Jumping to Conclusions

illegal-immigrant-signThis January ABC’s What Would You Do? series premiered it’s new season with an episode that explored issues of race and immigration. In the segment actors were hired to pose as a cafe manager and a group of non-English-speaking Hispanic people looking for a meal – the cafe manager was to deny them service, based on their inability to speak English (and an assumption that they had immigrated her illegally) and secret cameras would film the unsuspecting public’s ensuing reaction. While I was bothered by the amount of people who joined in making racist remarks and alienating the potential diners, when the show ended I felt reassured that the majority of people in this country are understanding and level-headed; they know enough about the immigration system to not automatically assume someone Hispanic is here illegally.

I continued with this belief until a google search one day lead me to the official ABC form concerning this episode and I read comments from fellow Americans such as…

“99.99% of those who do not speak english in America are not American natural born citizens. You cannot graduate from our ‘worse public education’ without speaking english”

While it is true that this issue is being debated by politicians to this day, as of now many American citizens have achieved their citizenship without speaking or writing English, they instead took the test in their native language. Additionally, English is not America’s official language, we do not have an official language as of 2009.

“the Mexicans are the only nationality that I know of that demand everyone speak spanish to them. ”

Sweeping generalizations like this make me sick; this woman is basing her opinion of an entire group of people on encounters, or reports of friend’s encounters, with only a portion of that group. This, is a perfect example of the racism that this experiment brought to the surface.

Overall the comments were angry: angry at ABC, angry at those who sympathize with these ‘illegal’ immigrants, and angry with the immigrants themselves.

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The myth we all seem to believe was articulated by many on the form in various words, basically it boils down to this: “[illegal immigrants] are getting my health care benefits and are most definitely taking jobs that we desperately need in these times.” (Quoted directly from a commenter)

In terms of jobs, illegal immigrants do not pose the threat many accuse them of posing. Illegal immigrants working above-the-table jobs (aka the jobs that we accuse them of ‘stealing’) actually help out economy because a portion of their wages are taken out for taxes and social security, just like everyone else. However, since they are illegal, they cannot receive tax returns or collect social security meaning, they are paying into the system but not taking out.

Most illegal immigrants, however, do not work above-the-table jobs or jobs that legal Americans would desire. Many are treated horribly by their “employers” and even denied payment after a hard days work because they have no legal recourse (I’ve personally seen this happen right next door to my own home.) So, while they may be taking a minuscule amount of jobs from Americans I point to the system, rather than the immigrants, to take the blame for this issue. The corrupted companies and independent employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants to do work in order to cut costs are the true villains here, not the hardworking people who risk everything they have to try and start a life here.

In terms of benefits; yes, illegal immigrants do put some strain on the heath care system. However, this would not affect the average American if our health care system itself was healthy. The fact of the matter is many American citizens receive health care that they cannot afford each year. Health insurance  costs quite a bit of money, not everyone has access to it’s safety net, meaning millions of Americans are uninsured but still visiting Emergency Rooms and clinics when they are ill. These people usually receive the care that they need, however, once they are well they have no means to pay the bills; thus the people go into debt trying to pay the hospital/clinics back and the clinics go into debt waiting to be payed back.

Illegal Immigration actually did not affect the health care system even to the slight degree they do today, until Regan passed a law requiring the states to pay for health benefits mandated by federal law, but without sending them any federal money. Up until that point the system was well balanced by the fact that illegal immigrants were paying in, without taking out… which meant that when they did burden the health care system there was federal money to take care of it. In fact, the government actually profited in the end before this law was put into place. The real issue here is the system, not illegal immigration, because if every legal American could afford health insurance/ was provided with some basic insurance then the hospitals would be payed for the majority of patients and would not be limited in their operating capacity.

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I’m not here to justify Illegal Immigration though, I only provided the facts above to illustrate the need to look at a situation from different standpoints before passing judgment; few people stop to think about how America benefits from illegal immigration and yet, it does in about as many ways as it suffers. The main point I want to make, however, is that the issue presented in the episode was one of racism not of immigration law.

The people who discriminated against the actors on this show made the assumption that they were illegal immigrants, based on nothing more than their skin color and the language they were speaking. In reality these men and women could have been citizens still learning the language, they could have been visiting with visas… we don’t know. You cannot tell if someone is in a country legally or illegally by looking at them, therefore, these people were attacking them not on the basis of their legal status but on the basis of their skin color.

If you haven’t watched this episode I really would advise it (there is an excerpt here) even though I make it a point not to discriminate against anyone based on skin color, it did lead me to re-think many of the assumptions I do make about people, regardless of how inconsequential they might be.

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This video, also from the What Would You Do? series, illustrates my point about assumptions even more:

(I live right near the town this happened in!)

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