Monday, March 02, 2009

immigration in ri: a brief historical perspective

[ Scott MacKay has a great blog post up at WRNI calling on Rhode Islanders to remember their history when debating immigration: ]

In the neighborhood we call Rhode Island, every family comes from somewhere else. If any state can be said to be a laboratory of immigration, it is our tiny corner of New England.

The first white settler, Roger Williams, was a rebel and advocate of religious freedom who landed in Providence in 1636 because he was banished from the suffocating theocracy of Massachusetts.
Later, thousands of immigrants would come to Rhode Island. Some, like Williams, were fleeing tyranny. Many more were seeking jobs and a foothold in a society where they could support their families.

The Irish, running from a poor and famine plagued country, were first. They were followed by French Canadians, Scots, Swedes, Aremenians, Jews, Russians, Polish, Portuguese, Greeks, Italians and Cape Verdeans.

By 1905, 7 of every 10 Rhode Islanders were either first or second generation Americans. This ethnic ballet made Rhode Island the first state to have a Roman Catholic majority, in 1905.
Just about every immigrant group had the same experience. The first generation endured discrimination in every realm of life and at work, where they labored as maids, gardeners, maintenance workers or in the mind-numbing clatter of a textile or jewelry sweat shop.
Now, Rhode Island again is the golden door for a new stream of immigrants, fleeing an African civil war or the poverty of a dusty back road in Latin America. And once again, natives are debating how to treat them.


eric said...

interesting. how does this relate to the legality of living here illegally? is there a distinction in this debate between legal and illegal immigrants?

we have qualms with stealing, or the draft, but when you add unnecessary burdens on the public to support illegal immigration everything suffers: increased water demand on public systems, over-capacity roads and highways underfunded by additional non-taxpayers, 1300 acres of open space being sold for development each year, increased air pollution due to population (we have an "F" so far), increased poverty, +18% increase in classroom sizes, etc....

there needs to be some balance here. i don't think this is an issue of solely how we RELATE to immigrants. we also need to be aware that there are existing laws to deal with illegal immigration, and our state taxpayers (specifically) can not afford to continue to pay for it at this rate.

some facts:
-12% (35,000) of rhode islanders were born in another country.
1/3 of them (~4% of rhode islanders) are here illegally.

- emergency medial care, education, and incarceration cost us over $100 million in 2008

- ~5% of rhode island's prison population is illegal immigrants

- state health care for illegal immigrants cost $8 million in 2008

- on average, an illegal immigrant will cost taxpayers $22,500 per year.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Eric! Kudos for offering important facts and making an important distinction.