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A tiny victory for immigrants: A tree-planting company in Arkansas has agreed to pay just under $3 million to 2,200 (legal) guest-workers they'd systematically cheated out of (required) minimum wage. It's a small blow for Justice and it got me thinking.
Despite the fact that everyone reading this blog is a descendant of immigrants (and are in some cases immigrants themselves), the word has become a pejorative. Now that the word rarely evokes the older east-to-west journeys of our grands and great-grands but conjures the more south-to-north movements of our contemporaries, "immigrant" has lost, among American majorities, any claim to widespread popular romance, ideas of individual or family fortitude, making-a-better-life, and flight the from political and religious oppression that the word once had. We know, though, when we're thinking honestly, that those who come here, legally or no, do it for largely the same benign reasons our people did. We also know that they work extremely hard and do not 'steal jobs' from otherwise hard-working people.The reality is that settled Americans no matter what their economic circumstances just do not and will not--lineup everyday along dusty roads to scramble onto the back of landscape trucks in the suburbs of Denver and Buffalo; or--get hounded out of avocado fields in Salinas or Temecula; or--get shoved off the floors of knock-off jeans factories near Laredo or Bogaloosa; and--they're not pushed from construction-site pick-ups in Atlanta or Nashville by Mexicans, Hondurans, or Guatemalans.We all also know, or we should, that both major national parties and most corporations are, whatever the rhetoric, content with the status quo for a variety of economic and political reasons. No one's going to remove the 11 million here 'without papers' and few corporations and small businesses will refrain from hiring them and no group of politicians is going to soon 'reform' this. It's in none of their interests. President Obama's border enforcement of the law is, in fact, an improvement over the former president's by one million in the last year--I sent you a piece on this last week--but the 11 million are here, period.Because before you decide that our own ancestors were all here properly, do some research and you'll find that they were not all here in ways that complied with the law and you'll also find that our government suspended rules between 1880 and 1920 whenever it wanted more cheap labor in various industries. And ask yourselves, too, please, if all those you yourself hire, for your housekeeping and grounds, those you pay at your salon, those you pay to watch your kids or grand kids: are you paying a very good person who is not here legally? Maybe you don't know. Many of us don't know.What we can do is to continue to try to bring the border into compliance and acknowledge the broader realities of our ancestors, the Irish, Eastern European Jews, Scandanavians, Germans, Italians, the Chinese, the Koreans and Africans of dozens of ethnicities...and while we do, deal on a personal level as best we can with new immigrants, legal or no, in the ways we wished our own ancestors (legal or no) to have been routinely treated, group-to-group, one-to-one...and force companies such as the tree planting one in Arkansas, to behave as Americans ought to behave.