No one is originally from the United States – except for the endangered population of Native Americans that have survived this nation’s repeated efforts to wipe them out.
Everyone who is here today came from someplace else, fleeing hostile governments, uninhabitable lands, or drawn here because of a belief in the promise of America.
When I was a kid, one of my heroes was Igor Sikorsky, an engineering genius who made flying machines and, because he was inspired by DaVinci’s hand-drawing of a machine lifted by a rotating disk, set upon the task of creating the helicopter. Igor came to America from Russia because he had to flee the Bolsheviks.
Albert Einstein had to flee Europe because he was Jewish and met some resistance to becoming an American Citizen. We remember this brilliant physicist, ensconced at Princeton, partly concealed beneath an unruly mane of whitening hair. But there were those who weren’t sure he should be a citizen.
The Flannerys came from County Mayo to New York for reasons since obscured by the passing generations. My maternal grandmother left Ireland for the United States at 6 years of age. These immigrants from the sod met with some resistance because they were both Irish and Roman Catholic.
A distinguished gentleman from Lima, Peru, Jack Diaz, became a citizen of the United States by military service and married my paternal aunt. Rather than find his accent charming when he spoke English, he was ridiculed but Uncle Jack met this abuse with unbowed, even noble, dignity.
We have this marvelous statue in the New York Harbor near Ellis Island inviting the world to come here but experience teaches us the fatal flaw in our democratic experiment from the outset has been our abiding intolerance of race, religion and, sad to say, “where you come from.”
For many years, we haven’t enforced immigration laws that would interrupt the free flow of cheap labor across our borders. It’s no accident. Can you think of a better way to enslave a work force than to have persons of uncertain legitimacy compelled to work for wages below any legal minimum?
Demagogues get elected playing to America’s intolerance to immigrants while the voters who elect these know-nothings hire immigrants who can’t complain even when paid poorly and treated badly.
In recent days, we have children fleeing death and privation in Central America. America the intolerant says send them away. Some want us to ignore the law enacted rightly by President George Bush, providing for a hearing to judge whether the immigrant child is eligible for asylum in the land of the free
We drop 500 ton bombs from the sky to save Kurd children in Northern Iraq from ISIS but we would deny a hearing and counsel to figure out whether our nation should grant asylum to children, escaping death at home in Central America to secure life in America.
President Barack Obama has dodged a much-needed national discussion on Immigration until after the mid-term elections without nary a discouraging word from mid-term congressional candidates, for few members of the “political class” want to risk a discussion with unpredictable electoral consequences, about who is worthy to live here or become a citizen.
If the polls are right, the nation that reluctantly embraced Sikorsky and Einstein, my family, and all those fleeing other nation states recoils at the notion of granting sanctuary to children fleeing to save their lives.
We appear callously indifferent to the freedom the statue in the harbor promises.
Is this who we are?