Struggling to escape war, poverty and overpopulation--and seeking opportunity, freedom from fear and a better life--immigrants pour in ever-greater numbers into Southern California. In the 1990 census, nearly 8% of the region's residents said they'd come here from another country in the past five years alone. And that's just the people willing to be part of the census. What may be the next great national issue is brewing here.
Immigration opponents say that the schools are sinking, hospital emergency rooms are about to short-circuit and English is becoming merely one of many languages. And, they add, if the moderate voices aren't listened to, we risk the ascendancy of radicals--witness Germany's violent skinheads or the rise of French politician Jean-Marie le Pen, whose central platform is virulently anti-immigrant.
In a special Platform, immigrants both recent and those who came years ago tell us why they moved here, what their lives are like and why, or if, they intend to stay. Opponents say why, at the very least, immigration must slow drastically. Some opponents are themselves the children of immigrants, who feel their own gains are threatened by the newer tide.
What are businesses obligated to do to help families? Well, legally, not much. The law requires large businesses to allow some unpaid leave for family matters, but that's about it. In Making a Difference, one company that has gone far beyond the legal requirements tells us why: It's to get better employees and keep them longer. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power even offers special support for fathers, from "Birth Alert" beepers that tell expectant fathers when to rush home, to mentoring programs that help them through the throes of their children's adolescence.
When it comes to the physical safety of kids, is the most important rule "better safe than sorry"? Not always, writes Encino child psychiatrist Richard Sandler, in retort to a friend who reacts in horror to the idea of taking kids downtown for a trip on the Red Line. In Community Essay, he warns that fear is far more corrosive than the relatively small dangers of a trip to the city.
A creeping blight of petty crime infects a once-peaceful San Fernando Valley canyon neighborhood, and residents can point to suspects who live right there. But, writes Barbara Johnson in Gripe, officialdom seems blind to the little offenses--the burglaries, drug sales, trespass, threats of retaliation. What will it take to make change, she asks? The first murder?
And in Sermon, the Rev. Don Northcutt of San Juan Capistrano warns of the ordinary face of evil. The Serbian soldiers who commit hideous acts against their neighbors look like fresh-faced average young men, he says. In some American neighborhoods, violence is so common that it goes unremarked.
That ordinariness can blind good people to the horror, he says, make it too easy to change the channel. But then we have to live the rest of our lives with the consequences of inaction.