Politics & Policy

All Americans

Jehu Chesson (left) and Amara Darboh in their Michigan years (Photos: Rick Osentoski, Mike Carter/USA TODAY Sports)
An angle on immigration

In my Impromptus column yesterday, I had an item concerning immigration. A few days before that, I received a letter from a reader on the same subject. I’d like to publish a portion of the letter — but first, that item from my column:

The Virginia gubernatorial race seems a thousand years ago, I know. But I’d like to mention this: The GOP gave the impression that they liked immigrants less than Confederates. This is, I think, a bad impression.

How can you propose a sensible immigration policy, and staunchly oppose illegal immigration, without coming off as anti-immigrant? For one thing, you can point out that immigration has been a boon to this country. To us all. We owe our very presence here to immigration.

That is not too elementary to point out. And it might make the “medicine” of restrictionism go down better.

Now to the letter from our reader. He is a friendly critic of mine, making points that others make in a far less friendly way. He is the kind of critic a writer, or anyone else, values.

He begins by chastising Mona Charen, Charlie Sykes, and me for not mentioning immigration in a discussion we recently had about Trump and Trumpism. (This was a Need to Know podcast, here.) He then says,

Trump is president simply because he was the only candidate, from any party, whom the American people hoped and prayed might actually mean what he said about controlling immigration. Trade policy and ending “endless war” were also factors in his favor for many, but I’m convinced that immigration issues were the crucial factor. I supported Cruz, but I never believed that he would actually take action on immigration.

There are varying ways of looking at immigration. I remember a statement from you a few years ago (I think in a podcast, but it might have been in print). You were waxing poetically about a Nigerian or Ugandan immigrant playing on the U of Michigan football team. Extolling how wonderful it was that someone coming from a place where football was unknown became so “American” that he was able to play at a first-class football school like Michigan.

As you were speaking (writing?), I couldn’t help thinking about Amity Shlaes’s book The Forgotten Man. Do you know what I mean? Not that long ago, there was a kid growing up in Petoskey or Saginaw, a “pretty fair country ballplayer.” His family were all great Michigan football fans. The kid, his family, maybe even his whole town were hoping that he might get the opportunity to don the Maize and Blue, but instead his “spot” went to a recent immigrant.

So am I just selfish, narrow-minded, and chauvinistic for wondering about these things? Do Americans have any right to their country? Its traditions and opportunities? Or is the only compassionate choice to open everything to all?

This is a big, big issue in America today, especially on the right (where I live). When our reader says I was “waxing poetically” about Michigan football, he was referring to this post, from November 2015:

Michigan has a wide receiver named Amara Darboh and another named Jehu Chesson. Each is a pleasure to watch. The former was born in Sierra Leone, the latter in Liberia. Each country was torn by vicious war. I know all wars are vicious, but these wars featured bodily mutilation: There are many, many people from those countries who are missing limbs.

Anyway, both Darboh and Chesson found their ways to America, and both are enjoying excellent college careers (on my team). I’m so very glad.

Should I have been? Were these players taking the “spots” of kids from Petoskey and Saginaw? How about better players from Petoskey and Saginaw? Were they taking the “spots” of the inferior players from Petoskey and Saginaw?

Do you see what I mean? Isn’t somebody always taking our “spot”? Did Davis Love III take my spot on the PGA Tour? (He was lucky enough to be the son of one of the best teaching pros in America — and lucky enough to be incredibly talented.)

Knute Rockne was born in Norway. (The original name was “Knut Rokne.”) He became a legendary football player and coach in America. Did he take the spot of someone who would have become legendary? Someone native-born, deprived of his birthright?

They made a movie about him, as you know: Knute Rockne, All American. (Ronald Reagan played the Gipper.)

From the beginning of our country, we have always had immigration, and I imagine that people in every generation have complained that people are taking their spots. When I was growing up, I heard about the damn immigrants in Detroit, opening up the corner store. They had these businesses when people whose family had been here for generations had squat.

You may remember what Marion Barry, the D.C. legend, said in 2012: “We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops. They ought to go. I’m going to say that right now. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

“Places,” “spots” — it’s the same concept.

How about the Vietnamese boat kid who, months off the boat, was the winner of the spelling bee and the valedictorian of the class? Did he take someone’s spot? Whose? Who got the shaft by the boat kid? Tommy Jones, who spelled and learned less well?

I’m using easy examples — probably unfairly, maybe even cheaply — but you take the point nonetheless.

Back to sports, and college sports in particular. The good golf programs have long loaded up on foreign players — especially from the “Anglosphere” (Australia, for example). Should there be affirmative action for the native-born? Should the foreign kids be kept off the team? What if they can help the team (while helping themselves)?

For that matter, what if they can help the engineering department?

In hospitals all over the country — every city, town, and hamlet — look at the roster of doctors and go to the P’s. You’ll see a Dr. Patel, or several of them, born in Gujarat. Are they taking people’s places? Or helping the country?

How about the Patels who are engineers, pharmacists, and motel-owners? Helping the country or screwing it? Keeping Tommy Jones from opening his own motel, and working in it 24 hours?

Then there is the matter of Nobel prize winners. We are always bragging about them, all those American winners, dwarfing the rest of the world. Okay. But take out the immigrants and refugees — and we’ll have a lot fewer to brag about.

In this little column, I have emphasized one side of immigration, and done so with a bit of rhetoric. But there are of course other sides — downsides — and I understand where our letter-writing reader is coming from.

Immigration brings woes, as well as benefits. What about stresses on emergency rooms? On police forces? What about ghetto-ization (or barrio-ization)? What about assimilation? What about the air of entitlement? (I hate that, with something like a bitter fury.) What about and what about?

These are important questions, and I have addressed them for years, along with most other people in my line of work.

And yet, I think we ought to be careful about resentment and scapegoating. We all face certain disappointments in life. And we may look to someone to blame. If it’s not the immigrant, it may be that damn doctor’s kid in the better part of town, with all his advantages.

What were Amara Darboh’s advantages? What were Jehu Chesson’s? People born in Sierra Leone and Liberia aren’t born with many advantages. Darboh was orphaned when he was two — his parents killed. When he was seven, he made it to Iowa. He played football in Catholic schools. Chesson was luckier. His parents were not killed. He made it to St. Louis when he was five.

Knute Rockne, or Knut Rokne, got to Chicago when he was five.

Darboh and Chesson are both now in the NFL. I imagine they make millions — and pay a boatload in taxes. I believe that their experiences, and gifts, enrich America (and I’m not talking about money). I don’t believe that immigration is zero-sum. I don’t believe that, if someone comes in, someone already in is inevitably screwed.

I know you don’t believe that either. And we all understand that immigration is multifaceted. Today, I have focused on success stories. You can also focus on horror stories.

In any event, if you have a story, or a point of view, I’m at jnordlinger@nationalreview.com. See you later.



Trump’s Immigration Plans Aren’t Bad, but They Are Unlikely

Immigration Is Mainly about Values, Not Economics

Illegal Immigration is Immoral

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