bit more. Either way, it was not enough to provide a decent standard of living for their families. Once you consider achieving a decent standard of living to be the measure for success, you can see the Clinton administration failed miserably. Although welfare enrollment declined, the numbers of the poverty class increased dramatically.

Consider that the poverty line as established by the government was $11,920 for a family of three. Consider the working single mom that may be making about $8 per hour and working only when her kids are in school because she can’t afford child care. Working eight hours daily, five days weekly, ten months annually (two months off for her kids school summer break), with no days off, she then brings home, on average, $12,000 annually. So, she makes too much to be considered in “poverty” in order to qualify for government benefits, but, you tell me, does she make anywhere near the $30,000 needed to afford the basic necessities for an adult and two children in 1996?

Out of 126 New York City “welfare to work” cases, the average person was earning $7.50 hourly and 58% were supporting their families with their work income. The gringa asks, “How in the hell did they manage?” Nationwide studies reported that most welfare recipients that entered the workplace earned well below poverty level. This was actually good news because they would qualify for means- based Federal and State benefit programs. However, there were plenty more that earned over the poverty level but nowhere near the $30,000 threshold that was the bare minimum for a small family’s basic necessities. Thus, this legislation created a large poverty class in America.

When you check the specific budget cuts, it is easy to see that most of the people affected were immigrants, elderly, disabled and single mothers. These are the nation’s most vulnerable classes of people. What this legislation meant is that poor people who were dependent on government programs to feed and house them and provide medical care actually became poorer, and possibly un-housed, underfed and without health care (unless they showed up at a hospital emergency room; which is exactly what happened, starting a new trend of packed ER’s, but that is fodder for another gringa story).

Social workers who are the ground zero, in the trenches workers and see the direct effect of these programs, criticized this reform. They claimed that by replacing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, even if a family met all eligibility requirements, there was no assurance that children or parents would receive assistance. This was because oversight of the block grants was performed by individual states. States had their own requirements for eligibility. This meant that some states could deny aid to families with teenage parents or to families where both parents were present in the home, even if they met every Federal qualifier and regardless of their income level, if they had any income at all. Also, once the grant money ran out, states would place applicants on a waiting list for the next Federal funding period.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights had its own criticisms of the reform. They considered that within the welfare system was institutional racism and discrimination. They felt the legislation did not take into consideration the gender gap in wages. Rather than help women on welfare gain meaningful employment, the nation simply cracked down on eligibility requirements.  The government focus was on “work first” without doing anything to level the workforce playing field.

Many welfare recipients whose job and below poverty line wages qualified them for benefits would tolerate discriminatory practices in the workplace out of fear of dismissal and loss of benefits if they filed a complaint. Many immigrants were discriminated against with regard to case management and receiving benefits they qualified for because of language barriers.

To remedy these discriminatory practices, the USCCR recommended that Federal funds should be allocated for enforcement of civil rights among recipients, investigations of allegations of violations and to train caseworkers in how to better adhere to civil rights statutes. They further recommended better data collection on the people registering to qualify for benefits as well as the recipients and that all welfare agencies be subjected to audits with regard to civil rights grievances and compliance. The gringa understands this need but can’t help but think, “Dear God. It cost money to save money simply because some people can’t treat other people right.”

Specifically where immigrants were concerned, the USCCR was concerned with the law prohibiting immigrants from receiving any aid until they had been in the country for at least five years. The living conditions of many of these poor families continued to just get worse. Although, among some groups of people, the immigrant was a favorite target to accuse of entering the country just to live off the backs of taxpayers, this was actually a myth. Prior to 1996, statistics show that immigrant families were greatly outnumbered by citizen families in receiving benefits. This is because most immigrants come to the United States looking for jobs and opportunity, not handouts. As for immigrants that did qualify for aid, many would not accept it for fear of retribution.

The USCCR’s final recommendation regarding immigrants and the 1996 welfare reform was to immediately restore full benefits to immigrants regardless of when they entered the country and regardless of the financial resources of their sponsors. They further recommended that undocumented immigrants, for humanitarian reasons, should at least have access to health care, education and food stamps. To protect their civil rights, it was recommended that language assistance be provided for them throughout every step of the public assistance process.

Although these families may still struggle to feed, house and clothe their families, all is not doom and gloom. As mothers moved into the workforce, many children left in-home care and entered organized formal care. Studies resulted in surprising findings. Many of these children benefited from these environments with increased cognitive development, learning gains, and school readiness. These studies further suggested that the adolescents of these families were more likely to become employed later on when compared to adolescents in welfare dependent homes.

Now that the nuts and bolts of the legislation as well as its aftermath has been covered, the gringa asks, “Who REALLY benefited from this legislation?” The answer? Well, number one, the politician who was pandering to: a. voters with money and influence; and, b. corporations who contributed lots of money to campaigns. How so? Well, think about it. When the labor market is flooded with people looking for jobs, guess what, wages stay low! And that’s EXACTLY what happened, So, this piece of “social” reform was really a cheap labor package for the benefit of big corporations. Remember the economy boom during the Clinton years? Yeah, well, those growing businesses needed workers, and they wanted them as cheap as they could get ’em.

