Thursday, August 22, 2013


Yesterday, Norristown Patch reported on an Immigration Reform rally in Norristown. Within minutes on Facebook, comments filled with hate started showing up. I'm happy to say, though, that comments from sensible folks got more "Likes."

The prevailing theories among the haters was that the Mexican immigrants in town were all illegal, and that they were all taking jobs away from "our citizens, and retired vets." (If the vets are retired, doesn't that mean they aren't looking for work?) Some of these posters, on both sides of the issue, quoted statistics.

The truth is, there really aren't many statistics available online, barely at a state level, and none at all for Norristown specifically. You aren't going to find number of jobs held by illegal aliens simply because companies who don't check for the proper documentation don't keep records. (My last job was in a Human Resources department. In the 5 years I worked there, the majority of our handful of improper documentation incidents were for Russian exchange students, not Latinos.)

Statistics you can find: Norristown has a fairly low unemployment rate (7.5 as of June), below the national and state averages. Most of our employment is in the service or office worker fields, not really high-paying jobs. Many new businesses have opened in Norristown in the last 10 years, a good percentage of them built by Hispanics. Are they only hiring Hispanics? Possibly, but that's probably due mainly to the language barrier (which Norristown HAS to work at overcoming), and the fact that few non-Hispanics apply for jobs at those businesses. But when people scream about "Mexicans taking our jobs" are they picturing jobs created by Latinos? Probably not.

One of the main statistics is that, according to the last census, 28.3% of Norristown's population identifies itself as Hispanic. 20.3% say they're foreign-born, yet those aren't all Latino. I don't know a lot of people in town, yet I can name at least a half-dozen I know personally who were born in places like Poland, Italy, Greece, and Jamaica. I taught Norristown students born in Vietnam and other Asian countries. We have a decent-sized population of immigrants from the Caribbean.

I found one statistic supposedly from the Census Community Survey that I haven't been able to confirm, but it says that approximately 5600 Norristown residents weren't citizens as of 2010, and about 5000 were Hispanic. If that's true, it means that half our Latino population ARE citizens-- that's 14% of our total population. Our wage-earning Latinos, citizens or not, pay taxes, and those who own property pay real estate taxes.

Yet our Hispanic population has no demographic representation on Council. That's taxation without representation, something we in America aren't suppose to tolerate.

The last point I'll make is that Norristown has ALWAYS welcomed immigrants. On the last census, only about 14 residents in town claim any sort of Native American heritage. The rest of us are immigrants or descended from immigrants. (And think about it--the ancestors of our Mexican immigrants have lived on this continent centuries longer than the rest of our ancestors did.)

Sure, Norristown residents gave the Irish a hard time when they first got here in the 1850s, then gave the Italians a hard time from 1880 to 1920, etc. But do we HAVE to continue hazing the new guys?

With each new influx of immigrants in the past, Norristown has seen a boost to its economy, and valuable contributions to its culture. Instead of all the hate talk, let's find ways to bridge the language gap, allow our immigrants to become citizens, and come together as one town.

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