I see that quote on bumper stickers, tee-shirts, and hear it in America First and nationalist rants. They are generally complaining about immigrants or refugees who do not speak English well, don’t follow certain customs, wear “non-American” clothes, or are often simply brown or black skinned. To the people spouting that slogan, and worse, immigrants are not wanted at all, but if here, must do more than become part of the Melting Pot. They are supposed to vaporize their heritage and become undetectable clones.
Well, that isn’t the idea upon which our country was founded. The United States is the only country founded on a purpose, not a common language, religion, or ethnicity. The founders wanted those in search of freedom to come join us and get involved. Thomas Jefferson asked for immigrants and the Statue of Liberty has the Emma Lazarus invitation emblazoned on her base: “send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It is wrong for us to shun them, especially refugees in a time of need.
There are different kinds of immigrants coming here for different reasons. Most come because they want a better life in some way. About a million people a year get into the system of first getting status and a green card then on an arduous, expensive path to citizenship. This takes years but works well. Yet, there are countries that get slighted and have few immigrants year-after-year, so there is a lottery of 50,000 slots for minority countries, poorer people–those often overlooked–to become eligible for legal immigration. This is the lottery about which Mr. Trump speaks so harshly. He tries to paint a picture of the 50,000 actually being millions and all of them being ignorant and criminals. Nothing is further from the truth. The first million, including the 50,000 in the lottery, are well vetted before ever allowed in and issued green cards.
Children, wives, and husbands want desperately to be reunited and live together. We have family-based immigrant visa opportunities specifically for that. First Lady Melania Trump took advantage of this aspect of our laws sponsoring her parents who became naturalized citizens earlier this month. But her husband has railed against that law calling it “chain migration” and insinuating that ineligible family members and, again, criminals, get sanctioned. The requirements are clear, specific, and there is no evidence of misuse.
We need to stop anyone from entering our country for nefarious reason but we also need to realize that the criminal number is less than one percent of people trying to come here. There are about 300,000 illegals arriving yearly who need scrutiny (down from two million 18 years ago), but less than 3,000 (about eight a day) have any criminal intent. That is too many, but a number that ICE and border patrols should be able to defend against without causing a national crisis.
Refugees are the asylum seekers most in the news. Due to strife in Central America, many honest, hard-working families are fleeing for their lives. They are being killed by the thousands and deprived of any opportunity in their homeland, so they seek refuge. Our laws provide them every right to do so. These are the “tempest tossed” that Ms. Lazarus so eloquently invited to our border. Not only does our national ethos invite them, our laws are clear as well. The Immigration and Nationality Act, the United Nations Refugee Treaty (67 Senate votes to ratify), plus the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution all sanction refugees who land on our soil seeking asylum getting shelter, protection, and due process of the law.
Immigrants are invited and should be welcomed, but they have responsibilities too. People who emigrate here should learn English and accept traditions but should not have to give up their heritage. It is important to continue to celebrate culture, eat the foods enjoyed in the old country, and wear the clothes one is comfortable wearing. Most importantly, immigrants need guarantees for keeping and expressing faith in the ways they were taught.
Not assimilating into U.S. customs isn’t an issue in most immigrant families. Parents find it amazing and a little sad to see how quickly their children become X-Box denizens, mall crawlers, and lingo-slinging teens. I was a teacher in a former life and recall one student with a beautiful Korean name. I loved the way it sounded when I spoke with him. Suddenly one day he told me he wanted to be called “David”–it broke my heart. Immigrants need to keep the best of their origins while still becoming Americans.
My point is, the slogan that kicks off this column, “America, love it or leave it”, when spoken to a non-English speaker, someone in a hijab or burka, or someone seeking kukus for lunch, is misdirected. Those folks should be welcomed with open arms, not angerly told to “go back where you came from” or have the police called because of how they look. We value and make great gains as a country and society because of our pluralistic thinking. We’d be neither world leaders, nor the rich, productive country we are if we had narrow ideals like Russia, Iran and Syria. Beyond economic reasons, those “tempest tossed” have our laws on their side in their efforts to live here.
Those who point to someone who is different, scoff and abase are violating our national standards. They are the ones who should be asked to leave and seek a country with a more singular view of the world.
- All editorials, Letters to the Editor, columns and comments are the sole opinions of the authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of Mesquite Local News.