The reality is, if the government wants people to be self-sufficient, they must simply accept the fact that now, as in 1996, wages are too low for many families to escape poverty whether they work forty hours a week or even 60 hours a week. The gringa believes so much more could have been accomplished by simply raising minimum wage standards across the board to a living income level. Anyone who works forty hours weekly should make enough money to keep a roof over their head, feed and clothe themselves and afford healthcare.

For critics who argue that minimum wage jobs are simply entry level jobs for people to use temporarily and then move on to a better paying career level job, the gringa has got news for you. Welcome to the “New America” where 61% of young Americans have a college education, 44% of those college educated people are stuck in low income level jobs earning less than $25,000 annually and half of those have student debt of around $30,000 a year. Raising the minimum wage to a living standard level will not make these people rich, it will make them self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency was, after all, the true goal of this legislation. So, critics, the gringa says, “Quit pointing the finger and start lifting a hand to help these hard working Americans become self-sufficient. Join the cause to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.”

Sources:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleystahl/2015/05/11/the-5-4-unemployment-rate-means-nothing-for-millennials/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/millennials_report.pdf

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-104hr3734enr/pdf/BILLS-104hr3734enr.pdf

http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Personal_Responsibility_and_Work_Opportunity_Reconciliation_Act_of_1996.aspx

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/1996_Personal_Responsibility_and_Work_Opportunity_Reconciliation_Act

http://www.epi.org/publication/webfeatures_viewpoints_tanf_testimony/

https://www.socialworkers.org/advocacy/welfare/legislation/summary.pdf

http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/prwora/welfare.htm

https://www.facebook.com/Fightfor15?fref=photo

Photo credit: www.slideshare.net

1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, a.k.a. the Simpson-Mazzoli Act


And what was going on in the United States in 1986 besides big hair, parachute pants, the Iran-Contra debacle of the Reagan administration, and Falco, the one hit wonder with “Rock Me Amadeus”? Well, Congress was getting together with President Reagan for his signature on the new immigration reform bill called the “Simpson-Mazzoli Act”. Considering this mammoth piece of legislative effort contains over 41,000 words, the gringa will stick to the facts that resulted in significant change for the immigrant and American society.

It is interesting to note that today’s “undocumented worker” was yesterday’s “illegal alien” and also was the “unauthorized alien” of the 80’s. These immigrants who were already present in the country in 1986 could apply and gain legal status according to certain guidelines:

  • Immigrants had to provide proof of residency and employment since January 1, 1982
  • Immigrants had to have a clean criminal record (a felony and/or 3+ misdemeanors got you the reject notice)
  • Immigrants had to provide proof of registering with Selective Service
  • Immigrants had to meet a minimal level of understanding of U.S. history, government and the English language or be enrolled in these courses of study (if you were 65 years old or older they let you slide on this requirement).
  • Immigrants must apply within 18 months of the passage of the bill

The bill also contained provisions of temporary resident travel so these new temporary resident aliens could legally return to their countries of origin and visit family and return to the United States. The gringa is proud of this particular provision and the humanitarian recognition by the United States of maintaining healthy family bonds and connections. The Attorney General also had the freedom to waive certain requirements if it was in the interest of family unity. The gringa is certain that the United States is on the right track here.

Once an immigrant became a lawful temporary U.S. resident, they were disqualified from federally funded public welfare for five years. The gringa is sure this provision was included to satisfy the xenophobes who just KNEW these folks only wanted to come to America in order to freeload! However, individual State programs that had National School Lunch programs, vocational education programs, Headstart programs, and their own health services, as well as Social Security benefits individuals may qualify for, were not prohibited.

Because this immigration reform legalized many workers, the bill outlawed the practice of any employer hiring an unauthorized alien. However, enforcement of this provision was to be deferred during agricultural seasonal services. Hey, when the country’s gotta eat, we should all just look away, right? The gringa then must ask, “What’s an immigrant hopeful to think?” I mean really, come on, think this one through with some common sense. If it was common knowledge within the immigrant community the U.S. law meant that you could enter undocumented and law enforcement would simply ignore you if you happened to arrive at the right time of the year, what would you do? If you are an opportunity deprived and economically oppressed individual, you choose the cheapest, shortest and quickest way to get into the land of opportunity. You enter during the agricultural harvest season when the nation puts out the welcome mat and simply stay. You keep your head down part of the year and walk around boldly the rest of the year. The United States is in no position to criticize immigrants for taking advantage of the law of the land! The nation can’t be willing to turn a blind eye when it’s convenient for their belly then turn around and point the finger and blame the immigrant and ask them, “What the hell are you doing here?!”

