America's Love-Hate Relationship with Immigrants

As the editor of a Web site that tracks news about the Latino community, I spend a good amount of time observing and reporting on America's love-hate relationship with immigrants.

On the one hand, we applaud the immigrant's courage, their willingness to work hard, their love of family, their wide-eyed patriotism, their quest for freedom and the irrepressible hopefulness of their spirit.

And we say all of these nice things about them because we'd like to think they're exactly like us -- or, at least, how we'd like to think of ourselves.

And yet we're just as quick to malign them in ways that we wouldn't treat a dog.

On our southwest border, for instance, a growing army of federal agents are forcing immigrants, including men, women and children to cross remote and dangerous terrain -- including the treacherous Arizona desert where summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees or more.

Last year, as many people died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border as would be killed in the crashes of three commercial jet airliners combined.

Meanwhile, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack is backing an aggressive campaign to recruit immigrants to help replace his state's aging workforce. Farm owners across the nation are clamoring for a guest worker program to bring in low-skilled laborers from Mexico and elsewhere.

And yet a grassroots organization in Long Island with open ties to a white supremacist group has fought to keep officials from building a shelter for immigrant day laborers.

President Bush, during a recent ceremony in Ellis Island's Great Hall, proclaimed that immigrants deserve to be treated with respect, not disdain, for all they have done and will do to enrich the continuously evolving American experience.

And yet a man in Colorado draws his weapon, shoots and kills three Mexican immigrants on the Fourth of July. Authorities believe the alleged gunman is mentally ill and witnesses said he'd often ranted against immigrants and homosexuals, who he considered the scourge of our country.

Lawyers for the Colorado gunmen, no doubt, will recommend that their client consider an insanity plea. In his case, psychosis may be an appropriate defense. But how do we defend the schizophrenia of the collective American psyche toward to the multitudes who arrive here every day, often towing little more than hopes and dreams and memories of a homeland that failed to nurture their bodies or spirit.

Immigrants, if we think about it, are the ideal Americans. If the American dream is to persevere against all odds, proudly, independently, unfettered by the stultifying effects of authoritarianism or the crippling consequences of abject poverty and ignorance, then every man or woman, almost without fault, who journeys here must be a hero.

So why do we fear them? Why, in a land desperate for heroes, do we belittle, wound and sometimes even kill our newest immigrants? Is it that they remind some of us of our unheroic lives? Our unwillingness to work for our wealth, our families, our national pride? Is it that we gaze into the eyes of our newest immigrants and see what we have failed to become?

The next time you meet an immigrant, ask yourself how far have you come.

James Garcia is editor and publisher of E-mail him at

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