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Sunday, August 06, 2017


This is really a response to several comments by various contributors to the Fargo Forum on the topic of immigration. I would direct the reader to the Forum's opinion page, beginning with a staff editorial which was reprinted in the Grand Forks Herald entitled, "Why North Dakotans Should Welcome Diversity". It and my response to it spawned a good deal of commentary. Mike McFeely has also weighed in.

In a recent column, Fargo Forum's Mike McFeely manipulates history by glossing over the "Homestead Act". There have been many homestead acts in this and other former British colonies and dominions. In America most of these were strongly resisted by Southern Democrats who wanted the vast empty lands available for slaveholders' purchase. In 1860 one finally passed, only to be vetoed by President Buchanan. By 19th Century European standards these laws were very generous but they weren't exactly without strings.

The claimant needed to be a US citizen or have declared his intent to become one. Women could participate and Black Americans could as well. (In 1924 Native Americans were given full citizenship, so presumably they could participate in this as well as retain their tribal rights.) The Homestead Acts resulted in about ¼ of Southern Black farmers owning their own homesteads. The claimant needed to live on the land for 5 years, build a home there (not "free"), make improvements to the land and farm it. Some of these programs required planting of 40 acres of trees. There is no resemblance here to requirements for today's EBT card and subsidized housing. Anyone who has read history knows these homesteaders had to work very hard to hang onto these.

It is true that many came not knowing English and some managed without it in the immigrant generation if they settled with many of their own former countrymen with a common language, as did the Germans from Russia, most of whom came together in families or who were joined here by families. My grandfather was the first of his siblings born in America, the others having been Russian-born. His English was exceptionally good. His parents spent their time working hard to survive and their English language skills did not develop as much. But most of us know the story of how grandparents avoided speaking their native tongue in the home in order to force the kids to learn English so they would succeed here. There were no ESL services for them. My father never learned the language of his immigrant family. (I see this as a great loss, actually. It would have been even better had we had many Americans with foreign language skills!) The government offered little or no foreign language services. (These immigrants also paid their way over – often in steerage with no "handouts" from LSS.) If McFeely would like some reading material on these people's lives I can easily provide some factual life stories.

Today the government has shut down homesteading because it discourages free enterprise. The federal government wants to control land and hold it publicly. The government bureaucracy chooses to control and own Western land and it is managed through the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the US Forest Service. The farther west you go the more federally owned land you will find. It would be better in most cases to get the federal government out of much of this land ownership, but bureaucracies die hard.

There were unintended consequences including ignorance of proper cultivation leading to the Dust Bowl. On the good side it offered help toward economic independence to Blacks, to women and to immigrants who were willing to work VERY HARD to establish and maintain them and it put roots down in our rural and western land which became American. This does not compare to Lutheran Social Services flying in planeloads of immigrants (at government expense, by they way; LSS is just providing a paid service), providing vouchers for automobiles, covering health costs, providing food, shelter and education with no comparable commitment required - and a history of people from America and around the world making a lifetime investment of their time, blood, sweat and tears in the land and becoming citizens (which implies learning English).

Our immigration laws have changed to fit the country's needs – to protect national security of a very young nation in 1798 we extended the period of required residency to 14 years; then we loosened requirements in order to provide factory workers and settle farmland, and in the 1860's and 1870's we used these programs to help give economic freedom to women and Black Americans. It is normal and proper for a nation to restrict immigration in the interest of the citizens already present. All nations do, except, apparently America. Another strict requirement has always been that no one seeking these benefits ever has taken up arms against America. Sound policy there.

We might disagree about the success or premise of the various homesteading acts. They were intended to strengthen America while providing coincidental opportunities to immigrants and poor Americans. Some effects were good, some not so good, and, like all government efforts, these were flawed. (Today we see an interesting twist where government is providing a sort of homesteading benefit to wealthy corporate developers at the expense of the poor and middle class taxpayers in the form of "renaissance" zones. We should all oppose this as it discriminates against other citizens and fails to satisfy the 14th Amendment. )

But as to the idea of encouraging and providing for immigration, this is not the time for it in America, and an attempt to rationalize it on the basis of the needs and conditions of the past is specious. It is an abuse of our intelligence to suggest that homesteading was a "handout" or that past needs justify indiscriminate and unvetted immigration today, in a world where we see devastating effects of such immigration throughout the world and western culture and values under heavy assault by an oppressive, aggressive and violent political system, is beyond foolish – it is suicidal.

I wrote an article in the Forum in answer to one of their staff editorials encouraging North Dakota to embrace "diversity". There have been numerous misinterpretations of this since, mostly based in claims of bigotry and racism. "Facts are," as John Adams observed, "stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

One person said that European immigration displaced the Native American culture. True! Is there a lesson in that for us? Will Islamic immigration "displace" western culture here? Another person took issue with the fact (not opinion) that Muslim immigrants have created mayhem and committed mass rapings in Germany. It is also a FACT that in Muslim-ruled regions the women who are victims of rape are considered guilty and are generally stoned to death. If a woman wishes to file a complaint of rape, she'd better be prepared: FOUR MALE WITNESSES must be presented who will testify FOR her. Needless to say, rape goes unreported in these places. The person who replied to my article thusly needs to study this further.

Immigration is good only if it benefits America. We don't owe the world a crash pad!

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