With all the news about the spring offensive of brave and determined Ukrainian soldiers striking back at Russian aggressors, the almost daily occurrences of innocent people being shot and killed for no reason other than a gun was in easy reach of being fired, and the attempted hostage-taking by Republicans over the debt ceiling it might seem near impossible to add another top-of-the-fold story to the mix. Nonetheless, immigrants at the southern border are making its usual series of articles and talking points across the nation.
There is merit to some of the news about the border, as the scheduled court-ordered lifting of Title 42, a public health rule issued during the pandemic that gives U.S. officials unusual powers to quickly expel migrants who cross the border without permission is soon to occur. But as is usual when this topic is elevated comes the partisan rage about immigration that also connects too easily with racism. At a time when Wisconsin Republicans say the worker shortage is so dire, they need to pass legislation so fourteen-year-olds can serve patrons their drinks, alerts us all to the need for more people desiring to live and make wages in the nation. (I trust some creative editorial cartoonist is drawing a kid in northern Wisconsin studying the whiskey rebellion on the bar counter as he is getting ready to serve table seven their cocktails.) There is clearly a need in every sector of our economy that is screaming out for workers on the one hand as there are clearly many people who wish to reside and work in our nation at the border on the other. Of course, a nation must have control of its borders but we also must have a comprehensive immigration policy passed by Congress to react to both ends of the issue.
For the record, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 passed in the Senate on May 25, 2006, with a 62-36 vote. (I very much approved of the measure.) The bill included provisions to strengthen border security with fencing, vehicle barriers, surveillance technology, and more personnel; a new temporary worker visa category; and a path to legal status for immigrants in the country illegally if they met specific criteria. Then-President George W. Bush commended the Senate “for passing bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform” and said he looked forward to working with both chambers.
But the bill was never taken up by the House.
Then in 2013, a bill backed by Democrats and 14 Republicans, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act passed the Senate on a 68-32 vote on June 27, 2013. Another measure many found grounded in the policy principles that our nation needed to strive at implementing.
It rotted in the GOP House.
The Dreamers have been held hostage to partisan politics so long that they will likely have grandkids before our nation can find a will to resolve the issue. Though our nation is awash in political dysfunction which results in not passing legislation dealing with immigration the partisan anger is high and too often just mean and cruel. Sometimes, as we know, cruelty itself is the reason for such outbursts. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott this week labeled the dead family from a mass shooting as “illegal immigrants” and in so doing removed any sense of humanity from the horror. On display was the foghorn of racism that comes too easily to our politics.
One of the best columns I read about immigration in many months landed in newspapers across the nation a couple weeks ago. I clipped James Rosen’s words from my local daily paper and post a section of it below. Yes, we have issues at the border requiring a national policy response, but the vitriol and outright racism that often lands on those who simply wish to make for a better life with a job and some hope on their shoulders must be called out. One way to address the current headlines is to shake hands with our past.
There was a “border crisis” in the 1840s when the Irish flooded into the country in huge numbers; they made up half of all immigrants. Yet they would come to dominate politics in Boston, New York and other cities while seeing one of their own elected as president in 1960.
There was a “border crisis” in the 1850s when waves of Chinese immigrants arrived, drawn by the California gold rush and fleeing economic turmoil at home. Yet they almost single-handedly built the first transcontinental railroad and opened many popular businesses.
There was a “border crisis” in the early 1900s when millions of Jews came to escape pogroms and other persecutions in Eastern Europe. Yet they would come to dominate fields from filmmaking to academia, earning a volatile mix of admiration and contempt in their new homeland.
There was a border crisis in the 1940s when Japanese immigrants were rounded up and held in internment camps during World War II. Yet today, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Suburu employ tens of thousands of Americans at factories in eight states; hundreds of thousands more work for firms that supply them or sell their cars.
There was a “border crisis” after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks when FBI agents began to question the large Arab community in Dearborn, Michigan, and question Muslim immigrants elsewhere. Yet, Arab Americans today head major universities and make major contributions in every field, from science and computer engineering to business, journalism, entertainment and politics. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco to a Syrian father … and a German-American mother.
The original “border crisis” started long before Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The immigrants who arrived in the early 1600s went on to found a great nation after slaughtering the Native Americans who preceded them, a tragic tale of conquest that illustrates the morally murky precept, famously repurposed by Winston Churchill, “History is written by the victors.”