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Si Se Puede: Amnesty For The Immigrants

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Not far from where I work is the Central Jersey burg of New Brunswick, which was still being called “Little Newark” during my bright college days in the 1970s. It didn’t get that name because it had a great neighborhood for Portuguese restaurants, either. The only thing that kept the city breathing was the continuing presence of Rutgers University and, most crucially, Johnson & Johnson, which gave the city planners a nucleus to build around when redevelopment efforts began in earnest during the 1980s.

Much of that redevelopment was a study in low comedy. The main drag, George Street, was designated a pedestrian plaza, and the city spent a fortune tearing up the asphalt and laying down attractive brickwork. Only after it was done did the city realize that city traffic had nowhere to go without George Street, so it was reopened to vehicular traffic and the brick pavement promptly collapsed under the weight.

Stories like that played out over and over again as the city poured money into the downtown area. Don’t get me started on the Ferren Parking Deck and the upstairs space that state senator John Lynch’s wife tried to use for various business ventures like Club New York and the Hungry I restaurant, all of which fell to Earth faster and harder than a spent Saturn rocket booster. Only now, after about a quarter century, have the efforts really begun to pay off.

I’m not here to slag redevelopment – New Brunswick needed resuscitation. But while all kinds of public-private efforts were made to revitalize the city’s downtown, a more natural kind of revitalization was taking place less than a mile from George Street.

All along the French Street corridor, just south of the Robert Wood Johnson medical multiplex, Latino immigrants — mostly Mexican — have been turning a former war zone into a thriving community. My gourmand friends regularly head down there every Saturday to buy handmade tamales from a woman who sells them from the back door of her kitchen. There are a score of good, cheap Mexican joints serving the best and most authentic food you’ll find in New Jersey. Cinco de Mayo gets to be a little bigger deal each year.

The area has its problems, notably gang activity – I catch glimpses of Latin Kings iconography here and there, and I have no doubt the clashes between American-born nortenos and fresh arrivals from the old country get as nasty here as they do in Salinas and other Latin-intensive regions.

But I also see families, and a sense of life and vitality along a street that used to be bare and threatening. I’m sorry to see the formerly hot music bars like the Roxy go by the boards, but that’s what happens to scenes – they get hot and they burn out. What’s happening here now feels organic and permanent. In another decade or so, I can easily imagine the area becoming a tourist attraction.

And I’ll bet a significant percentage of the people living here are illegals. And I for one couldn’t care less. To put it even more bluntly, I don’t give a shit.

Even some of my more fair-minded and liberal acquaintances betray a slightly weird streak of nativism when the topic of amnesty for illegals comes up. “You wanna reward people for breaking the law?” they ask, and I say, “If the law was written by WASPs to discriminate against dark-skinned people, then frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn who breaks it.”

“But there’s no room for everyone who wants to come into America. We have to draw the line somewhere,” they cry, and I say, pointing to New Brunswick, “They’re here now and they’re already making a contribution.” I’m not interested in creating a guest-worker caste of second-class citizens just like they have in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. I don’t care if they don’t know how to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

They fought their way to get here because they wanted something better, which is the exact same reason my relatives wanted to come here. And if they didn’t come through Ellis Island to get chalk marks put on their backs and their names anglicized, all I can say is, Big fucking deal.

You wanna build a wall along the southern border? Fine, but make sure it gets built behind the Minutemen. And as soon as it’s done, chuck Michelle Malkin, Lou Dobbs, Hugh Hewitt and Pat Buchanan over the top, along with every over winger hysteric who promotes fantasies about al-Qaeda recruits wading across the Rio Grande. Ditto for any redneck who makes cracks today about the “wetback walkout.”

One of the glories of America is that it was not founded as a homeland for a particular religious or ethnic group. It was founded on an idea, and if you like the idea and want to live it, that makes you an American. The illegals now living in New Brunswick are more in touch with that principle than any of the hatemongers frothing away on the cable shows, and the country that can acknowledge them and welcome them will feel a lot more like the real America than the gnarled, desiccated wasteland of the mind Lou Dobbs and his buddies would like to see.

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About Steven Hart

  • Wow…

    Wow! You are making this a racial issue. it is not. 12 million illegals are here and they originate from Mexico/Guatemale/El Salvador/etc They crossed the borders illegally, and are living here illegally. They crowd our hospitals, they crowd our schools and receive this all even though they are not legally here. Do you know that illegals in Mexico, are not allowed to get wellfare, not allowed to protest? My parents waited over 7 years to come to America legally. They filled papers and paid money and waited so they can live a better life in America LEGALLY. Do borders mean nothing to u? You want millions of more poor, uneducated, under class people to raid our country? oh, thats right, “u don’t care.”

  • http://lostsupermarket.blogspot.com/ Sean

    Individual illegal immigrants who come to this country and work hard at shitty jobs to send money back to their families in whatever god forsaken shithole they came from are very sympathetic. A mass movement of illegal immigrants with irredentist elements making demands on the body politic are decidedly less sympathetic.

