As the immigration reform debate reboots over the next several weeks — prompted by the introduction of a new bill by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) with the apparent blessing of the White House — the nation’s 49 million Latinos will once again find themselves under scrutiny.
Because the majority of the current wave of immigrants to the United States — both legal and illegal — come from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, and other Latin American countries, some Americans are apt to question the loyalties of U.S.-born Latinos, accusing them of being more sympathetic to the foreign visitors than to their own country or fellow citizens.
It’s not right, but nor is it new. With the arrival of every immigrant group to these shores for the last 220 years — from the Germans, Irish, and Italians to the Chinese, Jews, and Greeks — there have been similar questions about U.S. citizens with those ethnic roots. History shows those concerns were largely unfounded and based more on prejudice than reason.
The same is true now. Still, it’s fair to say that many U.S.-born Latinos still remain ambivalent about illegal immigration, especially if — somewhere in their family — there’s an ancestor who jumped over a fence, crossed under a wire, or swam a river to give himself and his descendants a better tomorrow.
Don’t look at me. I can say with certainty that I don’t have any illegal immigrants in my family tree. Both my parents were born in the U.S., as were three of my four grandparents. The fourth is the only immigrant, but he came legally in about 1915.
[Of course, in a piece of history that is lost on those readers who assure me that their great-great grandfather came to the United States in the late 1800s, one couldn't come illegally until 1924. That’s when Congress first limited immigration by devising quotas based on country of origin. Before then, not very many people even kept track of who was coming or going.]