Migrant agricultural workers who entered the nation seasonally were considered separate from the unauthorized aliens who met the above conditions. The migrant workers had a different visa with different qualifying guidelines. For the xenophobes who complain that immigrants come to this country and steal American jobs, consider this requirement of migrant worker guidelines: “Requires an employer H-2A visa petition to certify that: (1) there are not enough local U.S. workers for the job; and (2) similarly employed U.S. workers’ wages and working conditions will not be adversely affected.” It seems that plenty of jobs are available in the agricultural industry but Americans refuse the opportunity. So, don’t be pointing the “Stealing American Jobs” finger at the immigrant. This provision put the American first only allowing immigrants to fill the position when Americans refused. Also, fearful xenophobes, consider President Reagan’s 1977 radio broadcast statement, ““It makes one wonder about the illegal alien fuss. Are great numbers of our unemployed really victims of the illegal alien invasion or are those illegal tourists actually doing work our own people won’t do?” Way back then even the Gipper got it! Anti-immigration folks are recycling the same old arguments and, time after time, they are proven wrong.

One interesting stipulation regarding discrimination has the gringa scratching her head and tsk-tsking. The bill says it would be considered “unfair” for an employer to discriminate against an individual in hiring practices based on origin or citizenship. However, it would be considered NOT “unfair” if an employer preferred to hire a U.S. citizen or national rather than an equally qualified resident alien. The gringa asks, “Does not one of these statements negate the other?” Geniuses and Washington, the two do not go hand in hand. The gringa says, “Just one more law in favor of American laborers and protecting their right to work over the immigrant to use in an argument to shut up and shut down the anti-immigrant xenophobe crowd.” Mmph, take that!

For migrant workers, though, there was still an option to obtain residency status. During the 18 month registration period established by this bill, if they worked 90 days within one year in the agricultural industry they qualified for temporary residency and could travel between the U.S. and their country of origin. During the first five years of their new status, migrant workers are considered “eligible legalized aliens” and do have access to Federal assistance as well as state assistance for the first five years of their new status. Migrant workers were also entitled to legal assistance.

Cuban and Haitian entrants were granted permanent resident status if they arrived before January 1, 1982. This was because many of these immigrants were political refugees.

Considering the disaster of American children whose native mother was not married to an American G.I. and was left behind in Indochina in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and Cambodia conflict, the gringa is pleased to find that the U.S. was more socially evolved in 1986. Children qualified for status, benefits and privileges if even one parent obtains resident status, regardless of the marital position of the child’s parents.

All in all, close to 3 million immigrants were legalized. This is a significant chapter in American immigration history. However, according to the numbers, about 2 million unauthorized aliens were left running around America without proper “authorization”. Some of these didn’t qualify, so, everyone just assumed they would eventually get deported. Others would have qualified but didn’t know a thing about the program. No one really had a back up plan for this eventuality. The gringa is not surprised. I’m sure Reagan and Congress thought, “We’ve done enough. That headache can be for the next administration.” Yes, U.S. government, how the wheels turn.

Critics of this legislation called it “amnesty”.  The real definition of amnesty is “an official pardon for people who have been convicted of political offenses”. The gringa’s not sure that the term “amnesty” applies. Perhaps a better term for a path to citizenship would be “the right thing” or, maybe, “the smart thing” or, “humanity at its best”. Regardless of what you call it, there were plenty of critics then and now who considered it a big, fat failure because illegal immigrants poured into the country after its passage. The fantasy was, the gringa supposes, that politicians thought after the passage of this bill, somehow, by some miracle, there would never be another unauthorized alien that would enter the country. The gringa can only guess that perhaps they thought the immigrants that were here were the only ones that would ever want to be here and no other immigrants would arrive in the future. What a bunch of dummies.

The gringa thinks they should have expected immigrant hopefuls around the world to jump up and take notice and point their finger toward America, wide-eyed as they exclaimed, “DID YOU SEE THAT! THAT COULD BE ME!” And off they go, running as fast as their little foreign feet can carry them to the Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave. With a path to citizenship laid out and easy to qualify for, of course hopefuls would hotfoot it across the border if given the chance.

The gringa thinks the problem was not with the legislation. The gringa thinks the problem was with the lack of preparedness. It should have been, sign the bill then yell, “Katie, bar the door!” They should have seen it coming! Big sillies! They needed to have a stronger presence on the border. Why didn’t they? Money, of course. Even though there was a provision to beef up border security by 50%, it seems they still didn’t spend enough money! Or, quite possibly, as often happens in bureaucracies, the money was mismanaged. All you xenophobes who are crying about border security, well, its gonna cost you. Are you willing to pay? That means taxes to fund it. Take a look at your paycheck stub. Are you still willing to pay?

