Illegal immigration is definitely a hot--and complicated--topic, and one that makes my heart hurt.
Whenever I hear people talk of keeping "them" out by building a wall or whatever method, I can't help but feel the sad irony of it.
Recently, I had a conversation where someone asked me, "What do you think about all these refugees ready to overtake our land?"
"You know who else said that?" I asked.
"The Native Americans."
I really don't understand how folks can forget that truth about the history of the United States.
I can take no credit for being an American citizen. I didn't earn it. My parents lived here, and voila...I was born an American citizen. And while America is far from perfect, and we need to address some tough issues rather than sweep them under the rug, this country is a beacon to so many who were not fortunate to be born into a land of opportunity.
I could have been born in a country racked by civil war.
I could have been born in a country that allows "honor killing" of women simply because their family feels insulted.
(Though different, we must face our own women's issues in the U.S., as there are plenty of men in suits up on Capitol Hill that are trying to prohibit me from having rights to my own body.)
I could have been born in a country with rampant poverty and little, if any, opportunity.
I could have been born in any number of places where rights are nonexistent or there is no such thing as safety.
I wasn't...but millions and millions of others are.
While I was born in America, my grandfather wasn't. He came to America for the same reasons that so, so many others do: to make a better life for himself and his family. And, obviously, he wasn't the only ancestor of mine to make that choice.
Because of my grandfather's journey of hope, my family is here.
Grandpa was a hard worker, working as a manual laborer his whole life. Though he wasn't able to move beyond that kind of backbreaking work, his children were. He paved the wave for that better life, and today's immigrants are no different. How can we blame anyone who wants to escape danger and poverty for safety and food?
We can go ahead and argue that they should do it legally, but that process is very flawed and outdated. For me, all I need to do is put myself in the place of someone who is living in poverty or war and think, "What should I do for my family? Should I wait years--maybe even decades--to go through the proper channels? Life is happening now. My kids are hungry now. I need a job now..." My grandfather was able to come to America legally, but I wonder what he would have done if that option wasn't available to him.
Ninety-eight percent of undocumented workers prefer to live and work legally in the United States and would do so if they could. Now, I don't pretend to know even close to everything about this issue, but I personally believe that if we put our resources into ascertaining any criminals or terrorists who are trying to come to America and make sure that they don't get in, while we facilitate an effective process to welcome those who are ready to be law-abiding members of our society, we would have a much healthier and vibrant country.
Years ago when I worked as a waitress, I worked with a number of busboys who were from Mexico. In a job that is very low on the pay scale, they could earn enough to send money back to Mexico and provide for their families. In order to do so, they shared cramped apartments to save more money, all the while missing their loved ones terribly. We would talk, and they would tell me how much they were looking forward to the month that they would be able to go home and visit. They worked their butts off eleven months out of the year while longing for that one month. I learned a lot from them about dedication and sacrifice.
America's legacy is written on the pedestal tablet of the Statue of Liberty. Many of us may know the "give me your tired, your poor" part, but if you've never read the poem, written by Emma Lazarus, in its entirety, take a look:
"The New Colossus"
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
It doesn't continue, "Until we decide that we no longer want them."
It's not Us vs Them. It's Us and Us.