I have a brother who is two years younger than I am and I have a very clear memory of our early childhood -- I was 5 and he was 3. Whenever we were asked to pick up our toys because company was coming, including visiting small children, he would gather all his toys up and hide them under his bed. I remember protesting loudly (and tearfully) to my mother that this behavior was “… selfish and mean “and how could she let him do that?” I am sad to say this attitude toward his toys has not changed in the last 60 years but we don’t discuss it anymore. Our parents are gone now so I have no-one to complain to about it.
I think of this story every time I read about a group of immigrants receiving their citizenship. I get a small thrill as I read about what these people have been through to reach this point. The tiny openings in a system of quotas and rules they have had to fight, scratch and crawl through to become one of us. Most of us are totally ignorant of this system’s realities and few care.
I have listened to the immigration rhetoric far too long to sit idly and not comment. This country, which I love and respect, has never “welcomed” immigrant populations. Inevitably, the typical 3- year-old’s “dog in the manger” attitudes kick in. We started by trying to kick out the folks who were here first, with only partial success, (this was fairly easy because most of the “originals” had no guns.) Then we moved on to the East-European settlers, the Jews, the Italians, the Irish, (Catholics) the Chinese, on and on. With each ethnic wave there was a counter-wave of resistance from the “owners” of the country and new laws passed to prevent or inhibit new waves. In spite of all this we maintained our image as an unprecedented refuge for the tired and persecuted victims of less-enlightened countries. We are the only country in the world where few of its citizens want to go somewhere else to live and work. There are very good reasons for this. We have a great country! We are comfortable, we have more and bigger toys per-capita than anyone anywhere, (Have you seen the size of the kitchen appliances in European countries?) and we can say anything we want to except “Fire?” in a crowded theater. We are blessed, beyond any historic imagining, with the resources to bring the Christian mandate “Love one another” to life for all of us.
So what is the problem?
I think the problem is we are a very spoiled and lazy country and we DO NOT want to share our good stuff, even indirectly, by giving thankless, dirty, grueling low-wage jobs we refuse to do, to visitors who will do anything to better the lives of their families. We even choose to build walls to keep these desperate people out. It was Ronald Reagan who famously said “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down That Wall!” after all. I even heard a person who shall remain anonymous, but he knows who he is, say, in a public place: “If this country was really serious about curbing illegal immigration we would plant land mines along the border. It is radical but it would definitely solve the problem.”
The same folks who demonized Communism’s Iron Curtain and its nasty habit of shooting those trying to get in or out (illegally) now think a wall is a fine idea. The hypocrisy of this anti-life belief system is as horrifying to me as the 3-year old’s greedy possessiveness of 60 years ago. I think what we need to do to address this is what I do with my greedy great grand-son when he refuses to share his toys: I give him a choice: Share nicely or I will put the toy away. Maybe forever. Period.
Maybe then when he grows up he will be a loving, giving, generous grown-up and people might even like him. Unlike my brother.