While Congress fiddles on immigration reform, central Pa. embraced Bhutanese migrants | Ray Landis

An immigration know-nothing in the White House would just make a bad situation worse

June 25, 2023 6:30 am
Bhutanese costumer Basudha Rizal of Harrisburg buys groceries at BNN International Market on Derry Street in Harrisburg (Photo by Mark Pynes/PennLive).

Bhutanese costumer Basudha Rizal of Harrisburg buys groceries at BNN International Market on Derry Street in Harrisburg (Photo by Mark Pynes/PennLive).

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis was busy raising money from wealthy technocrats for his presidential campaign in California last week. But it is unlikely he interacted with another group of individuals there to whom he has a connection.

In May, DeSantis ordered Florida officials to “persuade” a group of migrants in Texas to board a plane and be flown to Sacramento, where they were left in front of a Catholic Aid Agency. It is not the first time DeSantis has pulled such a stunt, as last year a group of immigrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard on a plane chartered by the state of Florida.

Beyond the questions of why a  Florida’s governor of Florida would be using Sunshine State tax money to send migrants from Texas to California, whether these individuals were actually kidnapped, and how power-hungry and cruel a person has to be to carry out such a scheme, DeSantis and those who share his views about immigration are showing their ignorance of the coming needs of the United States.

Demographic change in the United States is not a theory which future generations of Americans will have to address. It is here today, and it is already having an impact on our daily lives. It is no secret many businesses in the country are struggling to attract workers.

And while it is inconvenient when fast food restaurants and hotels can’t find individuals to cook hamburgers or clean bathrooms, the true crisis in the U.S. workforce is the lack of long-term care aides and childcare workers.

A few days ago, the U.S. Census Bureau announced the average age of Americans is the oldest it has ever been.

At the same time, the nature of employment is changing. Younger people entering the workforce have opportunities for more flexible types of careers than previous generations and are embracing this situation. But professions such as health care and education cannot offer much flexibility in location or hours, and it is those types of jobs that have openings but few applicants.

Meanwhile, millions of individuals, many of them with experience in these occupations, live under repressive and dangerous conditions around the world. Some have relatives in the United States, others are seeking a new beginning. Yet the process for them to relocate is tedious, complicated, and time-consuming, which incentivizes desperate people to find another way to escape. 

Thus, the United States has a shortage of workers, and individuals who could fill that shortage are anxious to come here. It sounds like the perfect match, especially for a nation which has been described as the melting pot of the world. But throughout the history of the U.S. there have been those who have used exaggeration, lies, and fear to heat this melting pot until it boils over into a steam cloud of anti-immigrant racism.

The most fervent practitioners of this rhetoric in the mid-19th century were given the name of the “Know-Nothings” because they hid their nativist organizations, telling others they knew nothing about such groups. 175 years later, the descendants of these groups which brought out the worst in human nature feel little need to hide.

Regressive politicians like Ron DeSantis have adopted the rhetoric of the Know Nothings. They stoke fear of “others” and imply that immigrants will threaten the “American Way of Life,” a code phrase for white, protestant capitalism. The chief proponent of this approach is, of course, former President Donald Trump, who has ratcheted up his outrageousness in between court dates.

But these attempts to appeal to the worst instincts of voters ignore the reality of what immigrants have brought to the United States throughout its history and what they continue to bring today.

(Graphic via PennLive)
(Graphic via PennLive)

We have seen it in Central Pennsylvania, where thousands of Nepali/Bhutanese natives have left a desperate situation in refugee camps to come to the United States, enhancing the culture of the area and finding employment.

The humanitarian crisis which brought Nepali/Bhutanese refugees to the United States is also occurring in other areas of the world.

But the refusal of the U.S. Congress to address our broken immigration system has left too many of those who seek a way out to resort to dangerous and unsavory attempts to reach the U.S., aided by criminal enterprises. And to add to their trauma, they are then exploited by power-hungry politicians.

As state and federal budget debates are taking place this year, calls for more funding for direct care workers and educators are persistent.

But while more money may help with current worker shortages, it cannot fully address the demographic realities of the future. A rejection of the prejudice and hate of the modern Know Nothings in order to address our immigration system would be a step toward solving what now appears to be an inevitable crisis.

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Ray Landis
Ray Landis

A former spokesman for the Pennsylvania AARP, Ray E. Landis writes about the issues that matter to older Pennsylvanians. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star's Commentary Page. Readers may follow him on Twitter @RELandis.