Living with immigration


Living in a border state, one can hardly escape thinking about immigration. I have always thought a fence for keeping people out is delusional. Spending millions (or is it billions?) on a more sophisticated border fence is obscene. Think of what that money could do to educate and prepare people wanting economic relief or political asylum – or just to be with family.

Every so often, usually on an all-American holiday, there is a photo in the news showing immigrants being sworn in as citizens after having passed their exams. These exams test their knowledge of the English language, of the American Constitution and how our government works, and what basic laws and rights are here in the United States. Applicants must also swear to the tenets of our Constitution.

I am of the opinion that this is not enough to make an American, especially as applicants must already know the Constitution is repeatedly under attack and our Members of Congress who make the laws do not have the confidence of their people. At the moment their approval rating is 10%.

In the 21st century we are less a melting pot than a patchwork quilt. This is a result of travel, a high regard for multiculturalism, and interest in maintaining a sense of our “roots.” Some aspects of this are controversial, but for the most part we enjoy having a rich and colorful mix of backgrounds, and even where international, interracial and interfaith marriages have occurred, there usually is an attempt to acknowledge the heritage on both sides.

Here is the problem: Even a generation ago, when someone immigrated they left their old life behind. This is no longer necessary. We have phone cards, email, webcam and Skype, plus instantaneous communication by social media. I am inclined to think some of this is anti-social media, because it encourages the new Americans to remain in their old cultures and to retain habits, beliefs, behaviors, and customs that do not help them to adapt to their new environment.

Here are two examples: In male-dominated countries, women typically form their own social groups to cope; one of the commonly expected behaviors (reported by women) is to plot against their husbands. It is hard, then, for a woman from such a background to understand that Americans are expected to solve differences in family units. She will be looking for female friends who will listen to her litany of injustices done to her by her spouse. She may instead push people away, become lonely and even desperate enough to fall prey to “friendships” with people who will harm her rather than help. Another example: There are quite a few cultures where yelling and making scenes in public are perfectly acceptable behavior. Western travelers who witness men about to break out into a fistfight have been astonished to see the adversaries suddenly shake hands or kiss each other on the cheeks. In the United States, public yelling could be considered “disturbance of the peace,” or threats seen as “assault.” If one of the people involved has an aversion to such public displays, the perpetrator may be taken away in handcuffs.

These examples do not encourage tolerance of newcomers. Therefore, I believe we should be looking at ways to introduce prospective citizens to their new society by role-playing, or films that illustrate the differences they should expect. Parents should be thoroughly introduced to expectations of schools. A more prolonged course of orientation for citizenship – and there are a few in place – could avoid troubles down the road when an individual has to choose where his or her loyalties really are.


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