The Rules

[“Immigration raids terrify kids, House is told” — San Francisco Chronicle]

You know, it’s such a gift to have had ancestors who had the foresight to emigrate to the United States while the doors were wide open. I’m not saying that everyone involved in the melange of immigrants that led to me qualified as wretched refuse, but I’ve seen where most of them came from. There are a lot of rocks strewn across the fields they worked. There is plenty of wind. There are long winter nights to contemplate the season to come and how to keep the cold out. For the people who left there, nothing was in short supply but level ground, cash in hand, and a prospect that things might change for the better.

But they crossed, they did, and they were welcome to try what millions of others had tried. They farmed. They mined coal. They worked in the stockyards, taught school, ministered to parishes, and worked in banks. If any of them got rich, I never heard about it. They did something far more important: They made me and everything I know possible.

The country kept the door wide open back then, but that should not be mistaken for an act of warm-hearted generosity. The country needed willing hands to help realize its manifest greatness; those forebears of mine and the millions like them were more or less willing.

I have to wonder how they would fare today. The door is still open, but just the slightest crack. Yes, lots of people slip over, under, or around it. Once they do, they seem to embark on the same path those forebears of mine did–they are today’s willing hands, and in slaughterhouses and construction sites and farm fields far and wide they are building something that only their children and grandchildren will get to see.

Or maybe not. These new immigrants aren’t following the rules if they fail to wait their turn at the door (a door, it should be noted, that is unlikely to ever open for their ilk–poor, uneducated, unable to speak our language). The rules–that’s another thing I have to wonder about. In the debate over immigration today, descendants of yesterday’s immigrants’ are careful to point out what honorable, law-abiding rule followers their ancestors were. Without subjecting anyone to a historical treatise just now, let’s just say that the bar for entry for most of these huddled and rule-following masses was a lot lower than it is today–unless, of course, they were Chinese or Japanese or from some other group loathed by the rule writers.

So, many of our new immigrants aren’t waiting their turn. Today’s immigration rule writers have decided this behavior is a danger to the country and are taking steps to punish the rule breakers. What form does the punishment take? See the article linked above. It talks about immigration roundups. I know most of us know this is going on, have heard stories about workplace raids, and probably put the whole business out of our minds.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend who teaches nearby told me about a student, one of the brightest in the class, who had come to school with his mother that morning. The mother was weeping. Why? the teacher asked. Because immigration agents had pounded on her door at 7:30 p.m., swept through her small apartment, and taken away three relatives. It was a shattering experience.

So this is what we’ve created to safeguard our bastion of prosperity–thug tactics in which a certain sector of the population is freely targeted and virtually without legal recourse. Oh, yes, none of this would happen if the affected people had just followed the rules, and we are, above all, a nation of rules. But there is a human cost here in the dismantling of people’s lives, the destruction of their sense of security, and in sowing emotional trauma. And for those who have got ours already, the sons and daughters of past generations of rule followers, there’s a cost in building the kind of apparatus that treats people as if they’re so much garbage to be thrown out. I’m all for rules–I’m not a fan of anyone coming into my house and taking my stuff, and I hate people who cut in line–but the rules need to have a humane edge. At our best, that’s the kind of rules we’ve written.

(Oh, and my solution for the illegal immigration issue: Amnesty, education, and citizenship.)

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