I believe that every country must have secure borders, but I also believe we must help people in need. So, I am ambivalent about what we should do.
However, I'm not ambivalent about the ugly nature of those crowds: yelling, sneering, sign carrying, spitting, chanting; directing their ugliness at busloads of kids; kids that have just traveled hundreds of miles and endured great hardships, hoping for a better life.
This unwelcoming committee, made up of people whose ancestors once arrived uninvited, does not square with the Statue of Liberty's inscription: "Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore." Should our generation remove this plaque for the sake of honesty?
I've also heard protester-on-the-street interviews: They tell us that we should take care of our own first before we spend taxpayer dollars on those people. However, these mostly white people come from conservative states that have shown little interest in spending their tax dollars on "our own." They even reject federal dollars so that their own could pay for Medicaid health insurance. Such discrepancies between words and deeds make their concerns seem less than genuine. It also implies that we can't do both, as if our trillion-dollar government can't do two things at once.
Their objections, and there are many, are all variations on the theme — immigrants are not to be judged as people in need, but as illegals and invaders.
Yet, in a 2014 study, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that almost 60 percent of the Central American children arriving alone at our border are leaving conditions that qualify for international protection. This is why it's important for the judicial process, put in place during the Bush administration, to be given the time and resources to do their job properly.
Our border issues are small in comparison to some other countries. Pakistan has over 2 million refugees. The little island of Malta has one refugee for every three natives. Kenya is receiving Somalians; Greece, Jordan and Bulgaria have a steady flow from Iraq and Afghanistan; Thailand has refugees from Myanmar; Chad receives the homeless from the Democratic Republic of Congo; and the list goes on.
Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch points out, “Lebanon, a country about the size of Connecticut, has seen an influx of about 1 million refugees from Syria,” which when adjusted for total population is equivalent to 73 million crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Jordan has similar ratios.
For centuries, the U.S. has been a haven for people fleeing potato famines, Nazis, religious persecution and oppression. Some of us remember the 1980 Mariel boatlift, where more than 100,000 Cubans floated to our shore as refugees. In our own community, we have resettled refugees from Nepal, hopefully with improved prospects. In all these examples, we found places for everyone.
So, while I admit that the arrival of thousands of immigrants is problematic, I am ashamed at the level of vitriol so many of my fellow citizens are willing to demonstrate. It is similar to the newsreel footage from the 1960s: white people acting badly, club wielding, screaming, hating; convinced that the ancestors of slaves still didn't deserve to sit at lunch counters, use rest rooms and front doors, vote, or sit at the front of the bus.
I don't know any refugees, but I would guess that anyone who could endure the conditions imposed by their journey — bringing only what they could carry, lacking what we would consider essential, being at the mercy of others, appreciating things we take for granted — would make a fine citizen.
In fact, I think it would improve things immeasurably if the immigration service would swap one protester for one refugee, sending the protester back to the refugee's hometown.
Remember, people are not born in the place of their choosing. It was only the accident of parentage that the protester may have been born in the U.S. and the immigrant in Central America.
The protesters' lack of empathy shows a shallowness of character; which, for the good of the country, we can easily forego. The refugee, on the other hand, has demonstrated characteristics we admire and should reward. The biggest problem is to get Guatemala and Honduras to go along.
Excluding Native Americans, we are all immigrants. We live in America not because we are special, but because we are lucky. Demonstrating intolerance for new arrivals is a form of cultural amnesia.
We need to use our immigration policy — but, in the meantime, perhaps we could dust off some of those Christian values of which we're so proud, or are we saving them for a special occasion?
— By Richard Kamischke, Tribune community columnist