Another reason illegals continued to flood into the country is because the framers just weren’t good planners. The bill was not a failure as critics claim when they point to the fact that illegal immigration was never eradicated, but actually increased. It’s because the bill didn’t go far enough. It never occurred to the framers of the legislation that the country might just continue to grow and need more laborers. Just like any good capitalist free market system ruled by supply and demand, the U.S. labor market demanded laborers and the nation’s southern neighbors were only too happy to supply them. And that is the very reason we need immigration reform now. Most of these people are here to work and raise their families and educate themselves and their children. They need to be able to come out of the shadows and live with security as proud American citizens.

For today’s critics of amnesty who treat it like it’s a dirty word, listen to the words of a wise humanitarian: “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,” Ronald Reagan, in a 1984 televised debate with Walter Mondale. Former Wyoming Sen. Alan K. Simpson’s opinion on amnesty? “Anybody who’s here illegally is going to be abused in some way, either financially [or] physically. They have no rights.” How do today’s Republicans feel about Obama’s efforts to bring about meaningful immigration reform? Well, just listen to what Mitch McConnell had to say: “…take amnesty off the table…”

So, then, what really happens with the issue of immigration reform? Politicians stick to their tried-and-true methods of old. When their voter base is raising hell, but the politician is too afraid to tackle the realities of legislation that affects the lives of millions of people, they worry more about getting re-elected. They don’t really care about the plight of an oppressed, unrepresented class of people who are not registered to vote. It is safer for the politician to stir up constituents with anger toward the immigrant so the voters won’t ask for immigration reform, but, rather, just scream for mass deportation. But, the politician doesn’t want to do that either. I mean, think about it. If cowardly politicians actually started deporting people, deportees may have loved ones in the community that DO vote. Politicians don’t want to risk losing that potential vote. If the politician treads the murky waters of immigration reform with legalization in mind, he alienates xenophobes, racists and labor unions from his voter base. If he goes hard line on immigration reform, he risks alienating the voters of ethnic groups who see members of their own national origin being rounded up and oppressed. What’s a vote-hungry, cowardly politician to do? He continues to stir up fear, because fear mongering directs everyone to the subject of border control. It’s much safer for the politician to support funding of border security than deal with millions of human beings. So, basically, the United States never sees meaningful immigration reform because the politicians are cowards.

The gringa remains hopeful that in Obama’s lame duck years he will deliver on immigration reform because he doesn’t give a hoot about pandering for a vote. He is in the strongest position to do the right thing. He has managed to deliver on some other controversial, hot button issues. The gringa still has faith and sits on the edge of her seat to see what happens. In closing, the gringa defers to the wise words of President Reagan who remained a friend to the immigrant to the very day he left office in 1989 when he said this: “I’ve spoken of a shining city all my political life but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.”

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1986_immigration_reform_and_control_act.html

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d099:SN01200:@@@L&summ2=m&% 7CTOM:/bss/d099query.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/30/in-1986-congress-tried-to-solve-immigration-why-didnt-it-work/

http://asu.news21.com/archive/2009/the_first_immigration_amnesty/

http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Politics/1986-amnesty/story?id=18971179

http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/history/35th/thelaw/irca.html

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128303672

Photo credit:  www.fusion.net

Emergency Quota Act of 1921 And The Spirit of Eugenics


Immigration policies of 1921 depict a government using legislation to design a population. New immigration laws were created to control the flow of immigrants into the United States according to ethnic and education classes. Laws of 1917 were to weed out undesirable classes of immigrants that had certain mental and physical health problems as well as prevent poor people from entering the U.S. In 1907 the country slammed the door on the Japanese. 1888 was the year the Chinese were rejected. 1875 established that America’s home-grown hookers were acceptable but Chinese hookers were not. Does the dear reader see a pattern emerging or is the gringa guilty of paranoid conspiracy theory syndrome?

1921 was just more of the same as far as America’s national racist agenda. If the country had not yet been clear enough that only upper class white immigrants were the preferred class of immigrants, legislators decided to pass one more Act just to make sure the rest of the world heard us loud and clear. The first thing they did was place limits on the number of people that could immigrate. True to form, our nation’s bureaucrats adopted a complicated formula of basing immigration numbers to three percent of the number of foreign born people, designated by ethnicity, according to the 1910 census. In other words, all counted immigrants would be classified by country of birth, then tallied to come up with totals of how many immigrants of each nationality were present in the U.S. This total would be used to determine the three percent who would be allowed in for the year. For example, if there were 100 German immigrants on the 1910 census, only three new German immigrants would be allowed entry. In 1921, America added controls and limits on European immigration to their dirty laundry list of discriminatory acts.

The wording of the legislation seemed to be an honest attempt to sound unbiased and fair since it’s all based on the numbers, right? WRONG! Have my dear readers not learned anything since I’ve been blogging about all this immigration mess from the beginning of the nation’s origin? Haven’t we discovered along this journey that every immigration law passed in the United States has thus far been motivated by greed and racism? Has it not been revealed that American bureaucrats are master propagandists determined to convince the world of the humanitarian spirit of the nation when the real truth is that the U.S. is a nation designed to be a capitalist utopia? Why in the world, then, would anyone be fool enough to think that suddenly, in 1921, immigration laws would be passed that would actually be fair and show no preference for one ethnicity over another?

