Getting serious about immigration

A woman in Wisconsin said recently to her congressman what many Americans believe: “I think our country is a very wonderful, open, giving country. We have to protect it. You go to any other country in the world, and they won’t let you stay there.” Of course, before she and her ancestors came to north America, there were people living here. They were what we now call the indigenous population, or Native Americans, if you prefer.

It reminded me of a story that Pete Seeger used to tell about Christopher Columbus’s first voyage to the “new” world in 1492 when he “sailed the ocean blue” as we learned in school. He and his crew were sailing for “forty days and forty nights and they almost starved to death and almost had a mutiny. And they were ready to give up and go home, when they saw land, green land. Columbus ordered the little boat to anchor offshore and he got into a still smaller boat, a little lifeboat I guess, and went in through the surf, threw himself on his knees in the sand. Then he planted the big yellow and red flag of King Ferdinand and Isabella. Then, looking up, Columbus saw two brown faces looking at him from the bushes. Columbus says, ‘Buenos dias, señores!’ And one Indian says to the other, ‘Well, there goes the neighborhood.’”

My ninth great grandfather came to this country in 1663 and started out as an indentured servant before he made economic progress sufficient to make it possible for succeeding generations to become slave-owners. Immigrants make mistakes – some make big ones.

Which leads me to discuss the Dreamers, those immigrants brought to this country as children, who now are Americans in every way but official citizenship. They violated no laws in coming to this country because they were not old enough to be held responsible for immigrating here. What should we do about them?

That discussion should be led by President Trump, but that has become impossible because he changes his mind regularly, first welcoming the Dreamers (maybe 800,000 people) and then wanting to ship them off to countries they know little or nothing about, and then embracing them as good people we are fortunate to have, and then . . .

Probably, almost everyone can agree that we need to have an orderly system of immigration, and most (87 percent) agree that Dreamers should be allowed to stay in the US. Splitting up families is another issue about which most Americans agree – it is a violation of deeply-held values to take children (who are U.S. citizens) away from their undocumented immigrant parents unless those parents have committed serious criminal offenses. Splitting up such families demonstrates a cruelty no less severe than that created by the “Trail of Tears” under the Indian Removal Act or the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

After the Dreamers and family dissolution issues are resolved, differences begin to emerge. Should Dreamers be allowed to become citizens? How many people should be allowed to immigrate to the US each year? Who should be allowed to immigrate? These questions divide the country, though there is probably room for widespread agreement if we had the leadership to push for it.

The country’s immigration system should not be tied to any other issue that will serve only to divide us and prevent a solution that most people think we need. President Trump’s “wall” is not an immigration system issue. It is a border security issue that should be addressed through sensible technology, physical barriers where those will be effective, and an enhanced border protection agency, but not tied directly to immigration.

If the President continues to insist on a wall, senators and representatives should insist that he honor his campaign commitment to have Mexico pay for it. Not one penny of US taxpayer funds should be spent. To do otherwise is to belittle and disparage the President, to discount his word, diminishing him in the eyes of his supporters and the world. We should be able to rely on a President’s word.

The reasonable thing to do is to put serious people together to work out compromises on immigration issues that will have broad support among the American people. Let’s get past these questions so that the Dreamers can continue to live in the U.S unmolested by fear of arrest and deportation, and so that families are no longer torn apart for trivial reasons.

Just as we can’t send the Italians and the Spaniards back to their home countries for not getting permission from the indigenous population to stay on this continent, we should not do it to the Dreamers, who did not come here of their own volition. Serious, effective immigration reform, including permanently protecting Dreamers and families, will mean that no one on this continent should ever have justifiable cause to say, “Well, there goes the neighborhood.”

Lamar Hankins, a former city of San Marcos attorney, lives in San Marcos

San Marcos Daily Record

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P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666