Tears of the Innocents
I saw a seventeen-year-old girl cry today and it made me angry. The young girl was being interviewed by a local television reporter about the effects of immigration crack downs on “illegal immigrants.” With tears streaming down her face, she told of the fear that she and her family faced daily, just leaving the house to go to school or the store.
The young girl had been brought here as a small child by her parents, seeking, like all immigrants, a better life for their children.
The girl spoke, thought and sounded like the quintessential American teenager. The only difference is that she was scared to death that on any given day, she could be rounded up by authorities and shipped south to a land and a people that were totally alien to her. She was frightened and tearful.
In another new paper article that day a young marine corps veteran, from the battlefields of Afghanistan, was lamenting that his father had been scooped up in just such a raid and was scheduled to be shipped back to Mexico. His mother had been similarly deported a few years ago. “What did I fight for in Afghanistan ?” he wondered.
I don’t think anyone disputes that we need secure borders in our country. And, the efforts of immigration authorities along the border are laudable. These men and women do a dangerous job that needs doing. The irony of the proposed “super wall” is that most human and narco-smugglers are already busily tunneling under existing walls to gain entry into the USA.
But, what of those poor young souls who have been here these many years? It doesn’t seem fair to me to kick them out of the only home and land that they have ever known. When I think back to my own ancestors, I wonder what they felt like just after they arrived here. At the great, great grandparent level, I have sixteen ancestors from different families. There was no Ellis Island at the time. Almost all of them entered this country illegally. They just got off the boat, hopped onto a canal barge or a train and became Americans. It took my great- great grandfather, Emmanuel Martin, over ten years before he applied for and became an American citizen. How much would I like it to think any one of them had been scooped up off the streets and shipped back to their country of origin. Not much, I think.
This whole “illegal immigrant” problem is something that a series of at least ten former presidents have “kicked the can down the road,” refusing to deal with the emotional complexities of the problem. The irony of the situation is that without these “illegals” our crops would rot on the vines and we would starve. No Americans are willing to tackle the back breaking labor involved. Yet, oddly, you don’t hear big agriculture saying a word about this. Why is that I wonder?
Recently, while visiting New Zealand, a land of milk and honey that can grow three crops a year on the same acreage, we were informed of a more enlightened policy toward agricultural immigrants. The Kiwis import some ten to twenty thousand Malaysians at harvest times. They pay them a decent wage and treat them well. When the harvest is over, they are shipped back to their country of origin. This at least seems to be a fairer and more humane treatment of agricultural immigrants than our policy.
I don’t know if this is a possible solution that would work here in the United States. The problem has so many facets that few are willing to tackle the situation. But, we do hire tens of thousands of PHDS in several large federal departments. Let these brilliant people propose a series of possible solutions to Congress, that may work our well for everyone. Anything has to be better than scaring a seventeen-year-old girl to tears.
Friends of ours are Ukrainian/American immigrants. They relate stories of relatives disappearing forever, after a midnight knock on the door in Russia. Survivors of the holocaust tell even darker stories of whole families being scooped up and shipped away, never to be heard from again. Is this the legacy that we want for America?
I don’t pretend to know any of the answers to this difficult problem. And it looks like no one else in authority has a solution either. But, I do know that the America that I was raised to love and admire is a land of caring and compassion that looks out for those who are ill-treated and in need of a helping hand.
“Give us your poor huddled masses, yearning to be free” is engraved on the base of the statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Let’s try and live up to the rhetoric that we preach, so that our children, and theirs after them, will continue to realize the shining ideal of an America that is admired by the citizens of the entire world.
Joseph Xavier Martin