Immigration — always an emotional issue — is back on the front burner with President Barack Obama’s recent announcement of a partial change in federal policy. The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on Arizona’s “show your papers” law will no doubt further inflame passions.
In one sense, these strong feelings are nothing new. From our country’s founding and through each previous wave of immigration —German, Irish, Italian, Eastern European, the people already here feared the impact of the new arrivals on the “American way of life.” Despite it all, the nation survives.
And let’s keep in mind that not all past immigrants were “legal.” We have had U.S. senators whose parents entered the country illegally. Business leaders also, including Adolph Coors, founder of the beer empire.
Now today we hear: Secure the border with Mexico. This is certainly a good idea to the extent possible. But remember the border is a thousand miles long. Fences and walls (and both have been built) can be tunneled under or climbed over.
Deport them all, some shout. Eleven million people? What would happen to the citizen-spouse left behind or the minor children born here?
The law is the law, comes back the answer. But doesn’t it count that these undocumented individuals have been here many years, otherwise law abiding, hardworking, family-oriented, church-going people? Of course, some commit serious crimes, but Hispanics have no monopoly on that. All serious criminals, whoever they are, should be appropriately punished.
If each of us honestly looked deeply at our extended family’s ancestry, I bet many of us would be surprised to find that we too have some relative somewhere along the line who entered illegally. There’s a cute way of expressing this point: To native Americans, the Pilgrims were illegal immigrants.
Obama’s recent announcement is only a partial and even temporary fix that was needed because of Congress’ unwillingness to act. The individuals he has singled out came here at a young age because their parents brought them here. Yes, the parents entered illegally, but the Bible reminds us not to visit the sins of the father on the son.
No amount of hand-wringing or harassment has ever stopped earlier waves of immigration. And thank goodness! Our country — and certainly Northwest Indiana — are richer and more interesting because of all of the cultures that make up our society. And no need to worry about language or the American way of life. Young Hispanics want to speak English and succeed as Americans.
Calvin Bellamy is a partner at Krieg DeVault. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.