The Universal Notebook: Refugees and immigrants and aliens, oh my!

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President Obama has taken executive action on immigration because Congress has failed to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Republicans are howling mad, insisting Obama has gone too far this time. Personally, I don’t think he went far enough.

Obama has exercised his executive authority, the same authority used by recent presidents of both parties, to grant a temporary stay of deportation for young people who came to this country before turning 16 years old and have been here since January 1, 2010, and for parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who have been present in the country since that date.

The order affects about 4 million people. As far as I’m concerned he should have granted blanket amnesty to all 11 million unregistered immigrants in this country.

Way back on June 27, 2013, the U.S. Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act by a vote of 68-32 with 11 Republicans, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, joining the Democrats and independent Maine Sen. Angus King in support of comprehensive immigration reform. All the votes against the bill were cast by Republicans. If the GOP doesn’t like Obama’s executive orders, all they have to do is enact the senate bill, but Speaker of the House John Boehner has refused for a year and half to allow the House to vote on it.

It wasn’t all that long ago that President George W. Bush and his corporate cronies were themselves advocating a pathway to citizenship, realizing that the U.S. economy benefits greatly from immigrant labor and the immigrant population. The dependably right-wing Heritage Foundation has pumped up the righties with a report that estimates Obama’s executive orders will cost the U.S. $2 trillion, but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has calculated that enacting immigration reform would actually save the country $700 billion over the next 10 years.

Far from being immigrant-friendly, the Obama administration has been deporting illegal immigrants at a greater rate than his predecessors. The issue became hopelessly complicated this summer when children fleeing violence in Central America began piling up at the border. Add ebola and ISIS to the equation and you’ve suddenly got an isolationist nation scared of everyone and everything foreign.

The ugliest expression of this xenophobia I have seen was a rant purportedly posted on the Facebook page of a former Maine journalist, but since I can’t confirm who wrote it, I just present it here as an example of the anti-immigrant hysteria gripping some misguided Americans at the moment.

The posting describes America as “a nation now run by a Kenyan fraud who has seized on the idea of creating a one-party, socialist (excrement) hole run by importing potential voters by the millions from the (excrement) holes of Central America, providing them with unlimited welfare, health care and education benefits, to basically take up space and vote Democratic, thus expanding the electoral base of the Democratic party of semi illiterate, blindly stupid worshipers of a free check from the government.”

The idea that Democrats seek to create a welfare state in order to hold on to power is widely held among conservatives and is nuts, pure and simple. Not only would an infusion of immigrants be an economic boost to the country, 20 percent of small businesses in America are already immigrant-owned, immigrants employ one out of 10 American workers, and immigrants are far more likely than native-born Americans to create their own jobs.

In a blog posting on the Brookings Institutions’ website this summer, University of Washington political science professor Christopher Parker reported on a national survey he had conducted of conservative opinions. Parker found that two-thirds of tea party conservatives want to eliminate the birthright citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment, which reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Just being born in the USA is not enough for tea partiers.

Parker also found that 82 percent of tea party members are afraid of illegal aliens.

“This is the real reason why the House GOP refuses to pass the Senate bill,” Parker concluded. “Their constituents are anxious, even fearful that immigrants will take over the country.”

The outcome of the November election was determined more by fear and prejudice than by right and reason. The irrational fear of immigrants was a major force driving the reactionary vote. But, in case you hadn’t noticed, immigrants took over this country centuries ago.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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