First of all, the act provided exceptions for immigrants who were artists, performing artists, professionals, or religious leaders. These types of people were always acceptable no matter what their skin color or language barrier. With regard to how the details were actually applied and worked out, a thorough study of the end result numbers makes it clear that masters of deception were at work skewing the numbers in favor of certain ethnicities. When you get right down to the nitty gritty, bottom line, immigration figures actually reflect that the Act had little impact on the number of immigrants allowed into the country who originated from northern and western Europe. There were no limitations placed on immigrants from the Western Hemisphere. It was the “other” people that Americans were worried about.

This Act was right on the heels of the close of World War I. After the first Great War, practically all of Europe wanted to start over in the New World. Americans were afraid of the country being flooded with undesirable classes of people. This racist pressure motivated U.S. lawmakers to use this seemingly “fair” legislation to discriminate in order to prevent an influx of immigrants who would not properly assimilate into white American culture. Preferred ethnicities originated in western and northern Europe. Southern and eastern Europe were home to the “undesirables” such as the Polish, Greeks and Italians.

Ethnicity and culture was not the only consideration America had on their minds. At this time the United States didn’t need to import cheap labor any longer because the country now enjoyed a steady supply via Canada and Mexico. The nation didn’t want new working class people showing up and possibly causing a drop in wages for the existing working class. When immigration law was actually applied, professionals enjoyed fewer restrictions while working class people found it harder to gain entry to the country.

As I read through the Act, the word “eugenics” kept popping up in my mind. Although limited by a lack of technology in 1921, the spirit and philosophy of eugenics was alive and well in U.S. politics. If eugenics endeavors to improve humans by controlling reproduction in order to weed out undesirable inherited characteristics, America sought to do this through immigration control. That was the spirit of 1921 America. Has the white majority really advanced much further in its social tolerance of today? To be on the safe side, this poor, working class, epileptic gringa chooses to stay where such prejudice doesn’t exist, in the warm, accepting arms of la gente de mi barrio.

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1921_emergency_quota_law.html

http://immigrationinamerica.org/589-immigration-act-of-1921.html

http://northamericanimmigration.org/95-emergency-quota-act-united-states-1921.html

Photo credits:  www.in.gov

1917: The Year I Would Have Been Banned From The U.S.


Chapter 29 of the Second Session of the Sixty-Fourth Congress of the United States of America, February 5, 1917, passed “An Act To regulate the immigration of aliens to, and the residence of aliens in, the United States” (also called the “Asian Barred Zone” if you want to do some research yourself). If I had been alive and not a U.S. citizen at the time this legislation took effect, I would have been among the immigrant hopefuls who would have been banned from entry. I would have been a “defective” person on the “prohibited” list, an “undesirable”.  That’s what this piece of law was all about. The United States was expanding its category of people to discriminate against. Rather than list all the legal rigmarole that are the basic nuts and bolts of the wherefores and heretofores, the gringa will get to the heart of the matter. I will focus on the sections that express the minds and wills of the white majority of the United States in 1917.

Section one defines the term “alien” as any person not a native-born or naturalized citizen of the U.S., but specifically excludes the Native Americans of North America and the Native Islanders of U.S. territories. At this time the Philippine Islands and Hawaii were U.S. territories. Once the term alien was defined, the U.S. could then make it clear who was, and who was not, invited to the party. The following were to be banned from entry into the United States:

  • Idiots (good thing all those legislators got here before 1917)
  • Imbeciles
  • Feeble-minded
  • Epileptics (that would be me)
  • Insane persons
  • Anyone who had a single attack of insanity at any point in their life (that rules out pretty much everyone I know here in the barrio where shit gets real from time to time)
  • Persons with a “constitutional psychopathic inferiority” (At first I thought that must mean psychopaths, until I looked up the definition of those words according to that time period. “Constitutional” means a condition you are born with. “Psychopathic” means regarding the realm of the mind or emotions. “Inferiority” means sub-standard in function, adaptability and self-progress. So, persons who were born with a mind, or set of emotions, that was below average were prohibited.)
  • Alcoholics
  • Paupers
  • Professional beggars
  • Vagrants
  • Persons sick with a contagious disease
  • Persons with a mental or physical defect that would affect the ability to earn a living
  • Convicted felons of moral crimes
  • Polygamists (again, the Mormons)
  • Anarchists
  • Prostitutes
  • Contract laborers
  • Persons likely to become a public charge
  • Persons who had their passage paid for by another party
  • Stowaways
  • Unaccompanied minors
  • Asians not originating from a U.S. territory
  • Prior deported persons
  • Illiterates, unless returning residents or immigrating to escape religious persecution

