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View from Lodi, CA: Letter to American Schoolchildren
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February 21, 2003, 04:00 AM
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Recently, the Lodi News-Sentinel published three letters from Lodi Middle School students about U.S. immigration policy: "Immigration laws unfair," "Immigration Laws need to be changed" and "Let immigrants come to U.S. without documents."

The letters were carbon copies of each other. Each called for changing laws so that more people can come to the United States, have better lives, and do more jobs.

One thing about this incident can be said with absolute certainty: these students did not pop up one morning saying to themselves, "We must do something about immigration. I am going to write a letter to the editor demanding that the laws be changed."

And the principal of Lodi Middle confirmed that 8th grade students had been given an assignment to chose from a list of topics and write an essay. They were encouraged to submit Letters to the Editor. Students whose letters were published would receive extra credit.

Among the choices were homework (a News-Sentinel letter appeared on that subject), lowering the driving age, on-campus use of cellular phones and, obviously, immigration.

The principal took pains to assure me that the feelings expressed were those of the students and that the teacher did not take a position. The exercise was intended to build critical thinking skills.

But the similarity of the letters left me skeptical. Adding to my doubt is the teacher`s failure to respond to a request for a phone call. But the principal has given me her word, which I accept, that neither the school nor its teachers impose its philosophy on the complex and emotional topic of immigration—or any other controversial social issues. 

Nevertheless, as the students move into high school and college, they will rarely hear the argument to limit immigration. So I`ll direct the rest of my comments to them. If I`m lucky, maybe a few bold and creative teachers will incorporate my column into a classroom exercise of their own.

TO THE LODI MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS:

You have urged that immigration laws be liberalized so that more people can come to the U.S. and make better lives for themselves. More jobs, you suggest, will be done if there are more people to do them.

First, you should also know that there is no job that Americans have not done in the past or would not do today—especially in our depressed economy.

Then, you must ask yourself why so many people are compelled to leave Mexico and come to the U.S.

Providing for Mexicans is the responsibility of the Mexican government. For decades, Mexico has failed its citizens. Because of that repeated failure, Mexicans have come to the U.S. seeking opportunities that do not exist in their country.

In high school, you will learn about the laws of supply and demand. For every new worker who enters America, an employee is jeopardized. An unemployed person who recently arrived in the U.S. will be delighted to, for example, paint houses for $8.00 an hour even though the going wage is $15.00. And construction foremen will be anxious to hire them.

Working for a living may seem a long way away from the 8th grade but one day you will hold a job that you won`t want to lose to someone willing to do it for less money. Or maybe someone in your family is employed today who needs that job to provide for you. You would be very unhappy if the wage earner in your family lost his job under those circumstances.

One of your great heroes—Cesar Chavez—understood the laws supply and demand as well as anyone who ever lived. What I am now about to tell you about Chavez you will not learn in school.

Chavez, a third generation American, was a rough, tough labor leader. When he headed the United Farm Workers union, he was the first person to call the Immigration and Naturalization Service when he learned that a recently arrived group of Mexicans "without papers," as you have put it, were hunting for jobs.

Chavez knew that his responsibility was to protect the interests of his members. So determined was Chavez to keep cheap labor out that he offered UFW staffers to the I.N.S. to help the agency patrol the California/Mexico border.

I have lots more that I could tell you if only space permitted. But ask your teachers. They can take it from here.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.