Have you seen a recent Budweiser commercial in which Eberhard Anheuser meets Augustus Busch and they start a beer company in St. Louis? In fact, Busch was Anheuser’s son-in-law and would eventually take over Anheuser’s brewery.
The commercial implies they spoke English to one another, but they almost certainly spoke German, using their native language like many immigrants. German newcomers faced discrimination because their language and culture differed from American ways.
As their brewery was growing, another family of German origin settled in neighboring Kansas. One of their sons was Dwight Eisenhower, who would lead U.S. forces against Nazi Germany in World War II.
Eisenhower would also become president of his family’s adopted country, as would another descendant of German immigrants, Donald Trump.
Though not subject to direct persecution, these families had all left western Germany to escape political domination by the militaristic Prussians. Beyond the freedom promised by America, they also sought economic opportunity. They succeeded, but only after years of hard work and overcoming discrimination.
These families arrived in the U.S., which imposed few limits on immigration. The country’s population grew rapidly, taking the booming economy with it. Later, limits would be placed on immigration. Chinese were totally blocked until the 1940s.
Quebecois came to work in Maine for similar reasons. Now, Paul LePage, whose first language was French, is governor of the state.
The profile of the four German families is remarkably like the characteristics of people now leaving their old countries behind to come to America. Most seek to escape depressed and dangerous conditions for life in a country in which freedom and economic opportunity are part of its DNA.
Like those families, today’s immigrants face resistance. They may work hard. They may obey the law even more than other residents. But they look different and sound different. That’s enough for them to be kept out or thrown out.
The issue today is the DACA program for people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as young children by their parents. They know no other country and they probably neither look nor sound different from many others in the U.S. Technically, though, they can be deported.
Some, who insist on protecting a majority, white European ethnic base, want them removed simply because they don’t qualify. They believe Trump promised them that all illegal immigrants would be ousted. They would be furious if he did not scrupulously keep his promise – right down to the last child.
Others, possibly including the president himself, have sympathy for the situation of a young person, whose only connection is to the U.S. It is not difficult to imagine how challenging, if not threatening, it would be to be uprooted and sent back the country of your ancestors.
U.S. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions has long made clear his opposition to immigrants. He says that they take jobs away from Americans.
Immigration has increased and created new jobs for the obvious reason that, in a consumer-driven economy, immigrants are new consumers. Sessions cannot provide any data to support his position, especially difficult in a country with today’s low unemployment.
Trump, who launched his presidential campaign on an anti-immigrant theme, seems to believe illegal immigrants turn out to be terrorists or criminals. If you break the law to get into the U.S., it makes sense you are likely to break the law again as a resident.
Both Sessions and Trump may sound logical, but their positions are not supported by the facts. People come to the U.S. because they want the benefits of the system, not to destroy it. To become citizens they must learn about the country – history, we assume without certainty, the rest of us already know.
Trump says the DACA situation demands congressional action. Similarly, being realistic and practical on immigration means that the government cannot and will not eject millions of people contributing to the economy. It must find a reasonable and constructive solution.
Reality dictates that more effective measures must be taken to recover control of immigration by blocking illegal entries. But it also dictates that the country deal with people already within its borders who are working, studying and contributing.
These people have always been included in the U.S. census. From the first census in 1790, the Constitution has required counting “persons” resident in the country – legal and illegal immigrants as well as citizens, to set the number of seats each state receives in the House of Representatives.
Immigration reform should mean becoming at least as realistic as the Constitution itself.