By Christopher Smith
They take jobs. They drive down wages. They don’t pay taxes.
Those were the main reasons several people gave for anti-immigration beliefs during a discussion last week at Dalton State College.
Jesus Nebot, a Latino activist and filmmaker, said words like “they” might be making things worse.
“We have to think about our vocabulary (when we use words like ‘they’),” Nebot said. “What do you think of when you hear ‘alien’? What do you think of when you hear ‘illegal’? Immigration is a story we can all relate to.”
Nebot spoke to the crowd of about 30 in the college’s Goodroe Auditorium after the showing of his 2001 film “No Turning Back” at the same place Monday evening. The film is about a man who “illegally immigrates to the United States in an attempt to offer a better future for his 5-year old daughter,” said Nebot’s website (www.jesusnebot.com). Nebot said he uses the film as a springboard to discuss the “moral dilemma of immigration.”
A Jan. 12 Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans are “dissatisfied with the level of immigration into the country.” Nebot said that dissatisfaction stems from stereotypes about illegal immigration.
“It is true illegal immigrants burden education systems and emergency health care,” he said. “That is not good, though you can argue we’d be worse off if we refused those services. Also, illegal immigrants do pay sales and property taxes. Plus, they never get tax refunds and cannot take part in health care or retirement benefits. I don’t condone it, but people don’t realize illegals contribute more than they burden.”
Being here illegally is not as serious as the crimes of murder or rape but is more like lesser offenses such as underage drinking or speeding, said Nebot.
“Do we call ourselves illegal drivers because of a speeding ticket?” he asked. “Do we call each other illegal drinkers when we break one drinking law? We have to show some compassion if we’re going to solve this problem.”
Nebot asked the crowd for solutions to “one of the country’s biggest social issues.”
Answers included strengthening the Mexico-United States barrier (separation fences), but Nebot said illegal immigration has nearly tripled since the first fences were built in 1994. Others suggested stricter deportation, but Nebot said it is “financially impossible, impractical and inhumane to deport 12 million illegal immigrants.”
“There are other options that I think are good,” said Nebot. “I’m giving one perspective and I don’t think I have the only answers.”
Nebot provided a handout with five possible solutions he found in a YES! Magazine article titled “Inviting Immigrants Out of the Shadows” by Oscar Chacon, Amy Shannon and Sarah Anderson. They are:
• Raising living standards in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean by working with those countries to strengthen their local enterprises.
• Supporting fair trade and independence for small-farm organizations around the world and in Latin America where food is one of the top exports.
• Raising the U.S. minimum wage, improving labor laws here and reducing anti-immigration beliefs.
• Canceling the debt on impoverished countries without imposing conditions that deepen poverty.
• Creating polices that bring immigrants “out of the shadows” without the threat of deportation, allowing them to contribute fully to the well-being of the country.
The Obama administration in August outlined a plan to stop the deportation of many illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. at a young age. According to The Associated Press, immigrants must prove they came to the U.S. before age 16, be 30 or younger, have lived in the country for at least five years and are in school or graduated or served in the military. They cannot have been convicted of some crimes or “otherwise pose a safety threat.”
“In the end, we have to solve this problem in our generation,” Nebot said. “If we don’t, it will continue to grow until our children have to carry the burden.”