Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Open The Doors

I spent a couple of weeks in Australia last November working on a musical with Tom Keneally of Schindler’s List fame, an experience in and of itself.

What with jet lag and dealing with a new creative team, I was in Sydney some days before I even noticed the general buoyancy of mood. It was hard to put your finger on it, but this bustling city resembled New York of the Clinton years. It hit home for me just how oppressive our own current recession has become.

There was a can-do attitude in the Sydney summer air that you used to be able to cut with a knife across the length and breadth of the US. This general Australian optimism was spiced by the buoyant voices of young foreigners – many of them Irish.

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, the voices of a previous generation of young Irish were ricocheting around the pubs of Bainbridge Avenue, and on the construction sites and playgrounds of Manhattan.

What a loss! The best-educated generation of Irish people no longer sees the US as a viable emigration option. Now they bestow their talents on European nations, Australia and even Arab emirates; if they think of North America at all, Canada makes more sense.

Are we crazy? The United States is a nation founded by emigrants and nourished by them in successive waves. Now granted we had the tragedy of 9/11and the erection of Fortress America in the Bush years; but even President George W. himself made a sincere effort to enact an Immigration Reform Act before being stymied by his own party.

Although timid and pragmatic to an extreme, the current administration has made some concessions to common sense. President Obama did back the Dream Act and, in a small way, circumvented Congress’s veto thereof by ordering deportation deferral and a two-year work permit for children of undocumented immigrants.

Whatever about their parents, these young people are Americans; they’ve grown up in this country and were educated here. Why waste that investment in some Know-Nothing scheme to “repatriate” them?

In a time of little good news it did the heart good to see the pictures of 13,000 hopeful under-30’s lined up on Navy Pier in Chicago recently to receive help in filling out their immigration papers.

Finally, a dim ray of rationality in a ludicrous situation! The lunacy cuts right across the immigrant board. Where, after all, is the sanity in subsidizing and spending scarce resources to put foreign students through US colleges and then sending them back to their countries the moment they graduate? Give them all green cards, I say! They’ll more than pay their way.

The high-tech boom of the 80’s and 90’s was fueled by foreign STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) graduates. Because of a feckless system of high school education not enough Americans venture into these fields in college, so what’s the solution? Send the foreigners home, even though US industry is crying out for graduates in such fields? Google, Intel, Yahoo and eBay, among others, were founded in part by foreign-born graduates.

Besides, a recent economic survey showed that immigrants are more than twice as likely as American born to start businesses. Stands to reason; if you have the gumption to sell up in your own country and make a new start in the US you’re going to do your damnedest to succeed.

As most Irish born immigrants will testify, when you arrive here you either sink or swim, and even if you have someone at home to call for help, you wouldn’t dream of it because of pride.

Which pretty much puts paid to the whole Nativist idea of the lazy immigrant leeching from generous hosts. I’ve known immigrants from all over the world but never a one that wasn’t hard-working with an eye to making life better for their children.

Apart from Native-Americans we’re all descended from foreigners but US history is strewn with those who as soon as they’ve established themselves wish to pull the ladder up behind them.

It’s time to throw open the doors of Fortress America again, let in some fresh air, and drop the ladder one more time.

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