Looking backward on immigration |
Arizona Daily Star
May 22, 2006
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/opinion/129958
There's been a lot of heat and smoke, but not much light, in the newest debate on the matter of immigration on our border with Mexico.
No one has covered himself with glory in the proposed "solutions" to an age-old reality: Mexico (and more recently Guatemala and Honduras and El Salvador) have poor people who want to work, better themselves and support their families. The United States has jobs, many of them, it's true, low-paying jobs that Americans don't want.
So they've come to los Estados Unidos, the United States, by the millions. Most find work, make money to send home and eventually return home themselves. Some came to stay and became citizens, and their children, like ours, became too well educated and too spoiled to consider working at the low-paid jobs that wait for new waves of immigrants.
There are two leading factions in the fight.
One wants a fence built across the Southwest from Brownsville, Texas, to Imperial Beach, Calif. They want an army of Border Patrol agents backed up by the might of our military guarding every foot of that border. They want illegal aliens living and working in this country — millions of them — ferreted out, arrested, prosecuted for felony presence in the home of the free and land of the brave, and deported.
The other faction wants a kinder, gentler way of dealing with the problem and the people. They don't want to militarize our borders. They want a guest- worker program that will allow those who seek only temporary residence for employment to come here legally and pick our fruit and our vegetables and mow our lawns and clean our hotel rooms and cook and clean in our restaurants. They want amnesty and a clear path to citizenship for those who've settled here and are raising families.
There have always been nativist Know Nothings in this country. Some of those who now rail against Latino immigration are descendants of people who were, themselves, hated, feared and disrespected when they arrived from Germany or Ireland or Italy or Russia or Portugal or China. Some were hated for being Catholic. Others for being Jewish.
Their new lives in this country were harsh indeed, that first generation that arrived in the 1800s and early 1900s. They crowded into dangerous, unhealthy slums in New York City. They and their children slaved in the mills of New England and the sweatshops of Manhattan.
How would those first arrivals from so long ago judge the harsh and angry words of their descendants against another wave of new arrivals fleeing poverty and persecution?
I grew up in South Texas on broad plains that once belonged to no one, occupied only at times by nomadic native peoples like the extinct coastal-dwelling Karankawa and their enemies, the Comanche. The land was first claimed by France and Spain and then by newly independent Mexico. It was taken away from Mexico by as surly and intemperate a bunch of illegal immigrants from Tennessee and Kentucky as one could imagine.
Among the Latino kids I grew up with were children of first generations of Mexican immigrants, as well as the children of families whose names were on some of the first Spanish land grants, families who'd once owned those plains for as far as the eye could see.
They touched the land and graced it with place names from their limpid language. They brought spice to both the food and the society itself. They weren't just the first cowboys, those vaqueros; they invented the art and the gear.
More than 40 years ago, I found myself in the first great battle of the Vietnam War in the Ia Drang Valley. There, fighting beside me, were two dozen soldiers who hailed from towns and cities within a hundred miles of my hometown. I ran into one soldier, Vince Cantu, who'd graduated with me in the 55-member Class of 1959 in Refugio, Texas. All but one of the other 25 bore names such as Garcia, Hernandez and Pena.
They're my friends, my brothers, and I know of no others who have a greater claim to citizenship and honor and respect in this great country of ours.
No politician has the right to dishonor so proud and fine a people with angry words and foolish solutions to this situation. Sending 6,000 National Guard troops isn't the answer, and it isn't even new. We've been doing that for a decade and more. Go to El Paso and talk to the troops at Joint Task Force North (formerly Joint Task Force 6). They've been bringing Guard and Reserve units in for two weeks at a time to help the Border Patrol. They're useful but hardly the definitive solution.
Our border with Mexico stretches for 1,950 miles. We can't fence it entirely. We can't guard every foot of it. We can't keep those who want to work away from jobs that need filling.
What we could do is deal as sensitively as humanly possible with both the issue and the people. We could work more closely and more generously with Mexico to help encourage the building of a better economy, better opportunities for its citizens and a more just society.
Perhaps we should move the Statue of Liberty from New York harbor to Nogales.
Joseph L. Galloway
Joseph L. Galloway is co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young." Write to him at: Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, 700 12th St. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, D.C. 20005-3994.