The classifications of some of these people, such as, idiots, imbeciles, beggars, epileptics, feeble-minded, physically defective, etc., became the basis for a following trend in American municipalities to pass what were commonly called “ugly laws”. Not only did the white majority in America want a “white” America, they also wanted a “pretty to look at” America. It remains ironic that these same classes of people who were prohibited from entering the country would often pass by the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, an icon of hope, bearing a plaque which read:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

What a big, fat, American lie. And America’s been lying to everyone since the day the Puritans first set foot on the shores of Plymouth. The immigrants here in my barrio, however, are nobody’s fools. What I find incredibly interesting is that most of my immigrant neighbors are better educated on the true history of America than most native born Americans. Where they got a stiff dose of startling truth in mandatory world studies of their country of origin’s education systems, we native Americans get brainwashed with the propaganda machine our country created to make us good little American boys and girls, isolated from the rest of the world, and puffed up with a sense of superiority. Being a gringa in the barrio is a humbling experience. Especially when I realize that many of my immigrant neighbors were not on my country’s reject list like I, myself, would have been.

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/39%20stat%20874.pdf

http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2850&context=jclc

https://books.google.com/books?id=pXW69O5po3AC&pg=PA165&lpg#v=onepage&q&f=false

Photo credit:  en.wikisource.org

Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 – Proof Of U.S. Insanity?


As I researched materials for this week’s blog about the next chapter in United States immigration policies, the gringa found it difficult not to burst out in sarcastic laughter at the audacity of American legislators to entitle a piece of racist immigration policy a “Gentlemen’s Agreement”. I don’t find anything at all “gentlemanly” about the racism that permeated white American society toward the Japanese. The country had already kicked out the Chinese. I suppose it was only logical that the Japanese would soon be getting their eviction notices as well.

Although Theodore Roosevelt is generally thought of with affection and romanticized as a rough and tumble “man’s man” in our nation’s presidential histories, the truth is, he was just another racist president in a long line of racist presidents. Although we can thank him for our wonderful national parks system and for creating the Food and Drug Administration, I give him a big “up yours” for the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907. A “real” man would have stood up for what was right, which would have been to tell the bratty, white Americans to behave themselves, quit their temper tantrum throwing, be accountable for their own plight rather than play the blame-game and point fingers at the Japanese, treat their fellow human beings with dignity and respect regardless of race and skin color and to hell with re-election popularity for the party. I mean, in the barrio that’s how we mamacitas roll.

The years preceding this agreement the United States experienced a labor shortage. Probably because of their short-sighted, emotional, racist actions that resulted in expelling and banning Chinese immigrants whom they had originally imported for cheap labor. The solution to this new labor shortage was to import a new group of cheap labor. The United States turned to Japan. In 1895 the Anglo-Japanese Treaty was ratified by both nations and provided the framework for open immigration between the nations, as well as equal rights of residency and property ownership for immigrants of either nation. Japan became the new favored nation for the U.S., and we all know how well that turned out for China just twenty years earlier.

When Japanese immigration subsequently increased, California once again led the charge of social hostility toward a particular ethnic working class group. After San Francisco’s memorable earthquake of 1906, schools had to be rebuilt. Taking advantage of this opportunity, the racists of California that had revived their hatred of the Chinese and redirected it toward the Japanese, supported the decision by the San Francisco school board to segregate schools according to a specific Japanese/Caucasian line just as they had already done with the Chinese.

Such discriminatory actions struck a nerve when word traveled back to Japan. President Teddy made an effort to smooth things over with Japan. Now, don’t jump to any conclusions about President Roosevelt actually caring about the feelings of the Japanese. His desire for friendly relations with the Japanese had nothing to do with any form of admiration for their culture. The U.S., as usual, had only one interest, securing power and wealth for the nation.

At this time in history, the biggest threat to power and wealth for the United States was Russia. From 1850 until 1910 Russia was second only to America in population growth. After the terrible insult the United States had given the Chinese, China established broad and extensive trade relations with Russia. Russia was even allowed to build a naval base and sea port in the city of Vladivostok. Before the Treaty of Peking in 1860, the city of Vladivostok had been Chinese territory and was called Hǎishēnwǎi, which, translated, meant “Sea Cucumber Cliffs”. Things were warm and fuzzy between the Chinese and Russia in 1907. Understanding the true history behind the relationship of this political love triangle, I now am not so naïve as I once was when my nation’s propaganda machine goes into high gear depicting Russia and China’s alliance as a great threat to our nation. The gringa can only cock her head, squint her eyes, poke her finger at the White House, and say, “You started this big mess with your two-faced, racist, back-stabbing, behavior toward the Chinese!”

