With 10 months to go before we elect a President, I’m frustrated by the political debate over immigration. It’s as stubborn and narrow as a schoolyard quarrel. On one side, President Trump shouts Build a wall and Send her back. On the other, Democratic candidates condemn his bigotry and focus on the easy parts of immigration policy. They oppose separating immigrant families at the border and support DACA, the Obama-era program that allows young adults brought to the U.S. as children to work, get drivers’ licenses and go to college.
But immigration is much bigger and more complex than this. How many immigrants and refugees should be admitted each year? Do the country’s economic needs or humanitarian concerns matter more? How important is family reunification? Should climate change or poverty in one’s home country be sufficient reason to be admitted to the U.S.? What is our political, social and economic capacity to absorb such vast need? And how should we treat 11 million undocumented immigrants who’ve worked hard, built families and contributed to this country, often for decades? How can paths to legal status be built for them?
I’m overwhelmed by the complexity of those questions, which have moral, political and economic dimensions. So is Congress, which has thrown up its hands over the broken immigration system for decades under Republican and Democratic presidents alike. But our political stalemate carries an enormous cost. It consigns millions of undocumented workers and their families to lives of fear and uncertainty. It requires a huge, costly, often cruel system of enforcement and punishment. It feeds the scapegoating and backlash that President Trump exploits. It diminishes us as people and a nation.
Addressing the question of immigration with depth and compassion requires head and heart, openness to listen and willingness to learn. This year, I want to do some of that work and share it with you via regular blogs.
Who am I, a retired white journalist with no title or special knowledge to tackle this? Because I’m a citizen, a journalist and a person of faith who knows that people like me need to better understand the issues and pressure public officials to address them with greater candor and courage.
Here’s where I’m coming from. For 30 years, I was a newspaper reporter and editor in the Minnesota, focused on economic issues and then politics, including welfare policy. For 12 years, I ran a journalism program that trained teens, particularly those from low-income, minority and immigrant communities, to ask questions, think critically, ask questions and tell stories.
Since retiring, I’ve gotten involved in immigration issues through my church, a Catholic church in south Minneapolis that’s been invigorated and enriched by the growth of Latino membership. Last year, I volunteered for 10 days at a hospitality center for asylum-seekers in El Paso, Texas. In a few weeks, I’ll return there with my husband and two friends.
Immigration has touched my life in other ways. Each Monday, I volunteer at a neighborhood ESL class. For four months, we shared our home with a new immigrant from Senegal. My daughter-in-law is from Singapore, and my grandchildren – Tamil on their mother’s side, German and Irish on their father’s – are part of an increasingly diverse country. I don’t remember a single kid of color in my 1950’s Catholic grade school in suburban Kansas City. At their public grade school in suburban Eden Prairie, white kids are a minority.
Immigrants are some of the most hopeful and hard-working people I know. At a time when many of us are cynical about democracy and the American Dream, my immigrant friends remain determined to build better lives for their children through work and education. The forces of hate and bigotry are out in force, but they remain convinced that they can be part of this nation’s future.
Ok, Boomer. It’s fashionable to see us Baby Boomers as tired, out of touch, desperate to keep our arthritic hands on the controls when we should be shuffling onto an ice floe and pushed out to sea. That’s just desserts for a generation that once pledged to trust no one older than 30. But we’re still here. And I’d like to think we have something to contribute.