Now, that Obama has taken his much-needed and way overdue executive action to shield millions of undocumented families from heart-rending deportation, the fact that it was simply the right thing to do is abundantly clear. It also gives columnist Paul Krugman an opportunity to wax lyrical about his own family’s immigrant roots, and one of his favorite tourist attractions in New York City, the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. “When you tour the museum, you come away with a powerful sense of immigration as a human experience, which — despite plenty of bad times, despite a cultural climate in which Jews, Italians, and others were often portrayed as racially inferior — was overwhelmingly positive,” he writes in his Friday column. “I get especially choked up about the Baldizzi apartment from 1934. When I described its layout to my parents, both declared, “I grew up in that apartment!” And today’s immigrants are the same, in aspiration and behavior, as my grandparents were — people seeking a better life, and by and large finding it.”
President Obama’s new immigration initiative, Krugman says, is “a simple matter of human decency.”
Krugman goes on to parse the issue, and to point out that supporting the humane treatment of children born in this country to undocumented immigrant parents is not the same as supporting completely open borders. Under F.D.R., he points out, “Once immigration restrictions were in place, and immigrants already here gained citizenship, this disenfranchised class at the bottom shrank rapidly, helping to create the political conditions for a stronger social safety net. And, yes, low-skill immigration probably has some depressing effect on wages, although the available evidence suggests that the effect is quite small.”
Yes, it is normal to be conflicted about immigration issues, Krugman allows. What is not normal is the desire to punish innocent children, who are already here, for their parents’ decision to bend the rules to give them a better life. Predictably, as we all know, there are far too many right-wing zealots and haters in politics and the media who are quite happy to exact this punishment. Krugman:
Who are we talking about? First, there are more than a million young people in this country who came — yes, illegally — as children and have lived here ever since. Second, there are large numbers of children who were born here — which makes them U.S. citizens, with all the same rights you and I have — but whose parents came illegally, and are legally subject to being deported.
What should we do about these people and their families? There are some forces in our political life who want us to bring out the iron fist — to seek out and deport young residents who weren’t born here but have never known another home, to seek out and deport the undocumented parents of American children and force those children either to go into exile or to fend for themselves.
Today’s immigrant children are tomorrow’s workers, taxpayers and neighbors. Condemning them to life in the shadows means that they will have less stable home lives than they should, be denied the opportunity to acquire skills and education, contribute less to the economy, and play a less positive role in society. Failure to act is just self-destructive.
But more importantly, it’s the humane thing to do.