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"Octomom", Immigration, And California`s Crisis
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February 13, 2009, 04:00 AM
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When I began teaching English as a Second Language to adult immigrant students in California in the late 1980s, most of my classes were held on primary school campuses located throughout the Lodi Unified School District, a city in the San Joaquin area of the Central Valley.

As influxes of non-English speakers hit various neighborhoods served by the school district (Lodi and north Stockton), the principals put in requests to the Adult School to send out a teacher to start a class.

Before long, I noticed a fascinating pattern that held up regardless of which campus I was assigned to.

The American-born teaching staff had small families averaging two children per teacher. But among their immigrant K-6 pupils each had five, six or as many as eight siblings.

Some immigrant parents had even larger families. One Mexican farm worker had fourteen children. A bilingual teaching aide, also Mexican, was one of twenty-two children.

What brings this page from my past to the forefront is the storm surrounding Nayda Suleman, the unmarried "California woman" who recently gave birth to octuplets even though she already had six children under the age of eight. VDARE.COM`s Steve Sailer calls her "Octomom".

The controversy about multiple-embryo in virto fertilization, the outrage over the unemployed Suleman`s medical tab—approaching $1 million and climbing—and questions about her ability to care for her children emotionally has sparked a healthy debate about family size and parental responsibility.

Suleman and her defenders claim that it`s wrong to rob her of privacy and to scapegoat her as selfish for ignoring the country`s economic crisis, especially as it pertains to health care costs. [ Octuplets Birth Sparks Outrage from Public, by Jessica Garrison, Kimi Yoshino and Catherine Ho, Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2009] 

But Suleman`s approving a website that takes Pay Pal donations to allow you to help her raise her family (as if you don`t have financial worries of your own) is inconsistent with her demands for privacy.

In other words, if you`re critical, Suleman does not want to be bothered. If you have a check, please come forward!

Suleman`s sanctimonious claim that her lifestyle is her decision alone and therefore none of anyone else`s business is a tough sell. She recently hired a public relations firm Killeen Furtney Group (contact information here) to market book and movie opportunities.

And Suleman has also signed up with the Hollywood-based Bauer-Griffin photo agency to peddle the babies` pictures.

Using children as a moneymaking vehicle is a slimy way to make a buck. Yet, Suleman hopes to squeeze a $2 million deal out of Oprah Winfrey. [Octuplets` Mom Wants $2 Million From Oprah, Media Deals, Fox News, February 2, 2009]

And Suleman receives food stamps valued at about $500 monthly plus disability payments for three of her infants—public money, every dime of it.

What`s amazing is that so many people still can`t see the whole picture when it comes to family size.

In the Times story cited above, Allan Mayer, a "crisis management specialist" and principal partner at Los Angeles` 42West (which describes itself  as "one of the leading public relations firms in the entertainment industry") told reporters:

"Ten years ago, this would have been a medical miracle—heartwarming, everyone would have been thrilled. If everyone was riding high and feeling flush, it would be more of a `live and let live` attitude. Now everyone is counting pennies. There`s a lot less forgiveness these days than there would have been at the height of the boom. The public is almost primed to go very quickly from joy to suspicion and fury."

Mayer is wrong. Enlightened people`s views of excessively large families have been unchanged for decades.

In my immigrant classrooms of twenty years ago, my fellow teachers and I were dismayed and outraged at the numbers of children born to the young immigrant mothers.

In many ways, those immigrant mothers had much in common with Suleman.

Although none of them took fertilization treatments, they had neither the financial resources—almost all received welfare—nor the emotional make up to nurture their children successfully in their new American environment.

From time to time, I visited them in their homes. Like Suleman`s house, living conditions were cramped with cribs and blankets strewn about the floor. (Photo here.) And the homes were often, as a photographer described Suleman`s house, "filthy."

The long-term effects of those large families born to Southeast Asian refugees, and the steady inflow of illegal aliens from all over the world (but mostly Mexico and Central America) have devastated California.

The immigration wave kicked off California`s population explosion. According to the Bureau of the Census, in 1980 California had approximately 24 million residents. Today the total is 37 million.

In the early 1980s, California had only a few Southeast Asians. Today, the state has four generations of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians.

During the following two-decade period, California health care came under siege. Every legal immigrant received a Medi-Cal card and used it freely, and often abusively, for ailments ranging from emergency room treatment for headaches to major surgery.

Public K-12 education began its slide from among America`s best to its current place as the country`s worst—an irredeemable disaster. Schools cannot be built fast enough to keep up with California`s growth—much of it from non-English speakers, many of them the children of those earlier immigrants.

Even if 42West`s Mayer went back only ten years, he would still be wrong in his opinion about the public`s attitude toward large families.

On February 1st, in my new home town, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published my letter to the editor about Suleman`s "miracle" scolding it for joining "… the rest of the poorly informed media in celebrating the family`s incredibly selfish behavior that likely involves the use of fertility drugs."

I urged the Post-Gazette to lead a "…responsible discussion about the benefits of limiting family size and population growth instead of knee-jerk, happy talk about more babies."

Although I was surprised that the Post-Gazette printed my letter, I was even more shocked to learn that in 1998, only a decade ago, it was very much on my side.

In an editorial referring to the octuplets born in 1998 to Nigerian immigrant (a pattern here?)  Nkem Chukwu in Houston, the Post-Gazette concluded that:

  • While their lives merit celebration, the unconstrained, no-holds-barred fertility industry should take stock. Human beings were not meant to give birth to litters. The human anatomy makes that clear.

  • Such births are loaded with risks for mother and children.

  • The miracle of eight births is not a success for fertility treatments, it is a failure. And it is a challenge to ethicists and an imperative for the doctors to do a better job for the desperate couples who turn to them for help and hope.

And the editorial cited the prescient Dr. Alan Copperman, director of reproductive endocrinology at Mt. Sinai-NYU Medical Center and Health System:

"This scares me. It seems there is almost an acceptance these days of quads or quints or even more, and the outrage gets less and less. The fact is that the vast majority of these cases end in disaster, sometimes for mom, most often for babies." [Eight Is Too Much, Editorial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 25 1998]

As I look back to my ESL teaching days, its clear to me there should have been as much outrage over the America`s immigration disaster and its predictable impact on our culture and population growth then as there is today`s over Suleman`s irresponsibility.

To be sure, a handful of teachers who had to deal directly with the consequences of over-immigration expressed our discontent. But where was everyone else?

The argument about the ethics surrounding Suleman`s multiple births swirls. But a similar reaction twenty years ago to the immigration invasion would have gone a long way toward saving California from its current crisis.

Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.