A Perpetual Conundrum: Immigration & Migration

How Solvable is This? Are There Wins to be Had, for Anyone?

The American Experience with Immigration

Historically and in modern times, America has been shaped in many ways by immigrants. Much of our progress, culture, and social construct comes from immigrants. After all, the ancestors of most of us were immigrants, too. I think one could make the case that so much that is good about this country comes from immigration. I acknowledge that Native Americans might take exception to that idea, and they surely have a point. But that is another conversation, for another time.

America has relied on immigrants in so many ways for so long. One should be cautious about translating personal experience into generalizations on wider scales, but two personal encounters have reminded me of this precious heritage.

New Citizens Being Sworn In

I had the pleasure of being at Mount Vernon one year, when a US Government official and a reenacted George Washington swore in about 100 new American citizens.

They were called out for the ceremony not by their names, but by their country of origin, so the rest of us could understand the world came here to be Americans. Many already wore military uniforms or first responder uniforms – already serving their new country. At the end of the ceremony, the official said, “Welcome home, fellow Americans.” There was not a dry eye anywhere nearby.

On The Way To The Airport

The other was a frequently repeated experience. I did a lot of business travel and often had a car set up to take me to the airport. The driver was often an immigrant. During the long ride, I would ask about their story. They came from more countries than I can recall. Many had been officials or professionals in their home country. Many came from countries in terrible conflict, with these people fleeing to save their families.

They were grateful to be here and more than willing to work from the bottom up to become Americans and to pay this country back. Not one sniveled or complained of the challenges they faced or the losses they had absorbed. These are people of courage, determination, stamina. I always thought, how lucky we are to have them among us.

And Yet…

It is hard not to conclude that the flood that crosses our borders daily is not sustainable. The Administration is doing its best, but we are on the edge of chaos on a running basis. Finding the balance is difficult. People who qualify for asylum deserve it, morally and under law. It is understandable that others desperately seek a better life, economically and in other ways.  But we cannot reasonably expect to take in everyone who wishes to be here, desperate though they are.

I would submit it could be possible to craft solutions that are just and humane, and workable for our country. But doing so takes political will and a commitment to doing the right thing all around. There are certainly some varying views among Democrats and Independents. Most Republicans have zero interest in anything other than fanning fear and hatred, making this a political issue, and honing our isolationists tendencies. Without a change on their part, no useful solution is likely to come forward.

Wait a Minute. Is That Fair to the Republicans?

It certainly is, for the most part. George Bush (the last one) had a pretty good plan to address most of this. His own party shot it down. Trump declared his first campaign with words of scorn and hate for immigrants. People like DeSantis, Cotton, Cruz, and others talk about deliberate use of deadly force on the border and attacking other countries.

DeSantis and Abbott have wantonly bused thousands of people to other cities and states, with no coordination and no support. They have done so in winter freezes and summer heat. They have done it to infants, children, pregnant women, handicapped men. Abbott has gone so much further, putting illegal barriers and barbed wire in the river boarder. People have been hurt, at least one may have died.

What kind of people do this sort of thing? It is beyond imagination – or forgiveness. It is also illegal, as I expect pending cases will confirm. These acts constitute a national shame. Cruelty and callousness on an epic scale.

Any Hope Out There?

Not anytime soon. But perhaps down the road. The reality is that as important as immigration is in so many ways, it is not a leading political factor, and not high on most American’s priority list, except those terrified by the hate mongers and to those in border communities and other areas of concentration that feel overwhelmed by all this.

And so, a solution likely only comes if 2024 yields a White House and a Congress progressive enough to see this as solvable and a required matter to address. Biden tried at a good start by setting up a system that requires would be immigrants to apply in their home countries first, turning back those who did not do so. But the system has been tough to set up working well in poor and remote countries, and there have been legal challenges. Still, this seems an important step to complete, easing the crush at the border and minimizing risks for these people.

There Is An Even Greater Problem

We have only talked so far about immigrants. The world has a crushing problem in this matter also, but on an even wider scale there are challenges with mass migration, people fleeing immanent death or hunger. Some of our border problems have a bit of that as well. The numbers in this category are staggering, at the highest levels in history and all over the planet, in all directions.

For this, we truly need a global systemic approach. Border countries cannot handle this alone. When they are forced to deal with it alone, there are inevitable breakdowns and cruelty. The rest of the world needs to help them. We need a genuine global plan, resourced, and conducted properly.

Squaring the Circle

This all constitutes a unique phenomenon. It is at once a huge problem and an enormous opportunity. It is grounded in practicality, humanity, law, and resources. Few matters are so complex, so challenging, so full of contradictory imperatives.

Immigration has always been America’s secret advantage over the rest of the world. It provides us a constant renewal, a flow of people so eager to live better that they will conquer remarkable obstacles to be among us.  We should step up to the risks and opportunities presented to us. Lead, America. Lead.

Bill Clontz

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