U.S. loses soul in vilifying migrants
THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC
Apr. 30, 2006
Nation was built on justice, equality
In the us-and-them rhetoric about illegal immigration, one thing needs to be
This is not about them.
It's about us.
Even an incompetent president who earned his unpopularity ratings the
old-fashioned way, one failure at a time, got this one right.
"It's important that we uphold the values of the United States of America,"
George W. Bush said as he launched a White House push for immigration reform
that should have begun years ago.
His speechwriter probably saw that statement as the usual boilerplate patriotism
that politicians sprinkle like nuts over oatmeal speeches.
But it is much more. It is the truth that is getting lost as politicians and
pundits dig deeper into their positions and toss rhetoric toward the target
marked "public opinion."
All the talk of illegal immigrants as hooligans or helpless victims misses the
This is not about them.
It's about us.
Our nation's soul is as stake here.
How we solve the illegal immigration problem will define who we are. It will
show whether we are willing to live up to the shining ideals on which the nation
was built. Like so many parents, the so-called Founding Fathers did not meet
their own standards. They wrote about equality and the inherent value of the
individual. It took a long time and an ugly war for some individuals in America
to be released from slavery.
But this nation's founding documents, its legendary commitment to the dignity of
the individual, carried the seed that made it impossible for slavery to
Are we now, again, going to accept that millions of people who live among us are
so inherently different that they should be considered drones whose work is
valued but whose humanity is not?
Creating a guest-worker program that does not include a path to citizenship
would accept exactly that premise.
Insisting that illegal immigrants who have lived and worked here for many years
are not eligible to become citizens accepts that premise.
We cannot be a nation in pursuit of justice and a more perfect union if we see
people who have helped us build our prosperity as good for nothing beyond their
blood, sweat and tears. We cannot be the America that was built by immigrants
and exclude the immigrants who are building wealth.
We have a nasty side to our national psyche that gives in to racism.
Immigrants make easy targets. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate
groups, says neo-Nazi bulletin boards include suggestions for harassing
migrants, such as "Steal the money from any illegal walking into a bank or
check-cashing place"; and "Discourage Spanish-speaking children from going to
school. Be creative."
The bigots are having a field day as a nation of decent and caring people
agonizes over the very real problem of illegal immigration. The bigots, who
peddle a lie about how these Latino immigrants refuse to assimilate, don't talk
much about how quickly the migrants abandoned the Mexican flag for the American
one. The rest of us noticed.
A group organizing demonstrations in behalf of migrants calls itself the Somos
America coalition. That means "We are America." They are. We all are.
Yes, illegal immigration has to be stopped. We have to be able to control the
flow of people across our borders. We have to be able to ensure that people who
work here do so legally. We should not reward lawbreakers.
We also have to face facts. Illegal immigration grew to crisis proportions under
the government's eyes and because of government policy. It grew because it
served the needs of business and fed the prosperity of a nation with low
unemployment, an educated, aging population and a lust for cheap goods and
The illegal immigrants who are here were invited. What part of "now hiring"
don't you understand? The labor of more migrants will be needed in the future.
We need an enforceable immigration policy to deal with both groups. But America
risks her soul if she writes new immigration law that vilifies illegal
immigrants and ignores their humanity.
How we treat migrants will affect their lives and the lives of their children in
the most profound ways. If we see them as drones who do not deserve the human
rights that the Declaration of Independence says are unalienable, they will
suffer. They will lose.
But, ultimately, we will lose more. Because this is about us. The big U.S.
It is about who we are and what we learned from Founding Fathers who gave us the
chance to live up to ideals that were beyond their reach but not their
Reach the writer at Linda.Valdez@arizonarepublic.com.