Thursday, October 25, 2007
The American Dream
[As I did for a past post, I begin with a warning: this is a political rant, so people who come here for surgical stuff should turn away now. But come back: tomorrow it'll be back to usual.]
News item: US Senate rejects measure to provide path to citizenship for children of illegal aliens, if they serve in the military or complete two years of higher education. By "reject," of course, it is meant that it received a majority of votes, but not the super-majority of 60 required to prevent filibuster. (Anyone remember when the Republicans were screaming over Democrats' use of the same ploy -- which is to say both sides are a bunch of shameless hypocrites.)
Personal item: Earlier this week I was a community volunteer, evaluating senior projects at a local high school. The first presentation was by a native-born Caucasian person, who did a lazy and entirely unimpressive job. The next was a young woman who was born in Iraq, sent to a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia, and finally found her way here. Her presentation was dazzling, brilliant. Wearing a hijab and a high-school sweatshirt, she spoke perfect English as she delivered a Powerpoint-backed speech.
One needn't take a stand on the way the US Senate works, or even on the details of immigration -- legal or otherwise -- to recognize this: to the extent that the "American Dream" is still alive, it's becoming apparent that it's more within the bosoms of the non native-born than otherwise. Look at who gets the scholarships, who wins the spelling bees, the science contests. It's not Jones and Jackson. It's Singh and Nguyen, Allawi and Ali, Kim and Yung. (For that matter, since this is a medical blog, look at the doctors being hired everywhere, and those entering med school. In my internship group, in 1970, we were eleven white US-born males, and one white US-born female. In one of the most recent groups, all but one were foreign born, and the one that wasn't was a first-generation immigrant. And I know the standards there haven't changed: it's about who can meet them.) (And if I need to say this to avoid one brand of comment, my point is not about white or male. It's about native vs. foreign born.)
As we are becoming a nation of people who -- for reasons, it seems to me, of resolving conflict in favor of religious belief over scientific fact -- reject evolution, global warming, and the fact that our Earth is older than twelve thousand years; of homeopaths and antivax; of people who would rather turn public schools into churches than training grounds for inquiry; who see open-minded education as a threat and who fail to see that democracy can only survive when the public is broadly educated and encouraged to question political leaders from all parties (and who fail to recognize that the greatest protection of religious freedom and the greatest tribute to its value is to keep it entirely separate from government, and that doing so has led this country to have a higher percentage of believers than any other Western nation) -- as all this is happening at increasing speed and with crescendoing decibels, it's clear to me that the future of America depends on the continuing influx of bright and motivated people from outside her borders. We are ceding greatness -- willfully and aggressively proud-as-hellfully -- to the rest of the world. Of the 70% or so who, in polls, say this country is headed in the wrong direction, I'd bet well over half think it's that we're not insular enough, not religious enough, not creationist-homophobic-unscientific-venomous enough.
There are plenty of great native-born kids. Mine, for one. And his friends. And cousins. And yours. Far be it from me to overstate anything. But as to trends? I'm worried. Really worried. It's not that "our" kids are inferior. It's that we're kissing them off, with a tax-cut and a hallelujah.
Illegal immigration is illegal, and although it appears our economy has depended on it in many ways, it needs to be addressed. But we discourage legal immigration at our peril. Unless the trends among "natives" reverses miraculously, people whose dreams still bring them here are our only hope. And we ought to do what we can to maintain America as (or return it to) a dream-worthy place.