No Room at the Inn?

CARL T. ROWAN

August 23, 1993|By CARL T. ROWAN

Washington. -- Foreign immigration has provoked great and ugly passions ever since God created man. I wouldn't be surprised if Adam tried to fence in the Garden of Eden just on the chance that God had created another man in a neighboring apple orchard.

Some 1,500 years ago the Salic Law declared that ''If anyone wishes to migrate to another village, and if one or more who live in that village do not wish to receive him, if there be only one who objects he shall not move there.''

Native Americans objected to European immigrants of Mayflower and later vintage. So did the Democratic Party in 1892 when it approved efforts to prevent the United States from being used as ''the dumping ground for the known criminals and professional paupers of Europe.'' In those days the Republicans favored opening America to ''nation-building'' immigrants.

This country has been emotionalized with talk of ''the yellow peril'' of Chinese immigrants; the Puerto Rican ''menace''; the invasion of Florida by Cubans; the Vietnamese onslaught on the fishing pleasures of Texans; the recent horror of Haitians trying to find freedom, or food, here, and by other threats of ''foreigners.'' But never have we seen a more explosive, politically-charged, demagogy-fueled uprising over immigrants than is taking place in America today.

In these lingering hard times of high unemployment, higher taxes and falling standards of living for millions of families, it is becoming almost second-nature for ''real Americans'' to blame newcomers. The biggest scapegoats are those who entered the United States illegally and are viewed as ''professional paupers'' and ''criminals" who are stealing education, health care, food and more from U.S. citizens.

California Gov. Pete Wilson has stuck a hot taco to millions of raw nerves by lashing out against the U.S. policy of providing welfare and health care to the Mexicans and other Latin Americans who have sneaked into the U.S. Governor Wilson not only wants to cut off social services to them, but to amend the U.S. Constitution so that a child of an illegal immigrant born in the U.S. does not automatically become a U.S. citizen.

The Constitution isn't going to be changed at the behest of Mr. Wilson, who is motivated partly by the fact that he will have a hard time winning re-election in 1994 because of the terrible state of California's economy. Yet, it is clear that Mr. Wilson scored an emotional home run when he said that some 2 million illegal aliens in California are robbing his state of $2.3 billion a year in education, health and welfare services.

This figure is so shocking that ''real Americans'' don't bother to read that immigrant families in California, Colorado, Texas and elsewhere pay more in taxes than they get in social services. The problem for Mr. Wilson is that his fellow Republicans, Ronald Reagan and George Bush, helped stack the deck so that the tax revenues go to the federal government, not to the states that Washington has saddled with more and more financial obligations.

It never mattered to white settlers that the Chinese of ''yellow peril'' notoriety helped build our railroads, or to Southerners that the African slaves who were unwilling immigrants picked the cotton and sustained the economy of the South. Even today the anti-immigration forces give no value to the fact that Mexicans are picking the peaches of Georgia and Florida, the avocados of California, the other agricultural products on which we base our good life.

The scapegoaters refuse to recognize that Latino immigrants are doing the hard, often dirty, work that few other Americans want to do, and that we'd all be worse off without them.

Is racism behind this rising furor over immigration? Yes -- to a major degree. But Americans are being swallowed mostly by xenophobia that goes back to Adam and Salic Law. Many blacks rant as furiously as Anglo-Saxons do about Mexicans, Cubans, Koreans, Vietnamese who ''are taking jobs from blacks.''

When every group in America has selfish scapegoaters who see a reason to try to keep everyone else out, it becomes easy for politicians to harangue in favor of a fortress America. And that's when we most need gutsy political leaders who know that except for American Indians, we all are immigrants, or the children and grandchildren of those who crawled in pain and hope through our open golden door.

Let's see which of our politicians will stand against this tide of anti-immigration madness.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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