Suketu Mehta is angry. He is angry about the depiction of immigrants in America today. Mehta, who immigrated to the United States from India when he was fourteen, admits as much in his new book, This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto. Indeed, Mehta writes passionately as he lays out a comprehensive case for policies that unabashedly embrace immigration, not only in the United States, but all over the world.
He begins with a story from his family’s history.
One day in the 1980’s, my maternal grandfather was sitting in a park in suburban London. An elderly British man came up to him and wagged a finger in his face. “Why are you here?” the man demanded…
“Because we are the creditors,” responded my grandfather… “You took all our wealth, our diamonds. Now we have come to collect.” We are here, my grandfather was saying, because you were there.
Throughout the book, Mehta appeals to this logic, which he calls “immigration as reparations.” He argues that the wealthy western nations of the world—those who gained their riches off the exploitation of Africans and Indians—should, at the very least, allow those who want to flee lands wrecked by colonialism the opportunity to follow “their money.”
Mehta doesn’t stop there. He is too smart to think that people will embrace increased immigration merely because of the complicated history of colonialism. To supplement his argument he provides a thorough presentation of the usual research showing the benefits of immigration, from reduced crime rates to increased economic activity and entrepreneurship, noting that immigrants, who constitute only 13 percent of the US population, start a quarter of all new businesses. He also offers cases studies, like that of the Guyanese immigrants in Schenectady who have revived the once-foundering city.
These claims present a challenge to the current conservative approach to immigration. And, though much of Mehta’s anger is directed at the current administration, he is just as quick to criticize Democrats like Obama, whom he calls the “Deporter in Chief.” He is also willing to praise Republicans like Reagan, who signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act “which gave green cards to 2.7 million undocumented people.”
The issue of immigration isn’t going anywhere. Mehta prophesies that it will be the defining issue of the twenty-first century. He also predicts that unless Republicans shift their position on immigration, they will be irrelevant at the national level within twenty years, based on demographics alone. Maybe Mehta is right about this, and maybe he isn’t. Either way, Our Land challenges the immigration status quo and presents conservatives and liberals alike with the opportunity to examine an immigrant’s take on the number one issue dividing our nation.