Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chicago’s views on immigration policy and its reform not at all surprising to me

I still remember my initial reaction when I left Chicago for a few years to work and live in Springfield, Ill. “All the white people have managed to forget what they really are.”

What I mean by that is that the phrase “white ethnic” that makes so much sense in Chicago seemed inappropriate for the masses of the capital city, and as it turns out much of rural Illinois.

IT IS THE very character of our home city that even the white people whose families have been in this country for generations still have a strong identity with their ethnic origins. None of this “I’m just an American,” which to my ears sounds like someone who doesn’t have a clue as to what they are. “American” is really the mixture of all the ethnicities into one brand.

That attitude hasn’t changed any in the past couple of decades since I made the move (and returned to Chicago some 10 years ago). Which is why I wasn’t at all surprised to see the Chicago Tribune, which on Monday published results of a poll it commissioned to find out what we think of what is happening in Arizona.

People were polled last month for the newspaper, and 57 percent of them said they do not like the idea of local police getting involved in the enforcement of federal immigration policies. Which means they don’t like the underlying premise of the law the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer tried to pass – but has been stalled by a U.S. District judge while a lawsuit by the federal government is pending.

I don’t believe it is because Chicagoans have a stronger sense of the difference between local and federal law. It is that ethnic awareness, which means we realize that this is not just a “Latino” issue. It is one that can affect just about anybody who lives on our block.

PERSONALLY, THE FIRST individual I ever met whom I was consciously aware of as being “illegal” was someone who came across the Canadian border. In short, he wasn’t Latino (although he was living with a Latina in the suburbs of Detroit).

And whenever we get those marches on May 1 to show support for newcomers to this country (even those without a valid visa), it always amuses me to hear the people who speak with an Irish brogue or whose broken English is in some accent other than what could be considered Spanish.

What I also found interesting about the Chicago Tribune poll is that 87 percent of those surveyed have the sense to realize that most of the people currently in the country without a valid visa really have no legitimate reason for being denied residence in this country. They should be able to get a visa, except for the fact that current immigration policy is so convoluted and confusing.

That confusion is what needs to be reformed.

OF COURSE, THE poll also has people who want to believe that the Latino immigration (which in Chicago has been taking place since the years just after World War I) is somehow hurting the city. In some cases, there are people who say it is bad, yet not bad enough to justify the mass deportations that the nativist segment of our society seems to dream of.

Which strikes me more as people who want to talk trash, but in the end wind up doing the right thing. In the end, that may be the very character of what Chicago is all about.

So the poll results don’t shock me. What also doesn’t surprise me is the fact that Arizona and immigration has not become an issue in the elections being held this year in Illinois.

I have heard Gov. Pat Quinn say he would veto any attempt by the Illinois General Assembly to pass a law along the lines of what Arizona did – and what several other states (including Indiana) say they will try to do in coming months.

NOT THAT REPUBLICAN challenger William Brady has tried to make an issue of this. He has tossed out vague rhetoric that implies to Republicans that he wouldn’t oppose what has become the GOP line on the issue. He makes sure to mention "border security" whenever talking about the issue. But he hasn’t made any blunt statements that officials in other states have made – because he knows Quinn would be able to use them to bash him over the head with.

Which is why I found it ridiculous when Brady campaign aides recently tried bashing Quinn for not taking a firm stance on the issue. My guess is they want him to say something that can be used to demonize him among rural Illinois voters. Quinn won’t take the bait, similar to how Brady won’t say anything outrageous on the issue.

Because of the very fact that immigration isn’t just a “Latino” issue in the Chicago-area, which does account for two-thirds of the state’s population and a sizable amount of the voter turnout across Illinois.

Which is why the only political people in Illinois who are talking about bringing up this issue are legislators from rural areas, and legislators who have so little influence in the General Assembly that no one thinks they can push this issue through the legislative process.

THEY’RE NOT ABOUT to get help from the legislative leaders, who aren’t about to take on the very ethnic character of Chicago – where the Chicago Tribune poll found 90 percent of city residents surveyed favored what the nativists insist on labelling as “amnesty.”

Then again, support for letting people already here remain (provided no outstanding factors to justify removal can be found) seems to be spreading beyond the city limits. That same Tribune poll found 84 percent of suburban residents (who comprise nearly half of Illinois’ population) also favor letting people remain.

I know there will be those who will try to claim that this is evidence that Chicago specifically (or urban America, in general) is somehow “out of touch” with what they believe.

Yet considering how large and ethnically diverse the area has always been (the one-third Latino share of the population that the nation is expected to reach by 2050 likely will be reached in Chicago by 2020), it merely makes me wonder if it is the people who oppose change who are the ones who are truly “out of touch” with what our nation is becoming?


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