Why would so many migrants and refugees leave home, risk everything, and put their lives in danger to try to make it to the United States?
My readers — most of whom have never been either migrant or refugee — insist that it’s all for the “benies.”
You see, ever since the Germans immigrated to the colonies in the early 1800s, and the English gave them grief for making the trip, it has been customary to look down on whatever group is coming ashore at the moment.
Now there are a lot of ways to look down on a new arrival, and over the centuries, we’ve heard them all. You could say that they bring disease, that they’re uneducated, or that they’re natural-born criminals.
But one of the most common ways of looking down on someone is to assume that they’re a bunch of takers with no desire to give anything back.
Now you’re speaking the language of many of my readers. That’s where they’re coming from.
Stacie wrote the newcomers want “to get away without paying taxes” even while cashing in on “free healthcare.” And Larry wrote that “benefits are the magnets that keep these people coming.”
What these people are saying is that migrants and refugees come here not for better lives but for a better haul, a stash of welfare, free health care, free public education, and other giveaways these people feel entitled to. America has an entitlement crisis, the critics claim.
They’re half correct. There is an entitlement crisis, all right.
But it has nothing to do with immigrants and refugees wanting free stuff.
It has to do with U.S.-born teenagers and 20-somethings wanting a free ride.
What fuels the crisis isn’t a bunch of foreigners who think Americans owe them a handout. It’s American youth who think the world owes them a living.
I know this story — a little too well. Getting my three kids to do a few chores around the house is like pulling teeth. They don’t do anything on their own; they have to be told. Everything is an argument. No one wants to do more than the next guy, or see that the guy before them is doing less than they are.
Honestly, I can’t relate to any of this. In the 1970s and 1980s, my parents raised my brother, sister and I to do chores every Saturday — as a condition of getting our allowance. During the week, they made sure we helped out, in the kitchen or in the yard, after school. And, when we became teenagers, they made sure we got jobs after school and on weekends so we could work for our spending money. On an individual level, this taught us a work ethic that has served us well throughout our lives.
But, on a larger scale, it also meant that there were fewer jobs left undone, and thus available to be filled by illegal immigrants. Back in Central California, where hard work is a way of life, my high school friends did everything from bussing tables in restaurants to picking grapes to sorting fruit in packing houses.
Somehow, we lost our way. These days, after-school and summer jobs are passé. Young people still need money. They just don’t feel as inclined to work for it as may have been the case with their parents and grandparents.
According to a report earlier this year from Pew Research Center, in 2016, only 35 percent of 16-to-19-year-olds held a summer job. That means about two-thirds spent their summer months engaged in other activities.
Compare this to 1978, when 58 percent of this group held a summer job. That’s quite a drop.
How does something like this happen? One step at a time. It starts, innocently enough, when a parent decides it’s easier to just buy a teenager what he wants than to require him to work for it. It continues when that parent tells his son or daughter that, while they’re in college, they don’t have to work in-between classes because “studying” is their job. It continues when the parent goes along with the excuse from their 20-something that the reason they can’t find a job is because life has stacked the deck against them.
And guess what lies at the end of that road? It’s entitlement. It’s the same thing that so many Americans insist acts as a magnet for immigrants and refugees to come to the United States.
We already knew that people come here from other countries because American employers are hiring, and there are jobs available. But what we don’t think about, because it’s an uncomfortable truth we want to avoid, is why those jobs are available.
It’s because too many Americans are failing at the one job they have that matters most. It’s called parenting.
Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.”
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