Here’s the thing. America has always been caught a rock and a hard place when it comes to accepting new immigrants with open arms.
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
We’ve all heard that poem, immortalized at the Statue of Liberty. And yet, that certainly does not seem to be the sentiment of all the people who want to put up a fence at the border of Mexico and the U.S. It is not the sentiment of the people who clamored to send back busloads of young children recently who were fleeing conflicts in Mexico and Central America.
On the other hand, maybe the great American sentiment of welcoming immigrants was not meant for those coming from the Southern direction, those with brown skin and Spanish accents. The Statue of Liberty is located in a place that welcomed those coming from Europe. There are no calls for a fence between the United States and Canada either. No, anti-immigrant people only seem to make a stink when people are entering through the Southern border.
I get part of the argument, of course. "It is about how they choose to come in,” they say. “If they went through the legal process and did not come in illegally, there would be no problem,” they say, in essence, claiming it is only about not rewarding illegal actions.
And of course there is the matter of keeping out those who would enter our country to do us harm, and keeping track of the illegal drug trade.
But to that I say hogwash. If we, as a country, want to stand for freedom, to be that beacon of light and hope in the world for those that want or need a better life, then we have to live up to that. We cannot change our attitude about immigrants - especially since the Native Americans are the only ones here who were not immigrants - because the numbers are now too heavily skewed towards those coming from Mexico and Central America, rather than Europe. We cannot change now because there is a fear that European-American descendants will soon be the minority population in this country.
No amount of red herring arguments about legal methods and terrorism or drugs, will convince me that the real base of the anti-immigrant argument isn’t about anything other than the fear of a different-looking America. There are just too many ways to deal with creating a path to citizenship for these people rushing to our shores. The kids stuck at the border recently, who had to sit and watch Americans hold up signs and yell and scream at them for being criminals and unwanted, were the very people the Statue of Liberty poem refers to. It was easy to see these kids were not criminals or a threat. They just wanted to escape a life that was not good, or to reconnect with family already here.
Sure, we cannot just let the borders be wide open with no check at all. But we certainly can make it easier and safer for those who want to find a path to citizenship and make it so they do not risk their lives in the process of getting here. If these immigrants know the process is simple and welcoming, then they would have no reason to fear checkpoints. But as long as we demonize them, make it clear that unless you have money or the time to go through an intricate, complicated process, then they will find other ways to get here.
And we will waste plenty of time and resources trying to stop what we cannot control. First we must commit to welcoming them all, no matter where they are from or what their economic situation is. Once we do that we can begin to simplify the process of obtaining citizenship. I believe America is smart enough to figure it out. If we are going to talk the talk about being the land of the free and a beacon of hope for the world, then we need to live up to it. And we certainly shouldn’t be surprised that people take us up on our promise.