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Letter to the Editor

The Plain Dealer’s Deputy Editorial Page Editor Kevin O’Brien’s April 9, 2014 column—entitled “Illegal immigrants don’t want to be Americans; they want money”—is a disrespect to the entire immigrant community and a slap in the face to the Latino community, especially the Mexican community.

He comments that “Mexico is a hell of a mess. It’s corrupt. Its oil riches have been horribly mismanaged, and what hasn’t been squandered has been stolen by the people in charge. It’s drug-ridden, gang-ridden, and poverty-ridden. Getting out of there has to have tremendous appeal.” It’s comments like that stereotype a nation and paint a negative picture of all Mexicans.

Richard Romero

Kevin    then continues his sweeping generalizations about ethic groups by comparing Mexican-Americans to Italian-Americans. He reflects on how a group of Italian guys dropped by the editorial writers’ department to chew him out for disrespecting Italians in his article on Jimmy Dimora. He says “[e]very one of them was as American as an apple pie chaser after a big plate of lasagna. Solid citizens. Here for the duration. Completely invested in the United States of America.”

Perhaps Mr. O’Brien needs to do his research about the history of the Mexican community in America. If he did, he would find that the Mexican community is just as committed to this country as any other ethnic group and has made American stronger and safer.

Hispanic-Americans, mostly of Mexican descent, have served in our military and fought for our country.  During the Vietnam Conflict (1963-1973), approximately 80,000 Hispanic-Americans served in the American military. Although Latinos only made up about 4.5% of the total U.S. population at that time, they incurred more than 19% of the casualties. In all, thirteen Hispanic soldiers, mostly Mexicans, won the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism during this conflict.

During the most recent conflict in Iraq, Hispanic-Americans accounted for approximately 10-12% of the armed forces.  Among elite military groups, such as the Marines, Hispanic-Americans accounted for 15-18%. The first American soldier killed in the conflict was Jose Gutierrez who arrived in America as an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala.

The reality is that Hispanic-Americans, including Mexican-Americans, are just as committed to America as any other ethnic group.

Mr. O’Brien states that Italians, unlike Mexicans, “came to learn and assimilate into the culture, not to change the culture so it resembled what they had left behind.” However, the reality is that Italians, like Mexicans, remember and celebrate their rich culture. In Little Italy in Cleveland, Americans from all cultural backgrounds can enjoy Italian food, art, and music.  Ethnic neighborhoods settled by Italians and Mexicans enrich our American culture and should be praised rather than criticized. American culture is not stagnant but ever-evolving as each new tide of immigrants adds to our American way of life.

Mr. O’Brien biggest insult to all immigrants coming here for a better life is when he writes “[y]ou won’t find any such commitment in today’s illegal ‘immigrants.’ They’re here to use America. And while they’re here, they, in turn, are used to increase the political power of groups that cynically play on the emotions of good-hearted, soft-headed people — like Jeb Bush.”Mr. O’Brien continues “[i]n no way does the scant benefit of cheap labor begin to offset the damage that is being done to American law and culture.”

Once again, reality is different than the picture painted by Mr. O’Brien. Mexican immigrants provide much more than merely “cheap labor.” A recent NBER study has found that low-skilled Mexican immigrants are more responsive to changes in employment, and are quick to relocate when there is a period of high unemployment in the area they live in. This is good for an economy where a surprising number of jobs go unfilled each year. Mexican-born immigrants’ geographic elasticity helps equalize spatial differences in labor market outcomes for low-skilled native workers, who are much less responsive.

It saddens me that people, like Mr. O’Brien, are still trying to pit ethnic groups against each other. America and Cleveland deserve better.  

Richard Romero
Lorain, Ohio

On the Internet: Mr. O’Brien’s Op Ed can be viewed at:


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Revised: 05/27/14 20:18:45 -0700.




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