By 1907 Russia’s expansionist policies were evident to the rest of the world. It had also set its sights on Japan. Russia’s ally, China, had been engaged in hostilities with Japan for some time. In 1895 Japan achieved an important victory that led to Russia getting involved in the conflict. Ultimately President Roosevelt would negotiate mediation between all factions. The important result of all this and how it affected political consideration of the Japanese in the United States, is that the U.S. government recognized the strategic naval position Japan commanded in its geographical orientation with regard to China and Russia. America would be wise to have Japan as a friend. Strategic military interest, rather than racial respect, was Teddy’s motivation to smooth over Japan’s ruffled feathers at the nasty treatment Japanese immigrants were receiving at the hands of white America.

The result was direct intervention by President Roosevelt into the San Francisco school segregation actions. Promised by the President that he was going to deal with the Japanese issue, the San Francisco school board rescinded its segregation order. Soon after, the country saw this presidential promise fulfilled in the acceptance of the Gentlemen’s Agreement. This was not legislation but an informal agreement between the U.S. and Japan based on an exchange of diplomatic letters.

Despite the fact that no official record of the agreements was ever published, a wealth of historical evidence can still be found about how things changed in America for the Japanese that were here. In response to Roosevelt’s intervention of discrimination against Japanese on U.S. soil, Japan agreed to no longer issue passports to Japanese laborers who intended to seek work in the United States. Only Japanese professionals and Japanese business men could immigrate to the U.S. Japanese laborers already present in the U.S. would still be able to bring over their families, but single Japanese laborers that were here would not be able to look forward to new arrivals of lovely, single ladies from back home. However, one “loophole” in this agreement was that Hawaii, being a U.S. territory, could still accept Japanese labor immigrants. This resulted in the “picture bride” system of Japanese laborers in the U.S. getting a mail-order bride via Hawaii. Despite the best attempt of the Gentlemen’s Agreement to thin out the Japanese population in America, Japanese families still continued to grow and thrive. Hey, a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do because everybody deserves a little lovin’ when they get home from a hard day’s work. At least that’s how my caveman feels.

As the gringa reads the historical documents recording this sad tale, the most disturbing aspect of it all, aside from the obvious, the racism, is the fact that the nation was repeating the events of just twenty years prior. I am reminded of the tongue in cheek definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Again, the gringa can only cock her head, squint her eyes, poke her finger at the White House and say, “What the hell were you thinking? Are you insane? Did you really think you could do the exact same thing that you did with China and it would somehow end better?”

Once again the United States has proven that it’s immigration policies are determined by greed and power. Borders are opened to an unsuspecting nation who is wooed like a predator stalking an unsuspecting victim. Cheap labor is imported. The country grows fat. The new immigrants start to get too big for their britches. The Caucasian hordes cry foul. The politicians want to secure re-election so they “burn the witch” as the angry masses demand. The only advice I can give any immigrant is, “Immigrant! Beware!”

Sources:

http://www.history.com/topics/gentlemens-agreement

http://www.americanforeignrelations.com/E-N/Extraterritoriality-Japan.html

http://countrystudies.us/russia/6.htm

http://www.britannica.com/event/Treaty-of-Peking

http://ir.library.osaka-u.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/11094/9499/1/oulr056-001.pdf

http://www.britannica.com/event/Gentlemens-Agreement

http://immigrationinamerica.org/516-gentlemens-agreement.html

http://aapcgroup11.blogspot.com/2009/12/gentlemens-agreement-of-1907.html

http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Gentlemen’s_Agreement/

https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/ga1907

Photo credit:  www.dneiwert.blogspot.com

Proud Laborers of the Barrio


From time to time I hear politicians, as well as certain people in the media, stirring the “class warfare” pot. They all remind us we better stock up on our provisions.  Gather up your pitchforks and torches.  And, for God’s sake, don’t forget to pile up all the junk you can find to safely barricade your “domain”.  Class warfare? Seriously? I don’t know about you, but this gringa and all her neighbors in the barrio do not have time for such nonsense.  We’ve got mouths to feed and the only way to do it is to work, work, work.  If the gringa is not pounding away at the keyboard working (or playing Spider Solitaire), scrubbing a toilet, laundering yet another load of stinky socks and unmentionables,  then she’s having adventures with the Latin man of her dreams or basking in the glory of the presence of the kids and grandkids. And, as far as I can tell, all the people in the barrio are doing the same. So, why all the paranoia and fear-mongering from the politicians and media?

Recently the gringa and her caveman escaped the barrio for “uptown” (which means we went a few blocks west).  We had lunch at a local restaurant. The lady in the booth behind us was talking on her phone to a family member. She was giving this person directions to the neighborhood pool from her home. Overhearing her directions (yes, I am a notorious eavesdropper), I was able to determine that I was familiar with the neighborhood she lived in.  It is an exclusive, gated housing development.  All the homes back up to a golf course. Many of these million dollar plus properties are of the most modern designs incorporating the latest technology. Sometimes they are marketed as “smart homes”.  I easily drew the conclusion that this was probably a wealthy woman.  As she explained the details of purchasing a seasonal pool pass for the neighborhood pools she concluded by expressing her dismay that because these were “public” pools even people that did not reside in her “village” could get these passes, they just had to pay more.  It seemed disturbing to her to find herself sunning next to a table where one of these poor families had set up camp so she explained if she had to go she preferred to go early and on a weekday.

