Closing borders is only the last step

Image result for stephen miller public domain photoStephen Miller’s uncle has a personal and moving public appeal to his nephew in Politico.

The story he tells, of his grandfather, will remind many of us of the stories we proudly tell of our ancestors coming to Canada or the U.S. with nothing and building a life through hard work.

He set foot on Ellis Island on January 7, 1903, with $8 to his name. Though fluent in Polish, Russian, and Yiddish he understood no English. An elder son, Nathan, soon followed. By street corner peddling and sweat-shop toil Wolf-Leib and Nathan sent enough money home to pay off debts and buy the immediate family’s passage to America in 1906. That group included young Sam Glosser, who with his family settled in the western Pennsylvania city of Johnstown, a booming coal and steel town that was a magnet for other hard-working immigrants. The Glosser family quickly progressed from selling goods from a horse and wagon to owning a haberdashery in Johnstown run by Nathan and Wolf-Leib to a chain of supermarkets and discount department stores run by my grandfather, Sam, and the next generation of Glossers, including my dad, Izzy. It was big enough to be listed on the AMEX stock exchange and employed thousands of people over time. In the span of some 80 years and five decades, this family emerged from poverty in a hostile country to become a prosperous, educated clan of merchants, scholars, professionals, and, most important, American citizens.

Pro-immigration folks on the left are quick (and right!) to point out that while it’s true that our ancestors came here legally, doing so was much, much easier at the time. For most of the history of the U.S. and for most of Canada’s pre-confederation history coming legally was a matter of showing up.

But I wish more people would note that making it impossible to legally move is just the last step of eliminating the path Miller’s family—and so many of our families—took.

Street peddling, working in sweatshops, using sweatshop money to bring over the rest of your family to work with you and help save more to run a horse cart to a place you see opportunity (and then selling stuff off that cart) are already illegal or very expensive and difficult, requiring money, time, and expertise with English for permits, inspections, etc.

Likewise, the Eritrean refugee mentioned later in the article could not have worked to support himself without permission from a guardian at 14, adding to claims that he would be a “drain” on the system.

Even if you could get your horse cart to a city, where would you live? Cramped apartments shared by large groups of people with improvements or renovations by an uncle or sister who did that work before they immigrated are also disappearing where they’re not gone already. You can’t even head to the country and build yourself a house away from everyone else.

This isn’t only a problem for immigrants (though it does make immigration artificially expensive). We’ve cut the bottom rungs off the ladder for the most desperate native-born Canadians, too. The (North) American dream is now more of a quickly fading memory.

But almost no one wants to make serious changes to any of that. We should preserve and improve the ability to immigrate legally. We also need to find a way to re-legalise tools to empower people to escape poverty as they did in the past.