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Hispanidad: Real Americans belong in U.S.

By GREGORY TEJEDA, United Press International

It is ironic whenever self-described "real Americans" complain about an influx of foreigners -- particularly Hispanics -- entering the United States.

Since "America" refers to everything on the two continents stretching from Alaska to Argentina, it is the people of Latin America, commonly referred to as Hispanics, who are among the real Americans -- not the various people of African, Asian or European descent who have come to the United States in hopes of making new lives for themselves since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in November 1620.

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That's what made it disturbing when "anti-immigrant" types became upset with the Mexican consulate in Chicago for objecting to recent indictments of employees of O'Hare International and Midway airports who used falsified identification to obtain security clearance for their jobs.

These people argued the consulate was misguided for trying to turn what U.S. officials called a "national security issue" into one of immigration instead. In a perfect world, that would be true.

But our world is not perfect. It has people who want the United States to slam the door shut on new immigrants who are not like themselves.

These people consider those of us who support immigrants to be "subversive," think newcomers to the United States who try to get gainful employment are "committing multiple felonies" and believe the only rights newcomers have is to a deportation hearing. Regardless of rhetoric about opposing only illegal immigration, they'd like to think of all immigrants as illegal.

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What upset the consulate in Chicago about the December security sweeps that resulted in 25 people being indicted was that airport officials followed up by suspending security badges of 553 airport employees while re-checking everybody's identification.

Most of those indicted were trying to cover up prior criminal records that would have prevented them from getting jobs, but a disproportionate share of the employees who had their work IDs suspended in the follow-up investigation were Spanish-speaking people -- even some with U.S. citizenship -- who were at least temporarily unable to go to work.

Many of those suddenly unemployed were airport janitorial and food service workers, although some were maintenance workers who clean up airplanes between flights. Even U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald admits these people have no known ties to terrorist groups.

"It looks more like politics than really improving the security of the airports," said Cesar Romero, a spokesman for the consulate.

Dave Gorak is head of the Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration, a Lombard, Ill.-based group that would like to see immigration levels reduced to where they were when the bulk of immigration to the United States came from Europe; dropping from about 1.5 million people per year to about 300,000 annually.

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Gorak -- who is among those who views immigration as "subversive" and immigrants as "felons" -- has problems with former Mexico Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda, who said people from Mexico who have managed to establish lives in the United States ought to be able to stay through amnesty programs.

"They want the 'whole enchilada,' amnesty for everybody," Gorak said. "We want the immigration laws enforced so we can get these people out of the country."

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which has organized pickets to protest the federal indictments, says critics fail to consider the benefits from services that are provided and taxes that are paid by immigrant workers.

Gorak and his ilk prefer to see the issue as one of jobs being taken away that used to be, "held by Eastern European immigrants who entered the country legally."

But that was back in an age when almost anyone arriving at Ellis Island was allowed into the country. Even Mexicans entering the United States through Texas or California prior to the 1930s could register openly with the Immigration and Naturalization Service in order to stay and find work.

Keeping people out wasn't an issue until the immigrant flow shifted from an Anglo-Saxon mass to a variety of complexions, although Gorak tries to divert the racial issue by saying African-Americans suffer the most due to the "cheap and exploitable behavior" of immigrants.

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Less subtle are people like Matt Hale, the now-indicted head of a rural Illinois racist religious sect who talks openly about non-white "mud people" and says the expanded presence of immigrants is turning the United States into "a third-world country."

It would be nice to think of Gorak as a rarity, but he isn't. People like him who fear unknown cultures exist across the United States, perhaps because they have forgotten where their own families came from.

Anybody who isn't a descendant of an American Indian tribe is an immigrant of sorts to the United States. (Maybe the Indians should have deported the Pilgrims when they slipped into the country.) Anyone not native to the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries of Latin America has roots outside of North or South America.

But I'm not advocating any mass deportation of Anglo-Saxon people back to the countries of their families' origins. That's crazy talk.

Immigration -- with its resulting mixture of ethnicities and races -- has benefited the Americas and has made the United States in particular a very special place to live.


(Hispanidad is a weekly column about the culture of Hispanics and Latinos in the United States, written by Greg Tejeda, a third-generation Mexican-American. Suggestions for topics can be made to gtejeda@upi.com)

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