Monday, May 01, 2006

A Different Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, I was at lunch with two friends. As often happens we got into a debate, this time on Immigration. I'd love to say that the discussion was calm and rational, but two of us are Irish and the other is Scot. Fortunately, the discussion took place in an long-standing Irish pub, so noise is not a problem as long as you don't break any furniture. We didn't and the debate didn't hurt our friendship or our respect for each other.

During the debate, the waitress--who has a wonderful brogue--was called upon for her opinion. Turns out she initially came to the U.S. illegally, overstaying her tourist visa, and was part of the underground economy about 15-20 years ago. Ireland was economically depressed and there were no jobs for college-educated young Irish adults. She took advantage of amnesty to become legal and is now a citizen.

Her opinion was that since most illegals are here to work, give them a work permit and let them stay.

I asked her how many Irish were here illegally now and she said, "One to two million." We were all surprised. She pointed out that most of them are in the East Coast, in the big cities--Boston, New York, D.C., with a sizable group in Chicago. Here on the West Coast, of course, the vast majority of illegal immigrants are Hispanic. She thinks they should learn English so they can get better jobs and improve their lot.

The other surprising (to us) statement she made was that the U.S. does a much better job with immigration than any other country she can think of or that she knows. Ireland is experiencing an economic boom and for the first time in its history, people want to come and work there.

"The Immigration Office in Dublin has maybe ten people," she pointed out. "And most of their job has been letting people leave, not welcoming people in." There is a significant immigration to Ireland now from Africa and the Irish are overwhelmed. They don't know how to handle these new immigrants. Do they learn Gaelic? Do they learn English? What services do they need and how are they supplied?

Immigrants to America become Americans. That just doesn't happen elsewhere in the world, especially in Europe.

Gave the three of us food for thought, I tell ya...