Let’s start by clearing a few things up. Firstly, there is no “immigration crisis.” Trying to turn it into one for political gain is dangerous. Unauthorized immigration is at a much lower level than in the early 2000s. As for the recent past, the increase in 2018 is still well below 2014, and just about the same as 2013 and 2016, numbers that rise as we get into summer.
Secondly, lumping the people showing up at the border into one group misses an important point: They’re coming for very different reasons and from very different places. While the number of single adults looking for work is down, the number of families and children — many of them asylum seekers — is up. There is a reason for that.
From the 1950s on, our support of dictatorships in Central America has haunted us. We overthrew the legitimately elected government of Guatemala as a favor to the people who brought us Chiquita banana. They were exploiting labor and opposed to land rights for the native Mayan people. We ignored the 36-year genocide of 200,000 that followed, even as we trained the Guatemalan military. Support for entrenched dictatorships was also echoed in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras. We need to step back and think about the consequences of our past actions. Those decisions have long-term implications well beyond the next tweet. Many of those families are seeking refuge from brutal and often state-sponsored violence. We bear some responsibility.
None of this is new. Benjamin Franklin hated the Germans. The disgraceful treatment of the Chinese who helped build the West is well known here in Northeast Oregon. After the depression of 1819-20, passenger ship travel increased, so more and more people arrived over the next century with the promise of work. Reaction to those arrivals came next.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917, quotas on Italians, Greeks and eastern Europeans, and the Immigration Act of 1925 all emerged at the turn of the last century. Later, the Criminal Immigration Law was developed by a racist and someone who believed we should be selectively breeding for the right people. Imagine how those who thought up those restrictions would react to Apple founder Steve Jobs. His father was a political refugee from Syria.
As for a solution to illegal immigration, that was offered up by previous administrations, Democratic and Republican. Those plans included a path to citizenship for long-time residents and workers in the United States. Both plans would have increased border security. Neither came close to being implemented.
The Bush administration plan was proposed by John McCain, Edward Kennedy, Jon Kyl and Lindsey Graham. The 2007 bill never overcame opposition in the Senate. In 2013, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act did pass the Senate with support from both sides of the aisle but never saw the light of day in the House. Revisit those plans and come up with a compromise. That’s what we elect politicians to do. That’s what they’re not doing.
One of my boyhood memories is of a fellow who lived a few doors down from us. A night worker, he didn’t like having kids playing near his portion of our dead-end street. He knew that my mother, with her thick accent, was French-Canadian, so his grumpy response to our kid-noise was to tell us to go back to our country. It didn’t matter then that we had all been born in the U.S., and it doesn’t matter now to those who still say that stuff. Our Native American friends would probably be glad to discuss this with them.
Mass trials and family separations don’t fit into my democratic values, values that have to be constantly re-
emphasized. It’s time, once again, to figure out who we are and where we want to go. That’s the cheap price we pay for the freedom we cherish.