| Who am I to Tell Them to Leave?
Lewis, Scott. "Who am I to Tell Them to Leave?" Voice of San Diego, 28 August 2006.
If you're like me, you don't see your family as much as you should.
You mother, father, grandparents and others are far enough away
that you have to schedule and plan and spend money to see them
even as little as you do.
Not too long ago, I did that. I don't quite remember when it was
-- it may
have been, in fact, during one of my recent cross-country moves
that I was
able to stop in one of the "fly-over" states to see my
grandmother -- my
She and I got to talking and she told me a story that I'm still
about months later.
It was about her mother, who was a German immigrant.
I had always had a keen perception of my family's particular connection
Europe, but not from my father's side of the family. Instead, I
romanticized many times over the plight of my mother's family who,
various ports of entry, all made it to the United States from Italy
first quarter of the 20th Century.
I had heard the story countless times, for instance, of Francesco
my mother's grandfather, who had, as a teenage boy, left Italy on
to South America. Soon after he got there -- and nobody remembers
where there was -- he decided to take another ship to New Orleans.
Finally, he ended up in Colorado working in a mine.
And I had heard the story of her other Italian grandfather who
the family's name from Rossi to Rose to anglicize it and better
All of this connection to Italy intrigued me while I was in college
immersing myself in Romance languages and traveling as much as I
But I had never thought much about how my father's family had ended
where it did.
That is, until I talked to my grandmother a few months ago.
Her mother has a story that rivals any. My great grandmother's
of German origin but they were living in Russia. The Volga Germans
they and their countrymen were known -- spoke German and lived with
customs but in the Volga River valley in Russia. The Volga Germans
Russia in a steady stream in the late 19th Century and, by 1906,
grandmother's family had made the choice to flee as well.
But when their ship reached the United States, there was a problem:
member of the family was suffering from an eye infection and they
allowed to enter the country.
That is, each member of the family except my, then 13-year-old,
Her parents chose to do something extraordinary: They decided to
their young girl in the United States and they got on another boat
for Argentina. She would have a better life, they reasoned.
She never spoke to them again.
As was apparently a normal event at the time, a family in Colorado
my great-grandmother and they did so not necessarily out of an overarching
desire to help the young immigrant. The desire was more clearly
wanting some help with the backbreaking work of tending to a farm.
My great grandmother ended up running away from that home with
shepherd who was many decades her senior. They married and had a
girl who became my grandmother.
It's an amazing story. I was transfixed. It was one of those stories
everyone else in the family heard long ago -- it's not that it is
unremarkable to them, it's just part of what they've heard about
I had never felt such a vivid link to the past and I had never
understood very well how I ended up where I did and now. They wouldn't
want me to dwell on it -- that would defeat the purpose of the sacrifice.
I've worked with and been friends with undocumented workers who
start one job at 8 a.m. leave at 5 p.m. and then enter another job
p.m. and put in another full day before going to bed and starting
again. They were elbow deep in the kind of drudgery I can hardly
preferring over abject poverty.
People who do that are, like my family three generations ago, sacrificing
their lives so that their children's children might someday live
And every time I start to embrace in myself a desire to crack down
immigration, I remember that it would be difficult, if not impossible,
do that and not be the embodiment of hypocrisy. Who am I to tell
immigrant that, now that my family is settled and accomplished,
My inner capitalist chips further doubt to the idea that we're
kind of crisis and that illegal immigration is an unwelcome invasion.
was not at all surprised this week that the San Diego Regional Chamber
Commerce endorsed the U.S. Senate's immigration reform bill as opposed
the harsher House of Representatives. This move to embrace a path
citizenship for illegal immigrants was a bold step for the normally
chamber and it puts that organization directly at odds with people
newly elected U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray.
We hear a lot these days about how Democrats nationally have trouble
coming to consensus on important issues. On immigration, the Republicans
are deeply split.
The business community and Libertarians everywhere recognize that
can't, on one hand, support free trade across borders and, on the
hand, effectively stop the free trade of labor without causing more
problems than you intend to prevent.
Businesses want a healthy supply of labor from which they can choose
These people want jobs. We have businesses that want to hire them.
What isn't natural is leaving these workers in the shadows. We
tolerate the status quo. Neither their best interests, nor ours,
served when immigrants see themselves as unwelcome and unrecognized
I see problems: overcrowding, urban sprawl, strained school systems
the worst, a hidden workforce whose members rely on a black market
their counterfeit documentation. Their social progress and assimilation
weighed down perpetually by the albatross of their illegitimacy.
As I try to think for myself about how best the country can end
quo, I'll never be able to shake the conviction that people like
with similar backgrounds as me -- have little right to tell these
immigrant workers that they missed their chance and they now need