July 1st, 2011
Re-Writing History To Justify Georgia’s Immigration Law

[Editor’s note: The following is an op-ed from Somos Republicans]

By Bob Quasius

It never ceases to amaze me how some politicians rewrite history to justify their agenda.

In Rep. Rick Golick’s op-ed on Georgia’s new immigration law in the Gainesville Times, he claims that some of his ancestors immigrated legally during the early 20th century, and criticizes those who come here illegally, as if somehow today’s immigrants are different than yesterdays. Rep. Golick has a glorified view of America’s immigration policies that is quite different than reality.

In 1921, following a wave of xenophobia and widespread claims that immigrants were “draining our resources”, Congress imposed “emergency” quotas to reduce immigration of “undesirables” from Eastern and Southern Europe. Two years later, Congress further reduced these quotas by 1/3. I find it interesting that the ancestors Rep. Golick mentions came from Ukraine, then part of Russia. Russia’s immigration quota starting in 1924 was just 2,248, so Rep. Golick might want to check his facts before claiming his ancestors came here legally.

Within several years following the 1921 and 1924 immigration quotas, the U.S. had several million undocumented immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, including perhaps some named Golick! Prior to 1921, the U.S. also had many undocumented immigrants from Asia, particularly Chinese who immigrated to build our railroads out West. Chinese were barred from immigrating to the U.S. starting in 1880 with the Chinese Exclusion Act. We also had undocumented Irish immigrants. Irish were not barred from the U.S., but many were so poor they could not pay the $5 head tax and so they bypassed the legal ports of entry and immigrated illegally.

During the great depression of the 1930s and early 1940s, approximately one million persons of Mexican descent were forced out of the U.S., blamed for high unemployment levels. The Obama administration is on-track to deport one million immigrants by Labor Day. At least we should give credit for deporting only undocumented immigrants or legal immigrants convicted of crimes. During the great depression 60% of those deported to Mexico were U.S. Citizens, and a substantial percentage of the other 40% had immigrated here legally in earlier years.

Today’s immigration mess is not all that different than yesterdays. Our current immigration system has very low quotas for unskilled guest workers. Only 5,000 H1B guest worker visas are available for unskilled workers; somewhat more for seasonal workers. There are no quotas for agricultural workers, but the H2A system is so bureaucratic and complex many farmers find it impractical to use H2A visas.

We have seven million undocumented immigrant workers in the U.S. today, the large majority of whom are in low or unskilled jobs. Just a few decades ago, around 50% of adult native born Americans were high school dropouts and filled these types of jobs. However, today the native born dropout rate is well under 10%, as American prefer to finish high school and often college.

Our immigration problem goes much deeper than lack of adequate enforcement. Our system simply hasn’t kept up with our demographics. The last major overhaul of immigration was in 1965, but since then far more Americans are well educated, our population has doubled, and our economy quintupled. Enforcement-only strategies will only cause hardship, not only for immigrants but businesses who have a hard time finding workers for low or unskilled jobs, particularly in agriculture, meat packing, and other hard physical work. The unfolding economic disaster in Georgia’s agriculture industry underlines that enforcement only will not work.

[Photo By vpickering]

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