A constant rumble of dismay about immigrants has been unabated for the past decade in this country, fueled by right wing politicians and our thug of an ex-President who claim in 72 point type that illegal immigrants steal our jobs, wreck our economy, subvert our American values and destroy the American Way Of Life.
When the threats that these people are taking our jobs doesn’t work, the politicians and Sunday pulpit pounders will often invoke the “T” word, implying that many of these who have literally walked a thousand miles while dragging a toddler and a gallon jug of water are terrorists, out to do physical harm to our families or infrastructure.
We have endured years of self-imposed “emergencies” at our southern border by refusing to let in the throngs of people who are feeling north, most in search of their own version of the American Dream.
Knowing that passing over the border themselves is a near-herculean task, thousands of parents are now sending their minor children across, after having them memorize names and addresses of relatives already present, hoping that some miracle will occur and if not the whole family, then at least the young ones will have some chance at a better life.
While Trump was more vocal and was absolutely unashamed about calling these people names and made a great show of his ineffectual wall, his actual deportation record stands as one of the lower among recent Presidents. Barrack Obama still holds the record for deportations, although it was done with far less news coverage and not a single teaspoon of bombastic rhetoric.
I’m sure some research would turn up a good reason for this discrepancy between what we think happened and what actually did happen under Trump, but there is no denying that his willful separation of babies from their mother’s arms at the border could have acted as a brake on border crossing attempts.
Nearly every “red-blooded” American that I know can trace their roots back to at least one immigration event. Even the passengers on the Mayflower were immigrants, and I’d wager that there wasn’t a passport or a visa amongst the lot of them.
My earliest immigrant was one Johann Georg Schleicher who, with his extended family, was fleeing the ravaged countryside of what is today southwestern Germany. Wars between kings had gone on for decades and armies were trampling the countryside, taking crops, livestock and even lodging from the population.
In the 17th and 18th century over 100,000 people of German heritage fled and ended up in our middle Atlantic states of Pennsylvania and New York.
Grand-dad Schleicher suffered the indignity of some semi-literate government note taker scribing the name down as “Sliger”, and thus since 1737 the Sliger family has spread across America.
There were other immigration events, so many in fact that at the port of New York City an entire ecology was built on Ellis Island where between 1892 and 1924 over 12 million immigrants were processed into the country.
In the 1840’s a third of the country of Ireland fled because of the potato famine, many of them landing in New York, penniless, paperless, but allowed to stay. The Germans who came during that period tended to have funding and many moved further inland, some of them starting our great brewing companies and meat packing industries in the mid-west.
Between 1848 and 1860, with gold in California and coast-to-coast railways eating up more labor than could be had, a new wave of mostly single men entered California, including tens of thousands of Chinese, stopping only after Congress passed a law that specifically excluded Chinese immigration.
During the 1920’s Congress finally enacted some barriers, such as requiring immigrants to demonstrate an ability to read and write, or barring a particular race or ethnic group, but for the most part it was pretty simple for a determined person or family to show up at a port, with bags and baggage in hand, pass a simple medical test, read a couple of words, and then march off of Ellis Island into their version of the American Dream.
When I was a child, the big immigration event was the Cubans who were fleeing the communists and landing in Miami, often in rickety boats. The government even gave Cubans a protected status, declaring eventually the “wet foot-dry foot” policy, which meant that if you could get a foot onto dry land, then you could stay.
The Italians, the Irish, the Polish, the Germans, the Cubans, the Mexicans, the Chinese – all of these great waves of immigrants who came to us over the years have made America what it is today. It created our great melting pot.
As has always been the case, immigrants end up doing the work that no one else wants. Janitors, hotel maids, farm labor, lawn maintenance, meat packing plant worker – think of a menial job that hasn’t been mechanized and you’ll find immigrants, many of them “illegal” working in sub-standard conditions for the lowest possible wage.
My feeling is we should open the doors as they were in the past. If a woman is willing to walk 1000 miles while carrying a toddler to do a minimum wage job plucking chickens or butchering hogs or making hotel beds or picking lettuce in a field, then I say we should let her in and get out of her way.
The American Dream of my childhood is already gone, morphed in ways I couldn’t even have imagined, and it continues to change as new people become citizens and bring in their own foods, movies, music, art and talents of all kinds to add to the melting pot of America.
Instead of fighting it and creating a hell on earth at our borders, lets embrace it for what it is, organize it as we did in the past at Ellis Island, and let these people in to live their dream.