    I’m of the opinion that the costs of illegal immigration are outweighed by the benefits, so I don’t think a wall should be built. What I’d like to see is someone on TV making the argument that there are real and concrete benefits to having this large pool of people who are willing to work hard at crappy jobs for relatively low pay instead of pulling out the old Ellis Island/We are a Nation of Immigrants/Kumbaya card.

    BTW, great story about the pedestrian walkway. I always wondered why that street was brick covered. I should have guessed that the ineptitude of the NJ politcal class had a hand in it.

  • Arch Conservative

    In a nutshell.

    This is not a race issue [Edited]

    The harm illegals do greatly outqeighs any benefits they bring.

  • http://lostsupermarket.blogspot.com/ Sean

    Illegal immigrants are the primary agricultural workers in this country.

    The low wages of the illegal immigrant workers help to keep the cost of fruits and vegetables low.

    The lower the cost of fruits and vegetables, the more frutis and vegetables we eat.

    A diet in which lots of fruits and vegetables are consumed is good for your health.

    Ergo, illegal immigration is good for your health.

  • http://www.theopinionmill.com Steven Hart

    Arch COnservative: Aren’t you the one making jokes about the “Wetback Walkout” in everyone’s comment fields?

    I don’t usually do this, but I’ll make an exception in your case: [Edited]

  • wow

    sean you are wrong. the jobs that illegals take up the most are construction, not farm work. and besides you think working in a field is ahrd work? tell that to the mine workers in SC who dies, thats hard work, and if we hire LEGAL Americans to work the fields, prices of our vegetables and fruit will only go up cents, not by dollars as u may think. you should do research before you make naive comments–its bad for your health.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Reading comprehension problem here. I’ll translate to parallel phrasings in the hope of adding some clarity.

    Sean said: “Illegal immigrants are the primary agricultural workers in this country.”

    Translation: “Most agricultural workers are illegal immigrants.”

    Wow said: “the jobs that illegals take up the most are construction.”

    Translation: “Most illegals are construction workers.”

    Unfortunately, Wow thinks this contradicts what Sean said, but in fact it’s entirely irrelevant to what Sean said. It’s quite possible for both statements to be true. I’m hoping it won’t be necessary for me to explain why.

  • http://lostsupermarket.blogspot.com/ Sean

    Thanks, Victor. I was going to say something along those lines, but you were more succint than I would have been.

    Did I say anywhere, anyplace that working in a field was harder and/or more dangerous than working in a mine? I don’t see where I did, but please, Wow, if I did, be sure to point it out for me. Also, I don’t think I said that the price of produce would go up by dollars either, but again, Wow, if I did, please point it out to me.

    As to the supposed “naive” nature of my comments, I was making a joke. You may want to develop a sense of humor. Your apparent sophistication is hindering your ability to laugh, and that is definitely bad for your health.

  • Rudester

    A fool and their country are soon parted.

  • RedTard

    Another vote by a left wing racist to turn the US into an overcrowded, balkanized, third world shithole.

  • me myself and i

    The third world shithole (as you so cleverly put it) is already becoming a reality, with the cutting of all social and educational programs (or basically anything that has the opportunity to help people who are less fortunate) by the Bush administration, as for illegal immigration-when did this become all about Hispanics? And moreover, unless you are Native American, you are (at least your parents or grandparents once were) immigrants as well. And “wow”-would you work in a field for twelve hours a day at $1.00 per hour-I think not. As for the “arch conservative”-it is ignorance and self-righteousness such as yours that is the real threat to this country.

  • Joey

    Sean, If you “don’t give a shit;” why even write an article? Let alone, respond to anyone elses point of view?

  • HELP

    To me,mysef and I

    You…are exactly what is wrong with America today. You and your kind are the “blame america first” crowd.

    Do us a favor and go join the Peace Corps.

  • Bliffle

    “…I have no doubt the clashes between American-born nortenos and fresh arrivals from the old country get as nasty here as they do in Salinas…”

    A recent report says that of the 150,000 residents of Salinas (famous for lettuce and John Steinbeck) 2/3 are connected in some way with the criminal gangs, most prominent of which is called, I believe, Nuestra Famiglia.

    Criminal activity here on the SF peninsula is well known. Redwood City has prominent gang homes. Mexican children cannot wear red or blue for fear of driveby shooting. A lot of crime slips under the radar because it is not street crime of hispanics on whites, but rather drug related or hispanic on hispanic.

    The semi-wilderness surrounding Crystal Springs Reservoir which supplies water to 2.5 million Bay Area residents is inhabited by illegals operating meth labs and growing pot. They are isolated (by The Bosses) from all society, live off the land by shooting deer and other animals, and are a threat to any wayward hiker who might like to wander in this delectable paradise. Occasionally the police authorities round them up: you can tell when an operation is underway by the spotting helicopters hovering over the area.

    The notion that the crime rate among illegals is low is a fiction.

  • http://www.theopinionmill.com Steven Hart

    Head over to Snopes.com, where this and other myths about immigrants are sorted out.