If Not Now, When?

i282600889619931598._szw1280h1280_I’ve been sitting on a blog topic that is dear to my heart for quite sometime now. I suppose that I realize that the only people who will agree with my thoughts on this subject are those who are already in my choir. In other words there is little chance that I will change someone’s mind but I have reached a point where I won’t be able to live with myself if I don’t at least try. 

 The last many months of the Presidential nomination process have been disturbing to me, particularly the campaign of Donald Trump. Perhaps more than any of his hair brained ideas I am most concerned about the comments that he has made regarding immigration. His hyperbole in describing many of the people from Mexico as “criminals and rapists” should have automatically disqualified him from consideration, but instead they have become the cornerstone of his platform. The fact that he continues to dominate the Republican race has been rather depressing to me. In fact I’ve spent the day after Super Tuesday attempting to distract myself from the reality of the current situation, all to no avail. Whether I am looking for birthday presents for a niece and nephew or taking my daily walk I keep wondering how so many Americans can possibly support such a horrible man.

I am the granddaughter of immigrants from what is now Slovakia. To say that they were far from welcomed to their neighborhood would be and understatement. My grandfather had dark hair and eyes and a swarthy complexion. He spoke English with a decided accent and my grandmother ultimately gave up on learning our language and resorted to speaking only in her native tongue. The two of them had eight children who were a somewhat rag tag bunch. With very little money they had to make do with clothing and shoes that were not always of the best quality. My mother often told stories of dodging stones and taunts that were hurled at her and her siblings as they made their way to school. She was openly called dirty by the mother of her very best friend and denied an invitation to her buddy’s home. While she affected a strong exterior I saw the hurt in her eyes when she recalled the unfairness of her treatment. She had done nothing to earn such disparagement but it was all too real. 

 For most of my career in education I was blessed to work with children and young adults from Mexico, Central America and South America. There were a few who had trouble conforming to the school rules but the vast majority of them were polite and loving as were their parents. Among those students there were some who were not living in this country legally. I always knew who they were because their numbers for standardized testing were different from the social security numbers that the others had. I never completely realized how difficult their lives were until I began working in a high school. There I learned of the terror that was part of these students’ daily lives. They were not able to return to their native countries to visit relatives. They worried about whether or not they would be allowed into universities. If they received an acceptance to one that was not in Texas they wondered if crossing state lines might endanger them. Even worse was the idea that earning a college degree they would not provide them with access to work in this country. 

Those of you who are of a more authoritarian nature are probably thinking about now that the parents of these kids created the problems and that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with those who break the law. Unfortunately so many of these students didn’t even recall being brought to this country. This was the only world that they had ever really known. They constantly worried that either they or their parents might one day be deported and they had no idea how to live anywhere but here. More often than not they were excellent students who worked a bit harder than their peers and did their best to stay out of trouble so as not to bring unwanted attention to themselves. Knowing their situation was heartbreaking. They were exactly the kind of people who make our country great and yet they felt threatened and unwanted. I totally understood their pain.

When the Gang of Eight created bipartisan immigration legislation that would have provided them with an answer I was quite happy. It was in reality a great plan save for one tiny aspect. It didn’t take future illegal immigration into account. Rather than simply adding amendments to fix this oversight the Congress refused to pass it, claiming that it was little more than an amnesty bill.

Now I have a little bit different idea about amnesty based on my years in the classroom. If my students behaved like barbarians and refused to do their homework and I simply looked the other way and then gave everyone a passing grade, that was amnesty. If I explained to them that they had to do some compensatory work to get back in my good graces, that was not amnesty. That was making them earn their way back to good marks. That is what the Gang of Eight immigration reform was all about. Only those willing to come out of the shadows, follow the laws, pay taxes, and do certain things would have had a pathway to citizenship. For my frightened students now known as the Dreamers that would have been a Godsend. They were already being exemplary in every possible way. This would have allowed them to accomplish their goals while earning a right to undo the transgression that had actually been committed through no fault of their own.

 I was gravely saddened when the bill failed. I had hoped that the two sides of the argument would have been able to craft a compromise. Instead there has been an impasse and the fate of these very real people is up in the air depending on who becomes the next President of the United States. One of the Republican candidates for President, Marco Rubio, has been vilified for attempting to solve a problem that must be addressed. Donald Trump on the other hand is feted as a hero because he boasts that he will send all of them back and build a wall that Mexico will pay for. He would even like to repeal the part of the Constitution that states that anyone born here is automatically a citizen. For his angry, ridiculous and hurtful ideas he is attracting huge crowds of people and will in all probability gain the nomination of the Republican Party, disgracing even the honorable men and women who are members of the party of Abraham Lincoln.

The only Republican candidate who honestly seems to understand the plight of the people who risk everything to come here is Jeb Bush. He was absolutely correct when he insisted that they do the unthinkable out of love. I can’t even begin to tell you how often I have heard illegal immigrants tell me that they want only the best for their children. They would walk through fire if necessary to provide them with opportunities that they would not have anywhere else. What good loving parent cannot understand this kind of thinking?

When I was in high school I learned in my religion class that we cannot judge another human being without walking in his/her shoes. We were taught that some situations are not nearly as uncomplicated as they may seem. Sometimes breaking a rule is the most heroic thing that someone might do. Jesus did it often to teach us that we must use our sense of humanity in deciding what is right. He performed miracles on the Sabbath to demonstrate that sometimes the needs of people trump the rules.

Yes, my grandfather and grandmother came here legally. At the time there were very few restrictions on immigration. The door was wide open. Individuals from south of our borders were free to come and go at will. My grandfather became a naturalized citizen in only a few years. It was a far easier process than it is now. Still he and his children suffered from prejudices and hatefulness no matter how hard they worked. Somehow there always seem to be people who fear those that they do not understand. 

The strength of our nation lies in its compassion and willingness to help those who are in need. I shudder to think that we might ever consider rounding up eleven million souls from their homes and sending them out of the country. Aside from the fact that it would be virtually impossible, it is also inhumane. It’s time that we work to select leaders who will solve problems with sensitivity rather than following those who would play to our basest instincts. Let’s quit hurling insults and throwing rocks and instead find solutions that really work. There is a better way. We are just not willing to do the hard work to get there. It won’t take a wall or executive action to figure this out, just a willingness to work together.

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