By Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle Staff
I’m trying to remember when the concept of being an illegal immigrant was bad actually started. Sorry, undocumented alien.
But it’s probably when someone, and I’m not sure who that is, also decided that teachers were bad, as well.
I’m being facetious about all this. (I’ve learned, though unfortunate experience, that if I don’t point that out early, the folks who only read the first two or three paragraphs before dashing off an email get confused.)
But this train of thought was generated by a documentary on ESPN about a Nigerian family who emigrated to the United States. The oldest son in the family is now a celebrated college football player. But it was his father that actually caught my attention.
He was talking about how, when he drives to work, he often thanks God that he came to the United States. This is because, of course, of the opportunities that were available to him and to his family. In addition to his son enjoying success in football, his other children are getting a better education here than in Nigeria.
The guy actually got kind of emotional about it, which, in retrospect, was probably not surprising.
It struck me that while some perceive immigrants as lazy leeches feeding off the system, most immigrants reflect the values of this Nigerian man and his family.
But it also struck me that there are clearly "good" and "bad" immigrant stereotypes. The Nigerian family coming from a war-torn country to better themselves? "Good" immigrants.
The Latino family coming from a crime-infested Central or Southern American country to better themselves? "Bad" immigrants.
White family coming from a European country to better themselves? "Good" immigrants.
An observation: Arguments for limiting Latino immigration are A. because they are lazy and exploit our wonderful "entitlement" system, or B. because they come up and take jobs away from Americans.
My question is, which reason is it? I think if you’re going to discriminate against people, you need to be consistent.
I’m aware these are gross stereotypes. My problem comes from the perception that Latino families are lumped into this "bad" category. I think it’s at least partly racial. But it’s more than that, I think.
Anyway, the reason I know this is a rather embarrassing oversimplification is that in Great Barrington, where I live, there is a huge Latino population. And I have literally seen some of these folks come arrive here and work their ways up the business ladder in a few years.
I’m not exaggerating about that. A lot of these people come here with just about nothing, sleep on floors for however long, work to make enough money for an apartment, and then eventually start or buy a business. I have great respect for that.
As an aside, one of the other reasons some don’t want "bad" immigrants here is because they allegedly abuse the voting system. (This is often a reason given for the various voter restriction laws.)
I realize that in larger cities this may be an issue. I don’t think so, but it may be. I’ll address that in a paragraph or two. Here in Berkshire County, it isn’t. For one thing, most town clerks I know know a vast majority of the people who are registered to vote in their towns.
The other reason is fairly obvious: Say you have come into this country illegally, for whatever reason. Do you want to draw attention to yourself by registering to vote under a phony name? Or using some kind of fake identification to become
Unless you’ve entered the country for the express reason of voting illegally here, it would seem to be a bad idea. I admit it: I’m not a master criminal, just some schlub who writes columns. That’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.
Derek Gentile is an Eagle staff writer. You can reach him at email@example.com.