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Readers react to immigration story about Polish couple

Updated: November 16, 2011 1:31AM

It seems unfair for me to write a column like the one last week about the Polish couple finally prevailing in their immigration fight to stay in America without giving voice to opposing views, so today we’re going to remedy that.

That column carried the headline “Happy Reunion: What if couple were Mexican,” a fair summation of my intentionally provocative suggestion that the public reaction to the story of Tony and Janina Wasilewski wouldn’t have been quite so favorable if the couple had come from south of the border.

Naturally, this made some people mad, including many of Polish descent, who somehow perceived some prejudice against Polish Americans on my part even though the column made it quite clear that I was totally supportive of the Wasilewskis and happy for their success in negotiating their way through the immigration thicket.

Several readers either called or wrote to express the opinion that I should have realized that it only makes sense for Poles to receive preferential treatment over Mexicans on immigration matters given their respective historical contributions to the U.S.

That line of thinking was reflected in this letter from K. Galczynski, who instructed me on the achievements of Pulaski, Kosciuszko, Copernicus and Madam Curie before observing:

“Evidently, Mr. Brown, you did not attend this country’s Catholic teaching institutions to have obtained your facts on U.S. history. Do feel free to print all of the contributions that Mexican and Muslim do that did not increase our current economic USA deficit on defending us to this date via use of Polish Catholic made bodies.”

How do you argue with that?

Unfortunately, my favorite response along those lines wasn’t in the form of a letter but in a phone call from a gentleman who lectured me on how Polish immigrants deserve preferred status because “Roosevelt sold out the Poles to Stalin at Yalta.”

Although the caller never gave his name, he was quite polite, assuming you don’t think it was impolite for him to inquire as to whether I was Jewish, noting that “Brown can be a Jewish name.” He went on to explain that the only reason he asked was because it was his experience that many Jews are antagonistic toward the Polish people (something to do with WWII but more vague than the Roose­velt sellout.)

As many times as I have had to answer that question in this job, I almost feel like I deserve honorary membership, but as I told him, the answer is no, not as far as I know.

More to the point, though, while I certainly have my share of prejudices, I believe my Polish-German wife would attest to the fact that none of them extend to the Polish people.

While I can understand Polish Americans being justifiably happy for the Wasilewskis, I’m a little flummoxed by the notion of them being considered more deserving by virtue of their ethnicity.

I have much fewer problems with those who made it clear they would have treated Janina Wasilewski, who had been deported after a failed bid for asylum, the same way they want to treat Mexican immigrants who are living here without legal authorization — by kicking them out. We disagree, but at least I can respect their consistency.

Along those lines was this e-mail from Steve Evans of Palatine: “I really don’t think your conclusions are fair to the anti-illegal immigration crowd. I’m just as annoyed/bothered/infuriated by immigrants from other countries who cheat the system and by the newspaper columnists and reporters (and their television equivalents) who focus solely on the human-interest element of the stories.”

As I told many readers, if you’re just as bothered by white illegal immigrants as Latino illegal immigrants, then that column wasn’t directed at you. I’ll write other columns for you.

The point I was trying to make is that the Wasilewskis’ case isn’t as unique as some might want to convince themselves after seeing that they are a nice, white couple who look no different than themselves. I didn’t accuse anybody of racism, but I was certainly hoping some folks might look within themselves to consider the possibility that race was a factor in how they perceived the couple’s plight.

You want to know what was really weird about the reaction to that column — and I assume this was an aberration? Most of the people who contacted me said they agreed with it. That’s a first.

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