My husband and I have taken our kids and grandchildren to these pools numerous times over the years.  What I would like to know is how can a rich person know another person is poor when you are all basically wearing underwear that passes as outerwear simply because the fabric is lined? Does the working class gringa and her familia have a glowing, poor person aura?  Do we exude a distinct barrio fragrance? Do the wealthy have a poor person detector implanted discreetly in their body? Perhaps it is my banged up, duct taped ice chest that has seen many seasons of use at the pool, the beach and the campground that gives me away. Maybe it’s the twenty dollar haircuts we all sport from Great Clips. She might be able to detect the presence of an eight-dollar-a-bottle Clairol redhead (before I went blonde). However, most likely it is the Wal-Mart brand drinks and snacks that always litter the table. Yes, that’s probably it. I shop generic. Ya know, the “more bang for your buck” method of shopping? Perhaps we are seen pulling through the parking lot in our old, beat up mini-van with the one broken door that has the lock duct-taped down so no one makes the mistake of unlocking and opening it because we’ll never get it closed again if they do! But, don’t hate the van, it was paid for! I do know, however, that our manners are not the dead give-away. We may be working class and can’t afford Gucci, but, by golly, being polite and considerate is a freebie to all!

Please, have no fear, rich folk, if you find yourself side by side with the poor folk. We are all out for the same thing, just a little fun in the sun.  Heck, just think about it. That beautiful park you are enjoying is manicured regularly by some working class Joes. Speaking of manicure, your lovely toes and fingers are sporting a mani/pedi compliments of some working class gal (or guy). That bottle of sparkling water you’re enjoying with your organic what-not tidbit was trucked to your favorite store by a person just like my husband. Chances are many of the things that make your life easier and more pleasureable are made possible by the working class. And it is highly likely many of these working class laborers are immigrants who are here to build a better life, not take yours.

As you pass another taco truck or landscape crew salute the courage of these men who, like my husband, left behind all that they knew to enter a foreign country, often all alone, not even knowing the language. And yet, they are making it on their own. As you pick up your clothes at the dry cleaner or enjoy an immaculately clean home thanks to a wonderful house cleaning service, take a moment to admire these women.  These are women who have often survived a life of extreme disadvantage and possibly risked a dangerous journey to immigrate. The hope for a better life was worth the risk to them. Rather than consider working class immigrants suspiciously, consider them heroes. One day their children and grandchildren will owe all of the opportunity and privilege they enjoy to these brave men and women. Our country is enriched by people like this. They are landscapers, cooks, crop harvesters, nannies, seamstresses, truckers, handymen, busboys, hair stylists, etc. They are not just immigrants, they are immigrants who have come to embody all that is American. They are America.

So, please, all you wealthy folk out there who are concerned that us working class folk are biding our time until just the right moment to shriek, “BURN THE WITCH!” and come after your Bentleys and Birkenstocks, it just ain’t so.  There is no need for you to clean out your local Wholefoods Market of Perrier and organic bon- bons.  There’s no reason to have KBR on your home security networks’ speed-dial.  You see, first of all, we working class folk simply don’t have the time to engage in revolt. I stated some of the whys and wherefores of that in the opening paragraph.  But, we also don’t have the extra moolah to fund such an effort. I mean, have you seen how much a pitchfork costs these days? Extras like that are simply not in a barrio budget.  The familia of the barrio spends all of their money on their family and a better life. They will not waste a nickel on something that is going to just cause trouble for another. Most barrio families came here to leave that kind of trouble behind. The simple truth of the matter is, working class people are just not the type of people to bang on your door, poke their hand out and demand a piece of your pie.  Working class people are proud.  Working class people are humble.  Working class people are independent.  We do not want what is yours.  We are satisfied with what is ours.

The barrio is a beautiful place.  The gringa doesn’t want to live anywhere else in the world. You can keep your golf course real estate and your mansion that talks to you. I am happy with my patio garden and an apartment I can clean from top to bottom in about forty-eight minutes flat leaving the rest of the day for my own pleasure. When we moved here the Caveman and I joked we were gonna “slum it” until all the kids were finished with college.  You see, wealthy people don’t sweat tuition. The truly poor get financial aid. Working class people pay every single dime.  We don’t make enough for us not to sweat it and we make too much for the government to think our kids need help. But, we don’t complain. We are proud that our oldest has finished, two are still at it, and the youngest, showing much promise, will soon be on his way.  So, even though it may have started as a temporary move to the barrio, now I want to stay for life. We may not have much but we always have enough, and, of love and laughter and good times, we have plenty. So, what in the world is there to fight for? All of our dreams that really matter have already come true.