“But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it...It’s been this way for decades. And for decades, we haven’t done much about it,” President Barack Obama, Thursday, November 19, 2014.
Other than the native Americans who greeted those first Pilgrims and their predecessors ‘discovering’ the Americas, most everyone here got here from somewhere else. Part of the beauty and history of our nation is our melting pot of assimilation, allowing for taking part in the American dream and building a future for yourself, as well as your family.
Yes, for reasons of national security alone we should secure our borders, north and south. The devil of course remains in the details of just how to secure the several thousand miles of land line and river and lakefronts we share with Mexico and Canada. And yes, we clearly have needed, for nearing two decades, a more clearly defined methodology for Legal Immigration into our nation.
We have not always been the most compassionate to others, particularly in times of war, or when justifying our actions with “Manifest Destiny.” Here in Georgia and the neighboring Carolinas we forcefully relocated the entire Cherokee nation, largely on foot, walking from the Piedmont to the then Oklahoma territory on foot, in what became known as The Trail of Tears. Thousands of innocent women and children died on this trek for no crime other than pre-existing us.
During World War II, we interred (imprisoned) thousands of Japanese/American citizens, both against their will, and to protect them from threats or angry actions by their neighbors in a time of paranoia and fear. And yet, despite these and other major missteps in the name of wartime or patriotism, we have never simply mass deported thousands, yet alone millions, for the crime of coming into America without permission. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say we are not about to start doing that.
Yes, the roughly 4-million legal immigration applicants, correctly waiting in line should come first, and yes, we need a better and less ‘Swiss Cheese’ system for determining our acceptance of political refugees from other war torn areas of the globe. But we also need to develop a pathway to regular, contributing and tax-paying citizenship for the millions already living here in the shadows, and certainly for their millions of children born here and whether we like it or not, as a result of our current constitution, already legal citizens as a birthright.
As with an earlier proposal, shot down in the heat of conservative attack, any transition plan should require English language proficiency, a period of fines and fees and perhaps required public or military service. A path to citizenship already exists for volunteers for military service to the United States. In a time of massive defense budget cuts, what about a supplement to our reserves or National Guard, allowing illegal immigrants to work off their citizen fees in service, while providing service back to our nation, such as patrolling and securing those very same borders?
Or perhaps resurrect a program, similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps of Roosevelt’s New Deal, called the Immigrant Conservation Corps, putting illegal immigrants to work on public service initiatives, building or rebuilding roads, bridges, parks and other public works projects, again, both earning a wage and working off the fines from their illegal immigration.
And for the mothers and women who come here, our school systems can use help with second language instruction, para professional and support services, and again with constrained local school system budgets, this work could be structured as repayment of fees/fines for illegal immigration while again providing a public service of good and benefit to all.
Republicans cannot afford, politically, to segregate themselves further as isolationists, or become the party of fear, xenophobia and non-assimilation. Democrats need to remember that not all Hispanics, Asians and other minorities agree with their concept of ‘amnesty’as millions have already painstakingly spent years of work and dedication achieving their own legal citizenship status. But either way, and for both parties, the reality remains, we are a nation of immigrants, though predominantly of European and African origin...though that is changing. We need to work harder to settle this internally, among ourselves, before outside forces make those choices for us. Unless we want to ask our native American friends, who still in many ways got the short end of the stick, how do they think we should be handling this?