On generations and immigration

The New York Times had an interesting article on yet another issue that (apparently) splits the Baby Boomers from the younger generations — the Arizona immigration law. What I like about this article, unlike typical “trends” stories (often, as not, from the Times as well as from other outlets) is that it delves (as well as a 1,200-word article can, anyway) into the potential sources of this particular generational divide:

Immigration, which census figures show declined sharply from the Depression through the 1960s, reached a historic low point the year after Woodstock. From 1860 through 1920, 13 percent to 15 percent of the country was foreign born — a rate similar to today’s, when immigrants make up about 12.5 percent of the country.

But in 1970, only 4.7 percent of the country was foreign born, and most of those immigrants were older Europeans, often unnoticed by the boomer generation born from 1946 to 1964.

Boomers and their parents also spent their formative years away from the cities, where newer immigrants tended to gather — unlike today’s young people who have become more involved with immigrants, through college, or by moving to urban areas.

—Damien Cave, NY Times, May 17, 2010

Certainly, like everything else, this is an issue that divides those within a specific generation. And of course your perspective may well depend as much on geography as anything else.

While the article specifically cites the Baby Boomers, and quotes people along with naming their ages, it does not name the younger generations — probably a safe approach. Still, it’s easy enough to decipher.

It’s interesting to see that most of the representative “young people” quoted in the article are in their early 20s and teens — Millennials (Generation Y, if you must).

That’s no slight to us Gen X’ers, by the way. Our worldview is trickier, and we’re firmly the middle child between the Boomers and the Millennials, which should be a surprise to no one, least of all, my fellow Gen X’ers. My best suspicion is we’re collectively more conservative-leaning, at least economically, though I’d also say it’s safe to say we’re also more tolerant on social issues, probably without even realizing it. Perhaps it’s merely by being exposed to a more diverse America (I hope) as well as our own Sesame Street upbringing, to cite an example in the Times article.

Cranky as we can be, hopefully we won’t follow the example of the (seemingly) increasing conservativism of the Boomers (marching in Tea Parties after marching in the 1960s). But neither will we go as far in the other direction as the Millennials seem to have gone, for the time being, anyway.

So where does Gen X stand on immigration? This post is my roundabout way of saying, I have no idea. I really do think we are generally more tolerant of diverse backgrounds, but we also want to see people working legally; though we busted our butts and bent a few rules to survive in the job market (both at our entry levels and even now), we felt we did it legally. However, we’d be blind to assign the blame at the job takers, and not the hirers. Laurie at PunkRockHR nailed it more than a month ago when she wrote:

Let’s stop employing people who don’t have a right to work in America. Isn’t it illegal to hire illegal immigrants? Isn’t it immoral to pay people below the minimum wage solely because they can’t speak English and they’re in a position of weakness?

So why aren’t we cracking down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants, and instead, watching Arizona enact a “show me your papers” law? God forbid anyone would crack down on business in this country; we can’t even properly crack down on Wall Street. God forbid you’d enforce the law to punish people from hiring illegals in the first place — if the jobs disappeared, so does most, if not all, of the issue. And God forbid, as one of Laurie’s commenters put it, we consumers would pay more money at the supermarket, at Target, at the restaurant. Once again, to quote Edward R. Murrow: “Cassius was right. ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.'”

Sadly, I doubt much of my generation gets this either. There was a state politician in his 30s campaigning last year with signs carrying the slogan “Illegal immigration is illegal.” I looked hard, but I did not see any of his signs carrying a slogan that read: “Hiring illegal immigrants is illegal.”


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