A.J. Otjen


LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff

For the last 150 years, Montana American Indians have experienced a wave of immigrants known as white men, the majority now. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that within 40 years, our majority population will not be white. Some believe this is because most of our new immigrants are people of color.

Thus, our immigration debate has morphed from the four pillars of the 2013 Marco Rubio proposal, emphasizing employment, education and employer responsibility. In April 2017, Arkansas' Tom Cotton and Georgia’s David Perdue proposed legislation with a 50 percent reduction in annual immigration during the next 10 years, from 1,051,031 in 2015 to 539,958 in 2027.

At his State of the Union Address, Trump announced his new four pillars for debate. They include citizenship for “dreamers,” border security, and ending diversity visas and family reunification. The emphasis is no longer employment status, it is skin color.

My family, Otjen, came from the Elbe-Weser Triangle or Lower Saxony area of what is now Germany. They settled in Wisconsin, currently represented by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan who is complicit with Trump’s use of immigrants as political pawns. In 1905, Wisconsin was represented by my great uncle Republican Congressman Theobald Otjen, the son of immigrant Conrad Otjen.

Conrad arrived in the US in 1827 and became a citizen in 1836. John Otjen arrived in 1817, Harm in 1823, Hinrich in 1852 and Friedrich in 1854, all from the same immediate family. They were a chain being reunified from an area that at the time was rife with revolution and upheaval. They came to the promised home of the brave and free as part of what would be called the homeless tempest, an angry and violent world.

Their descendants include Major General John P. Otjen and William J. Otjen who was National Commander and Chief of Foreign War Veterans in 1932, my grandfather.

Every family from every immigrant should be as proud and welcome as mine. It appears, for example, that most of the Gianfortes arrived from Italy between 1862 and 1892, (likely the ancestors of Montana’s Rep. Greg Gianforte).

Still, our Republican representatives seem to think that because most of us are no longer tired and poor, there is no more room for the wretched refuse; especially, if the teeming shores are on brown people countries.

They want to eliminate reunification even when the wait times for a spouse, child, brother or sister is as long as 15 to 20 years. About 225,000 immediate family-based visas are issued annually.

They want to eliminate the diversity lottery which accounts for about 50,000 immigrants. Using diversity as a criteria has made it possible for almost half of these visas to be given to immigrants from Africa, or what Trump referred to as “shithole countries.”

They want to limit asylum cases entering the U.S. They cite children and families from Central America making up an increasing share of border apprehensions. The facts are about 25,000 people get asylum each year with the largest percentage being 30 percent from China and 12 percent from Egypt. About 5 percent are from south of the Mexican border. These are the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. No lamps will be lifted beside the golden $20 billion Trump wall.

On Dec. 17, 2017, Paul Ryan said, “This is going to be the new economic challenge for America, we need to have higher birth rates in this country ... we have a 90 percent increase in the retirement population of America but only a 19 percent increase in the working population . . . we need more people.”

He added that he “did his part” with his children.

After not including credits for family leave or corporate day care in the new Republican tax plan, Ryan made sure the anti-abortion bill passed in time to brag about it at the anti-choice march on Jan. 19. He must not be including women in his working population. But he is counting on the number of new white babies to make up for a reduction in brown immigrants.

It’s a fallacy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the dominant race in the future will be “none of the above.” Our races will be diverse. They will be mixed. They will be American.

Otjen lives in Billings and teaches at Montana State University Billings.