Coming to the US

My first ancestor to the United States snuck in. That’s right, he was an “illegal immigrant” though no doubt he didn’t see it that way. He was looking for a new way of life as things in his home country weren’t going well for him.

So, he arrived in what is now Massachusetts in about 1640. Settled in, and found a trade he prospered in. More on that later.

Of course, they didn’t have visas or passports then, and it wasn’t until just a few years ago that people started squawking about migrants slipping across the border from Mexico. I worked in the West Texas oil fields in the mid 70’s. While La Migra was certainly there, basically, no one cared much if a worker had papers or not. Strong bodies were needed for roustabouting, and there were lots of migrants wanting to work and employers wanting to hire them. That most of the workers had multiple phoney Social Security cards was a given; again, no one cared.

The West Texas oil fields had a racist class system. Mexicans were the lower-paid roustabouts who laid the pipe. Anglos held the better paying roughnecking jobs. Everyone got shafted though. You worked seven days a week there, no days off ever except if you quit. Even for roughnecks, the pay was low. That’s because there were no unions or the threat of a union. But I digress…

So why is it that, all of a sudden, the right wing is foaming at the mouth about immigrants? Clearly, immigrants are needed to help run the country. Lots of industries would stop should all the undocumented workers be deported. Republican businessmen know that and are becoming alarmed at the babblings of their racist compatriots who want to build huge walls and send ’em back home. Stress fractures are appearing in the GOP. Our job is to turn those fractures into a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon.

The Sensenbrenner Bill was a deliberate attempt to mobilize the hard right and get them to vote in November. What they never saw coming was a spontaneous, grassroots uprising from the immigrant community that has put millions in the streets, made immigrant rights a central issue, and grabbed the momentum away from the Right. You better believe they’re furious. Their power and base is evaporating, and they know it.

The law of course, sometimes is an ass. When slavery was “legal” in the U.S., those who fought against it were accused of breaking the law. Ditto for Martin Luther King Jr. and non-violent civil disobedience. He opposed the grotesquely unfair and unjust laws of his day too. Immigration laws are broken by everyone; employee and employer. Yet it’s only the most defenseless, the undocumented, who get blamed for it. Why is that?

That ancestor of mine, the “illegal immigrant”, he did ok for himself. He was a privateer, a legalized pirate who raided ships flying non-English flags and gave half the booty to the King. This was a common practice in European countries then and quite “legal” too.

So, should I, descendant of an undocumented immigrant and a criminal, leave the country now? Because really, the only Americans with the right to say “immigrants out” are Native Americans.

  • Joe Hartley

    I must be missing something. As I recall, the first restrictions on immigration came about 1800 with the Chinese exlusion acts. How, then, was your ancestor “illegal” if there were no restrictions governing immigration? (American immigration law has at many times reflected the racism and racial fears of the society, particularly in 1923, but that’s a different question from whether a particular immigrant was “illegal.”)

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