Where Are Your Ancestors From?
“If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”
-President Ronald Reagan
If you had suggested to me that I would ever lead this column with a quote from Ronald Reagan to make a positive point, I would have told you that you were crazy. But it only goes to show how far the idiotic Presidency of Donald J. Trump has taken us down the dark Nativist road that many so-called Americans now travel.
Unless you are descended from an indigenous tribe that traveled from Siberia 25,000 or so years ago, you are part of the great immigration story that is the United States of America. Of course many came unwillingly, through the great slave trade that will forever remain as the original sin that has left an indelible stain on the history of the country. But many more, not least the Irish, Italians, Jews and eastern Europeans came seeking opportunity, fleeing famines, wars, economic distress and political repression. Nothing has changed. But our current immigrants speak unfamiliar languages, worship different gods and dress strangely by our standards. That should not deter their welcome.
And yet, there is the always familiar refrain: “my ancestors were different.” Yes, some already spoke English and worked hard to assimilate. And not a single group did not suffer prejudice, harassment and legal obstacles. But somehow many here have forgotten the respect for human dignity that is at the heart of what this country is supposed to be. But the truth is we have never welcomed immigrants, and the last ones in are always the ones who are most vehemently opposed to the next group.
Even from a cold and selfish economic view, we should gladly welcome the newcomers. They are the ones who do all the “dirty work” Americans don’t want to do: cutting our lawns, building our roads and skyscrapers, waiting tables, cleaning our houses and hotels and caring for our children. The myth that keeping “those people” out will create more and better paying jobs for Americans is a shibboleth, and we are already paying a price for such an approach with many jobs going unfilled and the inconveniences in our cushy lives growing daily.
The truth is that our immigration policy is a mess, and political intransigence prevents any rational approach to reform. No one really wants “open borders” but as long as we continue to be reminded of the threat of “Mexican rapists” and lawless caravans crossing our borders, any sane approach will fail. But that is not a reason to oppose a reasoned and sensible solution.
If we want to see what a future of rigid opposition to immigration will look like, we only need to view what is going on in our former parent, Great Britain, where Brexit supporters promised to “take back our borders” and limit immigration from the EU that would return well paying jobs to the native Brits. So how did that work out for you, Boris Johnson? Lack of truck drivers and butchers has created a severe gasoline shortage and a potentially meatless Christmas that would make even a pre-conversion Scrooge blush.
I continue to marvel at the extreme risks that the desperate take to try to get into this country. Although many are deluded that the streets are paved with gold, the reality is infinitely better than where they come from. I think of my not so distant ancestors, willing to venture here to work in the coal mines in Pennsylvania. Or maybe yours, who laundered shirts, or labored in sweat shops or worked the land. They obviously thought it was worth it. I can only hope it will continue to be.