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As Long as We Remember...

August 10, 2007

And Still They Come

Roy Meachum

Washington announced this week that employers will be held accountable for employees' social security numbers. The feds have ratcheted up the pressure against illegal immigrants. In Frederick, the move may be considered, by many, too late and not enough.

We have been through this before. This "nation of immigrants" has tried "unsuccessfully" - it must be noted - to keep out newcomers constantly. Washington's attempt to send them "back where they came from" has failed miserably. Still the suppression goes on.

And to hell with the lessons of the past.

In ancient Rome everything was dominated by fear of barbarians at the gates. The brown-eyed citizens of that noble city worried their civilization would fall to all those blue-eyed wandering people. It happened.

But the reason had most to do with the empire's decline. What had been a republic - remember the explanations for Julius Caesar's assassination - descended into depraved chaos. Everybody was so intent on their own navel that nobody had time to meet their civic responsibilities.

The first to fail were the once mighty legions. What had been Romans' pride was handed off to anyone willing to fight for pay: mercenaries they were called. They may have been the first "all volunteer" army, as opposed to citizens fulfilling their duty.

Some may have had patriotic motives. But, as with today's U.S. armed forces, Rome's latter day defenders generally took the empire's salt and bread for their own reasons. Their officers, as ours, were professionals, intent on getting ahead in their chosen trade; wars were their chief means.

In this country, even at the time of signing the Declaration of Independence, there was agitation against foreigners. Riots and stone-throwing seemed natural to men and women whose parents had - generally speaking - been born elsewhere. They were protecting their turf.

The agitation became roaring fury a few years later when the Know Nothing movement got underway. Officially registered as the Native American Party, it presaged the Ku Klux Klan by preaching intolerance for both immigrants and the Roman Catholic Church. The particular target was the flood of Irish and Catholic refugees, fleeing their island's potato famine.

When asked about their party, the Native Americans were supposed to reply: "I know nothing."

That's how they got their name. They were so strong in Washington that they roused genuine governmental worry. The Marine Barracks turned out, complete with artillery, to restore the peace. The occasion was the 1856 elections. Four years later, history says, most quietly merged into the new Republican Party.

While the Klan is usually regarded as peculiar to the South, its principles enjoyed great favor in the North. During World War I, Woodrow Wilson's administration undertook keeping out German agents and Bolsheviks.

Russia's costly experiment with socialism cost millions of lives and prompted stark terror in this country. It brought the Klan back to life and generated watchdogs against "anarchists." Sacco and Vanzetti lost their lives as a result; years later they were deemed innocent as charged.

Nevertheless, fear and loathing of immigrants continued. Those sentiments led directly to Washington's failure to provide refuge for Jews fleeing Nazi persecution; Americans did not want to let in "too many."

Many of those denied wound up in the camps' gas ovens. But that fact was no skin off our nation's nose. We wanted nothing to do with anything overseas.

And still they came.

For blatant prejudice, Chinese had their entry into the United States severely restricted, late in the 19th century, then eliminated all together. The ban stayed in effect for 80 years. In science today, what had been "the yellow peril" enhances the red-white-and-blue, keeping the country truly competitive on the world scene.

The facts scarcely matter to bigots and the politicians that feed off their fears.

With no statistics and nothing but vague foreboding, it has been charged "illegal" immigrants threaten our medical and social welfare systems. This view is blind to their support of local businesses and their donations to the Social Security system. If not legal, people cannot demand a refund for payroll deductions.

The myths abound that foreigners are taking jobs away from "good Americans." U.S. immigration agents have made sometime spectacular raids. They target businesses most likely to need employees. Some of the cases have racked up impressive numbers of aliens.

And still they come.

Notions that we should create jobs in Central America, or wherever they live, sound attractive. The idea won't fly. Look at Liberia. The African nation was established by Washington in the 19th century to provide a home for liberated slaves. After full emancipation they stayed here by droves.

As with the ancient barbarians, today's wannabe immigrants can't be fooled; they want more than jobs.

The press quotes constantly: these non-Americans are looking, most of all, for a better way of life, as did Germans, Italians, Irish and other 19th century Europeans. That's what this country means to much of the world, especially our neighbors to the south.

Conveniently, getting here for them demands no costly airfare; if caught, they frequently turn around and try again. Building an Israeli-inspired fence along long stretches of the border to keep them out will fail. This is not what many folks want to hear. It is true, it is true, it is true, however.

When warned by soothsayers or simply straight-thinking men and women there was no way to keep the barbarians on the other side of the gate, Romans either ignored or punished people who said what they didn't want to hear.

So be it.

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