The Original “Dreamers”

I heard a guest on Bloomberg Radio today predict a coming “crisis” for the American economy: soon we will not have enough skilled workers, or workers of any kind, to meet the needs of the labor market.

I’ve suspected for many years the reason we’ve been so willing to accept large numbers of immigrants into the country is because immigrants, especially well-educated ones, are a cheap way to meet our labor needs. I mean “cheap” in both the economic and moral senses – we don’t have to pay for the educations or training they already have, and we don’t have to face the moral and fiscal obligation of educating tens of millions of our own citizens who are unemployed or underemployed for lack of a comparable education and training.

By Daniel Schwen

We have been a nation of immigrants for the same reason we were once a slave nation. We needed the muscle of millions to take possession of a continent we decided to claim as our own. Later we needed brains to develop our technology and staff our professions. We could have developed our marginalized poor and disenfranchised, but instead we chose to write them off.

Those disadvantaged Americans are descendants of the original “dreamers” – the ones who freed themselves from slavery or whose ancestors came here in search of a better life wherever they originated. We should not be throwing anyone out of this country who was born here or is an established resident (my grandfather was an “undocumented” immigrant). But we might want to consider putting some of the empathy and effort we put into regularizing the status of millions of undocumented immigrants into rehabilitating the tens of millions we continue to exclude from the benefits most immigrants to this country were afforded in the early decades of the last century. That was the same period when African Americans were deliberately denied access to home ownership under the New Deal and were excluded from good public and private employment.

Home ownership accounts for the greatest part of the wealth of ordinary Americans. It not only makes possible a nest egg to pass on to offspring, it also provides equity to be used for a student loan or to start a small business. Thanks to those New Deal policies African Americans today possess only 5% of white wealth. Their not having access to good jobs since the days of slavery has had consequences that don’t need to be spelled out.

Slave Ship, By Johann Moritz Rugendas, 1830

It’s easy to support a law that gives legal status to deserving immigrants. It’s quite another matter to make a commitment to atone for three or more generations of deliberate public policy of segregation and economic disenfranchisement. We embrace one because it makes us feel good to do so. We shy away from the other because we have not been taught the roots of the present crisis for people of color in this country but also because the effort required to make those citizens whole is so daunting. But it’s time we started to learn our history, put it into the textbooks we use to teach our children, and make meaningful reparations for it.

About Thomas J. Hubschman

Thomas J. Hubschman is the author of Look at Me Now, My Bess, Song of the Mockingbird, Billy Boy, Father Walther’s Temptation, The Jew’s Wife & Other Stories and three science fiction novels. His work has appeared in New York Press, The Antigonish Review, Eclectica, The Blue Moon Review and many other publications. Two of his short stories were broadcast on the BBC World Service.

Posted on February 18, 2018, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I have never put 2 and 2 together the way you do in this post and compared the experience of former slaves with immigrants coming to the US under their own volition. So I am ruminating about it from this perspective for the first time.

    As I think about it though, it seems to me that, however self-serving the motives for admitting voluntary immigrants may be, their offspring have fared far better than the offspring of ex-slaves.

    You and I, for instance, are both offspring of 2nd or 3rd-generation immigrants. We both have advanced degrees and own our own properties. Blacks, for generations, were not permitted even legally permitted equal access to education. Since the quality of schools in the U.S. is very much influenced by property values, that discrimination has not been completely eliminated.

    But I suspect the far greater injustice lies in the fact that for so long Blacks were not permitted to buy property in White areas. Immigrants and children of immigrants could buy what we can afford, not simply what we were permitted to buy. As you point out, a great proportion of wealth lies in property and the options that equity in property provides. Even for us children of recent immigrants, that gives us a huge step up from the day we are born.

    I have no practical ideas how this injustice can be effectively addressed. But it seems to me that somehow the effects of this prejudiced bigotry in relation to property must be addressed to restore justice.. Are you are familiar with any specific proposals? Have we come even that far?

    Wonder how. Bernie Sanders would address the question.

  2. The will required to repair the damage done in the last 100 years is unimaginable in the present state of ignorance, Terry. The most used high school history textbook suggests African Americans simply woke up one day and “found themselves living in segregated neighborhoods.” The Supreme Court’s recent decisions say that segregation is “de facto,” i.e. not the result of law and public policy. The justices were obviously raised on those same textbooks.

    Education is the first step. Change the textbooks. Put relevant recent history into the media rather than just the period of slavery.

    This is just a matter of our not wanting to confront our own sins while we deplore and memorialize those of other nations. You don’t have to actually slaughter people to commit genocide.

    How do you make millions of people whole? The first thing, I think, is to teach and acknowledge what we deliberately and publicly did to African Americans in the twentieth century and are doing in this one as well ( Then, maybe public policy can begin to address the wrongs.

    School integration is essential, and yet schools are more segregated today than they were in 1954 (says Richard Rothstein, who ought to know). A teacher with 27 or 28 students performing at grade level can afford to give extra attention to a few who need it. A teacher with a class of 30 all performing below grade level can do nothing.

    Also essential is residential integration. The housing law passed in the ’60s required it. George Romney, then in the cabinet, took it seriously and tried to implement the law in Michigan. He was asked by the president to resign.

    What would Bernie do? I don’t know. He’s been fighting for civil rights for African Americans since he was a young man. His heart is certainly in the right place. I suspect he would approach this and most issues as a matter for social democracy to address.

  3. Two key books on the subject: Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (W.W. Norton, 2017) and David R. Roediger’s Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White…. (Basic Books, 2005)

    A hundred years ago there were anywhere between four and 45 “races” according to experts on the subject. Sorting out who was white and who wasn’t was a serious business for sociologists, eugenicists and judges. WASPS were white, of course, but no one else was white like they were. So-called new immigrants — eastern and southern Europeans certainly weren’t and proved it by scoring very low on the new Stanford-Binet intelligence test. In 1924 Congress, after testimony from those same experts (who were considered to be among the best scientists in the nation) and “progressive” spokespeople like Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger, E.B. DuBois and a host of other names who are now secular saints, passed the Johnson-Reed act severely limiting immigration from other than northern European countries.

    Then in the 1930s through policies restricting African Americans from home ownership the Roosevelt administration in effect redefined “white” as not “Negro.” That made the New Immigrants, along with questionable older ones like our ancestors, officially white — and, not incidentally, Democratic.

    And just in case we think this history is not present reality because we have “come so far,” consider what is still going on today, albeit without official government sanction:

    “Race” in the insidious form of Eugenics was the Global Warming of its day. I.e. the liberals believed in it because it was backed by what they considered the best science. It was opposed (are you ready?) by conservative Protestantism, the Catholic Church and Orthodox Judaism.

    Eugenics went out of fashion later in the twenties, but not before a certain Austrian glommed onto it.

    • Tom – a million thank you’s for this additional comment. I am not surprised by the pattern of what you describe, but I have not been nearly as well-acquainted as you with the concrete details of this vicious history. As a psychologist I was aware of the “intelligence test” administered to perspective immigrants, and I was actively opposed to the much more recent attempts by Harvard sociologists to argue that Blacks are genetically less intelligent than Whites, a position that absolutely cannot, in my opinion, be substantiated by a reasonable interpretation of the scientific evidence.

      Thank you also for the references, which I will follow up.

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