How Older Citizens Might View Illegals

Conor Friedersdorf, San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernadino, Cal.), March 25, 2006

Most older Americans talk politics different from their children and grandchildren.

After seven or eight decades on this Earth, they’ve seen a lot, so their opinions are based on observations more than abstract arguments.

A young man debating immigration will cite demographic facts and economic figures.

“In California, population density is rising each year,” he might say. “If we liberalize our immigration laws the growth rate will only increase, and crime will increase with it.”

An old man will offer an insight into human nature, or tell a story hoping to convey an underlying truth.

“When I was young we used to hunt rabbits where that new tract is going up,” he might say. “Now there are so many people crowding together that there’s no room for a peaceful life. I’ve seen a lot of places where people are packed together. Every time they just got more crowded, covered in graffiti and run down.”

Many Americans—older Americans particularly—have cultural concerns about immigration. After a lifetime observing this country, its culture, and its people, they find some changes today deeply troubling. They may join the conversation about how immigrants affect employment figures or how illegal immigration has taxed the Department of Homeland Security.

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That brings us to today’s “based-on-a-true-story” character: Harold is a white retiree who is kind to the Latina cashiers at the supermarket, loves his grandchildren profoundly and hates illegal immigration with a bitter passion. If you hooked him up to a truth machine and offered to put his grandkids through college in exchange for his blunt views on immigration here’s what he’d say:

“All my life I worked hard for my family so that they’d have better than I did. My wife and I skipped vacations and drove used cars to start a college fund for our sons. We cleaned our own house and cut our own grass. We could’ve cut corners, cheated here and there on our taxes, but we played by the rules instead. We cut coupons. If an unexpected cost came up we went without something else. We did things by the book even when it didn’t seem fair.

“We would’ve liked three kids, but we settled for two. It took a while to save enough to have our first child. As the second one got to school age he needed surgery that our insurance only covered half of, so we took out a loan and never did feel like we could afford a third child.”

“Now I’ve got grandkids I’d like to help send to college. It costs more every year. Already I’ve had to put some of that money toward an emergency room visit for my wife. It didn’t used to cost so much, but they say the illegals don’t have medical insurance, so it drives up the cost for the rest of us.

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“We’ve made it so the people who play by the rules and try to come here legally are still stuck in Tijuana. It’s the people who break the rules that get ahead. How long can we keep taking all the Mexicans who don’t mind breaking the law before we become more like Mexico?

“Already we have these Mexican gangs, we have people working illegally, we have people buying fake documents, stealing people’s identities. We have signs in Spanish, stores where they only speak Spanish.

“It’s got to stop or our country will end up as lawless and corrupt as their country. Old guys like me who played by the rules are going to die off. The young people will have learned all their lives that illegal isn’t bad, it’s OK. If you decide something is unfair, or you want a better life, just break the law, that’s the way to get ahead.

“I’m glad I won’t be around to see it.”

Do you think Harold has a point? Or is he mistaken? E-mail [email protected] to express your opinion.

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