I am vexed by the current brouhaha over immigration. I’m also reminded of a taxi ride I took last December.
It was a dark and stormy night.
Seriously. The San Francisco Bay Area was in the midst of what turned out to be an extended series of horrific winter downpours. You know, the kind of storm where the rain comes down in diagonal sheets and looks more like movie rain than the real thing.
“Rent” (the movie) had just opened and I was on my way out to meet a friend and catch an early show. There’s one very important thing to know about San Francisco, rain and driving. They don’t mix. So, rather than risk certain irritation, not to mention potential peril, I let Luxor Cab do the work.
I slipped into the back seat and was greeted in the rear view mirror by a dazzling smile and “Good evening,” spoken with the melodic lilt of Brazil. His name was Laercio (pronounced La-air-see-oh), and he was, indeed, from Brazil. I’m pretty sure those two things are still true. However, it’s more than likely that one thing about this affable man that has changed is his place of residence.
In our brief but conversation-filled ride, Laercio spoke in almost reverent tones about this country and the promise of opportunity that had brought him here. His tone changed when he spoke about the ridiculously frenetic pace with which we spend our lives, the almost pathological obsession with career and work that rules our culture, and the false sense of openness in regards to people from other countries.
A craftsman, Laercio’s occupation back in Brazil was as a machinist of sorts, building the contraptions that are used to create and manufacture furniture. He came to the United States on a visa to learn English, expose himself to a new culture and explore the possibility of building a life here.
After seeing how we live, he opted out.
Before you begin to think that this is me bashing the United States, let me be clear.
I love this country. It has many faults, sure, but as a whole we live in a fantastic place of opportunity and freedom. That said, I’ve been rather distressed lately to see that somewhere along the way, this nation that was built on the backs of immigrants who struggled their way to these shores in search of a better life, is now acting like a spoiled, possessive child pushing away those who come here seeking the same things.
The reason that this story about Laercio came to mind specifically today was an article in The San Francisco Chronicle. The headline: “Migrant plan in Brazil, Argentina”. The sub-head: “Amnesty for illegal workers fast-tracked.”
It seems that the governments of these South American countries are moving with alacrity to resolve the problem of illegal immigration.
In Argentina, a country that is filled with hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrant workers (primarily from Bolivia), the lawmakers are moving to implement a plan that was passed in late 2005. The premise is simple. Designed to improve conditions and legalize illegal immigrants, this plan allows workers to receive two-year residency cards and gain access to public services. After three years they are eligible to apply for permanent residency.
In Brazil, the governement is offering amnesty for illegal workers who entered the country prior to August 2005, allowing them the opportunity to become permanent residents.
Why do I find this so remarkable?
Oh, I don’t know, maybe because we’re supposed to be the most powerful country in the world, and here are two countries with substantially lower GDP, and signficantly higher rates of unemployment and economic strife, and they are somehow able to get past that to enable those who come to their country seeking work the ability to stay – legally – and contribute – legally – to their country’s overall economic health.
I think it’s time we gather up all the Congresspeople in Washington and take them on a little trip to the Statue of Liberty and make them take a good long look at the words inscribed by her feet.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”