Immigration is an issue that I keep near and dear. It may be one of the greatest challenges the United States currently faces, because it requires so much self-analysis and truth telling in one shot. Immigration makes people stop to think: who are we, where are we headed – as a society, an economy, as the power-that-is.

More than anything else, when we are presented with arriving immigrants who some perceive to be threatening ‘our culture,’ we are forced to consider who we are. Are we “Americans?” Have we become “natives?” Are we one group or a pluralistic society? How do we identify and position ourselves in response to changing society? Who has the right to decide what our society is and will become?

The perceived polarization of national and local politics in the US suggests that immigration is not an isolated issue but is a part of a complex array of issues. Polarization results from contemporary issues because society perceives a crossroads is at hand. The US’ international status is changing diplomatically, militarily, economically. We are unlikely to remain the worldly superpower – but what do we become? When the status quo is no longer available, will we revert to a perception of simpler times or do we find new ways to affect (hopefully positive) change in our world?

Immigration, which in reality is a surprisingly old issue, mirrors the impression of either-or conservatism or liberalism because immigrants can either adapt to a new society or that society can adapt in response to immigrants. Whereas World Wars I and II acted to unite a country of disparate groups into “Americans,” current trends in immigration and multiculturalism offer few indicators that immigrants will reconsider their heritage(s) anytime soon.

Indeed, many immigrants with tenuous legal status consider themselves temporary residents.  Immigration patterns used to follow a seasonal ebb and flow, whereas tightened border security has made the journey so dangerous that few return to Mexico, knowing the return journey would be arduous at best. Moreover, these workers have deep ties to life and society in the US, although they may often be overlooked. For centuries now lifestyles in the US are sustained with resources from the “undeveloped nations.” Economics tell us that it is only logical to buy the cheapest good available; on a global scale, competition for buyers and limited government in the undeveloped world has enabled the US to extract those resources at prices that benefit buyers in the US much more than the foreign workers who make the supply possible. The disparity currently works against all workers, to the benefit of the corporations, yet workers often perceive their struggle as against other workers and not against those who profit from the inequalities. It is enforced disparity elsewhere that makes the journey to the US not simply appealing but necessary for so many. Now we are confronted with the poverty that is necessary for us to afford to live as we do, and yet we turn away and blame the poor, the disaffected, the immigrants for our selfishness. To do otherwise would require us not only to acknowledge our gains at another’s expense, but to change the way we live, purchase, consume, and pursue “happiness.”