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Another take on immigration?

PETER O’CONNOR
Staff Columnist
oconnor@lbknews.com

The rise in Latinos is a huge opportunity.  Might we squander it?

“A satirical film in 2004 called ‘A Day Without a Mexican,’ imagined Californians running scared after their cooks, nannies, and gardeners had vanished.  Set it in today’s America and it would be a more sobering drama.  If 57 million Hispanics were to disappear, public school playgrounds would lose one child in four and employers from Alaska to Alabama would struggle to stay open.  Imagine the scene by mid-century when the Latino population is set to have doubled again.”  ( How to fire up America, The Economist, March 14th 2015 )

I can add a local anecdote that might help set the tone of this subject here on our idyllic isle.  Here, somewhere in Bay Isles  an unidentified fellow walking his dog neglected (unintentionally maybe) to pick up after his companion animal.  A passing young lady, walking another pet, offered to give him a spare ‘doggie bag’ she was carrying.  Our American fellow said, “Leave it for a Mexican.”  How many of us think and speak this way of our newest immigrants?  Not too nice, but an accurate tale.

Our British cousins at the Economist produced a comprehensive report on the subject in the issue for which the Leader quoted above is the opening.  Those Editors note further that, “Politicians are right that a demographic revolution is under way. But their panic about immigration and the national interest is misguided.  America needs its Latinos.  To prosper, it must not exclude them, but help them to realize their potential.”  We might not like to be lectured by the Brits, also foreigners and sometimes not quite up to speed on us, on our Nation.  It usually helps to see ourselves as others see us.

The Economist: “Those who whip up border fever are wrong on the facts.  The southern frontier has never been harder to cross.  (Oh?)  Recent Hispanic population growth has mostly been driven by births, not fresh immigration.  Even if the borders could somehow be sealed and every unauthorized migrant deported – which would be cruel and impossible – some 48 million legally residents would remain.  Latino growth will not be stopped.”

“They are also wrong about the demography. From Europe to north-east Asia, the 21st century risks being an age of old people, slow growth and sour, timid politics.  Swelling armies of the elderly will fight to defend their pensions and other public services. Between now and mid-century,

Germany’s median age will rise to 52.  China’s population growth will flatten and then fall; its labour force is already shrinking.  Not America’s.  By 2050 its median age will be a sprightly 41 and its population will still be growing.  Latinos will be a big part of that story.”

“An unprecedented test of social mobility looms.  Today’s Latinos are poorer and worse-educated than the American average.  As a vast (and mostly white) cohort of middle-class baby-boomers retires, America must educate the young Hispanics who will replace them, or the whole country will suffer.”

Politics obviously come into play.  Politicians of both stripes treat Hispanics as almost a single issue group, as either the villains or the victims of our immigration system.    The Economist notes that almost  a million Latinos reach voting age each year. Quoting, “With every election, Hispanics will want to hear less about immigration and more about school reform, affordable health care and policies to help them get into the middle class.”

“Since their votes cannot be taken for granted, Hispanics will become more influential.  This is especially true of those who leave the Catholic church to become Protestants.  This subset already outnumbers Jewish-Americans, and is that rare thing: a true swing electorate, backing Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.”  This later is a surprising statistic.  Might the competition be welcome?

Is all this so scary?  Maybe not.  I may have the advantage of distance from that immigrant ship to Boston.  The last O’Connor I can trace came to America in 1846.  Those same British editors  suggest  that, “Anxious Americans should have more faith in their system.  High-school-graduation rates are rising among Latinos; teenage pregnancy is falling.  Inter-marriage between Hispanics and others is rising.  The children and grandchildren of migrants are learning English – just like immigrants of the past.  They are bringing something new, too.  A distinctive, bilingual Hispanic American culture is blurring old distinctions between Mexican-Americans and other Latinos.”

“America has been granted an extraordinary stroke of luck: a big dose of youth and energy, just as its global competitors are greying.  Making the most of this chance will take pragmatism and goodwill.  Get it right, and a diverse, outward-facing America will have much to teach the world.”

I think that we are big enough to accept the challenge.  Don’t you?

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