Connections: Concerning Immigrants

Immigration policy is a conundrum that Congress has been unable to face

Does anyone know how many undocumented immigrants live in East Hampton? Southampton? The East End? Has anyone estimated whether, or to what extent, unskilled workers who find low-wage work among the wealthy here reduces the economic prospects of local, native-born residents?

Immigration policy is a conundrum that Congress has been unable to face. It became an incendiary topic with the rise of Donald Trump. There are millions of Americans who say his nationalistic credo speaks for them, that they seek to restore America to the country they knew in elementary school, and that they have not shared enough of the American dream. That’s not surprising since Mr. Trump’s popularity is said to be strongest among those who are economically and culturally threatened.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, an estimated 11.4 million unauthorized immigrants were in the United States as of January 2012. This fall, however, a study by Yale and M.I.T. estimated that there are more likely to be 22 million undocumented immigrants in the country. 

President Trump, who has debased the national debate about immigration, taking it to the lowest possible common denominator, rose to power at a time when more Mexican immigrants were leaving this country rather than arriving. No matter. Using invectives, he made it a campaign issue.

The term nativism goes back to the mid-19th century, when the Know Nothing party represented native-born Protestant Americans who were threatened by the arrival of German and Irish Catholic immigrants. The ethnic majority of the time feared their decline. Was the “melting pot” a figment of do gooders’ imaginations or was it just some propaganda with which the populace comforted itself? 

 (This week, as a “caravan” of Central American refugees from violent and poverty-stricken El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala continued to walk toward the United States, determined to stake a claim for a better life, it is possible that the Trump administration will take military action against them. But even if they are allowed to seek asylum, profound questions remain about their prospects and about what their children could look forward to once they make it here.)

One of the studies I Googled this week reports that only 6.2 percent of children of immigrants with less than a high school degree will graduate from college. This statistic is sobering. Not everyone needs a college degree to live well in this country, but it helps. The Department of Labor reports that the unemployment rate is highest among adults with less than a high school diploma and their weekly income is $520 in comparison to $712 for those with a diploma. Earning a bachelor’s degree brought in $1,173.

There is good news on the East End, however. The Organizacion Latino-Americana, which was founded in 2002 to help immigrants deal with issues of health, employment, and justice, is alive and well. It is under the direction of a vigorous executive director, Minerva Perez, but needs all the support it can get. You might give OLA a call if you are interested.