U.S. loses soul in vilifying migrants
Apr. 30, 2006

Nation was built on justice, equality


In the us-and-them rhetoric about illegal immigration, one thing needs to be understood.

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 point.

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 continue.

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 services.

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 imagination.

Reach the writer at Linda.Valdez@arizonarepublic.com.