I’d like to say to say just a few words on the hot button topic of immigration. It seems that more than enough has already been said on this issue, but immigration is essential to the American experience. And the current realities of immigration are different than how it’s presented on either side.
Prior to 9/11, immigration was handled by the U.S. Department of the Interior in conjunction with the Department of Justice. Since 9/11 it’s been handled by Homeland Security, and as with so much else from Homeland Security, what we have is a broken bureaucracy. Homeland Security can’t give us a coherent or effective security policy. Nor can it process the many people applying for immigration status.
The people we call Illegal Immigrants are actually Undocumented Immigrants. Many of them fill out the necessary applications when they come to this country. But then the government takes away their initial status, and they wait in a limbo for the government to make further decisions.
Probably the most controversial people entering the U.S. now are Latinos and Moslems. Latinos shouldn’t be so controversial. They’ve been entering these territories since the times predating the U.S. government. Many of our southern states were originally Spanish or Mexican provinces. We need only to look at the Mexican vaqueros, our first cowboys, to realize how long Latinos have been a key presence in our country.
Moslems are probably more controversial. We hear that many of them are terrorists, and that a Moslem can’t be president or serve on the Supreme Court because a person bound by Sharia law can’t follow the constitution.
All of this sounds eerily similar to things said of the three groups I was born into: the Irish, the Italians and Roman Catholics. We hear that the Irish are rowdy drunks. Many people still believe that most Italian-Americans are in the Mob. And it’s been frequently said that a Catholic president would have direct phone loan in the White House in use for receiving directions from the Pope.
While I’ve heard these comments all my life, I paid far less attention to them as a child. I grew up in the suburbs. Many of my friends were Protestants of northern European extraction. My two paternal grandparents were from Italy. Three of my maternal great grandparents were born in Ireland. But I considered myself fully American.
I didn’t know till later that my father, as a child divided people into two groups: the Italiani and the Americani, with himself among the Italiani. This was because my father chose to speak English all the time, and the fully participate in American society. His sister remained all her life in Oneida’s Italian-American community, but my father went outside Oneida to serve in the military, attend college and law school, and later become a prosecutor.
So the process repeats itself. The nation is enriched by the diversity of its immigrants. But the children and grandchildren of those immigrants will become full homogenized as Americans, and the nation will need new immigrants.
The U.S. must secure its borders. Not with a wall by Mexico, yet secured nonetheless.
But let’s have a sense of humility. A number a years ago, I took a trip to New York City with a friend. Late on a Sunday night, we went to the Empire State Building. After waiting in the lobby, we took an elevator to the lookout deck a hundred-plus floors up.
Looking out, I could see the rivers surrounding the island of Manhattan. People from distant countries were there, and as I saw of New Jersey and Brooklyn, I could hear German, French, Italian and Chinese.
I was reminded of the ancient Tower of Babel, where many languages were also heard. In the great cities of the past, cultures from distant places had also converged. What we experience is not new. We are having our time in sun as Babylon, Alexandria and Rome had theirs.
With protecting our security, we must always remember our place in history. We must lealways keep in mind that our time here is short, and that whether or not we were born here, we are always, in some aspect, immigrants passing through a strange land.