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Understanding the immigration issue
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       I am writing this letter in reaction to the Statesboro Herald's front page story, "Georgians want to get tough on immigration" (July 17, 2010).
       It is of little surprise that a majority of Georgians would support a law similar to the one enacted recently in Arizona as growing anti-immigration sentiment has been fueled by a number of faulty assumptions including the belief that immigrants take jobs from Americans, that they that they take advantage of our welfare system, that they mob our hospitals, and utilize our schools without paying taxes. These are mythologies perpetuated by people who are either vastly misinformed or who know better but wage these disinformation campaigns for their own personal advantage.
       In Georgia, I wonder whether either party's gubernatorial candidates are among the vastly uneducated on the issue of immigration or whether these men and women are simply political opportunists. I suspect the answer is both.
Savvy politicians know the power of framing and the impact it has on how citizens think about important policy issues.  They use incendiary language to score political points. The deliberate framing of immigrants as "illegal" and "alien" dehumanizes newcomers to the United States and paint them as criminals.
      Immigrants are not "aliens" from outer space, they are part of the human race. People living in the US without permission have committed a civil offense not a criminal one. Politicians know better but none of them appear to have the political courage to speak truthfully about the reasons why so many people enter the US without visas and how their lives benefit our society.
      Having lived in Mexico I am sensitive to the great hypocrisy of the current immigration debate. Americans would do well to learn how U. S. citizens are treated when living in foreign countries, like Mexico.
      Approximately 1.5 million Americans live in Mexico, making up 69 percent their foreign population. Americans who live there seldom think of themselves as migrants. They seldom relinquish their American citizenship and few speak Spanish. They continue to promote US cultural and political values and celebrate national holidays.
      Thousands of Americans living in Mexico lack proper authorization. Many have overstayed their tourist visas while others have crossed the border without legal permission. According to immigration scholars, Mexican officials estimate that at least 200,000 Americans are living illegally in Mexico.
      Many US citizens work in their various professions or in local businesses without permits or proper licensing. Mexico has lost thousands of dollars in tax revenue from illegal real estate activity operated by Americans and most US citizens fail to pay Mexican income taxes.
      There are good feelings toward Americans despite increasing strains. Many Mexicans can no longer afford to live in the communities where they were born and raised. Americans are buying up local real estate, developing new English-only enclaves, and are contributing to higher consumer prices.
      Most Americans living in Mexico have very little interaction with locals beyond serving and being served yet those relationships are highly valued. In cities throughout Mexico local governments maintain offices dedicated to serving American needs and they solicit their input on local issues.
      The rising cost of living in the US has been a central factor in the decision for US citizens to migrate south of the border. Retirees have flocked to Mexico lured by remarkably low property taxes, cheap housekeeping services, and real estate bargains. Quality medical care is inexpensive and doctors still make house calls. Americans have also moved as a means for recreating what they believe they've lost or missed in their lives. In Mexico, Americans experience life as far more tranquil and women feel more respected and safer in a culture that values women and older people. Others are attracted by various aspects of culture and climate and are drawn to a people they experience as gracious, patient, and welcoming.
      Unlike the neglect and hostility that Mexican immigrants often encounter here, the reception extended to Americans is largely welcoming. I never witnessed on the part of the Mexican government or society the nativism and xenophobia that exists here.
      Mexicans are not passing Spanish-only laws, they don't care what kind of flag people wave, nowhere is outrage expressed at Americans celebrating their culture in Mexico. It will be a great day in the United States when families and politicians recognize the dignity of all people and treat them as they would wish their children be treated in a foreign land.
Debra Sabia, Ph.D.

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