To the Point for 5/18/2006

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THIS WEEK PRESIDENT BUSH announced that he was going to authorize the use of National Guardsmen to patrol the borders running along the Southwestern coast of our country.

He is doing this in order to protect this country from the influx of illegal immigrants coming here from Mexico. This comes in response to a day last week where immigrants took the day off in order to show this country the important role that immigrants play in the course of this country.

The day closed many businesses across the U.S., and through the many parades that occurred across the country, many people saw the large number of immigrants that are already in this country — many of them illegally.

We walk a fine line as members of this country. On one hand many people see the influx of illegal immigrants into this country as taking jobs away from Americans; while others see illegal immigrants as giving license to businesses to hire people at a cheaper rate.

Some people believe that immigrants drain social programs while providing no return through taxes; and that this would be a better country if everyone just went back to where they came from.

The problem is, if we take our own advice and send everybody back where they came from, there wouldn’t be anyone left to shut off the lights.

This is a country founded on the principles of people who sought so strongly to live free, that they packed up the little possessions that they owned and set sail for an unknown land with little hope of ever returning to their homeland or their families.

In the late 1800s, immigrants to this country knew that they had arrived at their new home when the site of the Statue of Liberty came into view. Standing proudly, the statue lifted her light of freedom to a generation of people who were giving up all that they had to pursue the American dream.

As a fundraiser for the Statue of Liberty, in 1883 Emma Lazarus wrote a poem that sought to capture the feeling and meaning of those coming here.

In part, “The New Colossus” reads:

“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!”

What that poem says is that you were entering a country that was ready and willing to accept all people of all nations who yearn for the freedoms that we take for granted each and everyday.

It makes no distinction between the rich and the poor; the privileged and the outcasts; the accepted and the rejected.

Our freedoms, whether we want to admit it or not, come with a price. If we want to enjoy our freedoms; then we must also be willing to extend those same freedoms to others.

The difference?

When our ancestors saw that statue and knew that they had found their new home, before they came into the country they spent time at Ellis Island, going through the process and the channels for properly entering the United States.

Today’s immigration problem that many of the foreigners that we see have not gone through those processes. They have found ways of crossing the borders and entering this country without the paperwork and without the proper channels.

But these people also live with fear. They live with the fear that they may be returned to their homeland. That their children will not have the chance to pursue the dreams that their parents struggled to give to them. What if someone turns them in? What then does the future hold?

Which brings us back to the president’s decision to use National Guardsmen to patrol the borders.

Is it necessary to make a threat of force in order to “protect” us from illegal immigrants? Do we really have to have armed soldiers moving up and down the border to keep those who “yearn to breathe free” out of here.

If the truth be known, many of those immigrants are not taking jobs from Americans — they are taking jobs that Americans refuse to do. Where would this county have been during the final years of the height of tobacco farming without migrant workers? If we’re really honest with ourselves, they are doing jobs that for some reason our citizens choose not to do.

The answer? There isn’t an easy one, but why not start with making a real effort to get those illegal immigrants to come forward and begin the process of being here legally? To do that, some promises will have to be made, and kept. Those who come forward to register as legal immigrants will have to believe that they will not face persecution or deportation by doing so.

This is truly and “hot button” topic in our society today; but I believe that the answer lies in our past in order to fix our future. If we again see ourselves as the “great melting pot” of cultures; then it becomes easier to understand the lengths that people go through in order to live the American Dream.

We need to find a better answer than patrolling our borders with the military.