Last night I shared great food and company with a group of people, many of whom might fall under the “undocumented” and “illegal” title or have in the past. I don’t know who, and I’d prefer not to know.
As I looked around, I recognized many people. Some work in the farming industry, some in construction, some as hotel maids and groundskeepers. Many started by laboring long hours in the hot sun to provide fresh produce for our tables and a living for both their parents and their children. They save money and pay taxes. They play soccer on the weekends and have family get-togethers where all are welcome, including their American friends and neighbors. They shop at Wal-Mart and The Apple Store and infuse the economy with loads of money. These people are now homeowners with children graduating high school, something many of them were unable to do. Many of these kids are going on to college. Their parents had a dream of a better life – the American dream.
Yet they are the latest scourge in a long line of immigrants.
I thought about Gary Johnson’s approach to immigration. He wants to round everyone up, not to deport them, not to separate families, but to get them work permits and legalize the very valuable contribution to our economy. I looked around and realized that this would make the unacceptable people among them suddenly acceptable to regular Americans. Nothing else would change about them except a legal document. They would continue to do the same jobs, pay the same taxes, eat family dinners, and enjoy their time off. Yet if Donald Trump had his way, some of them would live in fear of being yanked away from all they have known for years, families uprooted, resulting in family and societal instability as well as resentment among this younger generation of Americans.
I once spoke with an undocumented woman whose mother was ill. She had tears in her eyes as she told me how she longed to see her, but to do so risked losing everything she’d worked so hard for. I thought about people I know who have lost parents and have not been able to even return to attend their funeral because to do so would mean being unable to come back to their home, where their children attend school, where they have friends and family, where they are merging into this great melting-pot we call America.
Do these families fly Mexican flags? Sure. Do they do things Mexican style? Absolutely, just like Italian-Americans, Japanese-Americans, and any other hyphenated Americans who came before them. Cultural heritage flows through all of us. I have Swedish and Norwegian roots. They were very strong in my great-grandparents, who spoke the mother tongue. They were strong in my grandparents, but with each successive generation, they meld with the greater American experience. The second generation of these Mexican families speak English and watch a mixture of Spanish and English TV. They eat Lays and Sabritones. They have traded the pulga (Mexican swap meet) for traditional brick and mortar stores. They dance and smile and laugh and love just like anyone else.
Send them all back, you say? How about cultivating a little compassion and respect. Thank the person who cleans your hotel room. She’s putting food on her family’s table. Thank the guy who brought your refrigerator. His son just signed up for the military to fight for his country, our country. Smile at the lady speaking Spanish at Wal-Mart. She’s probably trying her hardest to learn English as she prepares her own children for a better future.
While we’re struggling to fix the broken system of immigration, let’s not feed into the propaganda. Immigration policies change over the years. We have a vibrant, creative, inquisitive and hopeful generation coming up as Americans, and they are making our country a better place.