I’m the first member of my family who was born in America.
My grandmother emigrated from Ireland. She was a young widow with three small children, my father, and his younger brother and sister. She’d been a nurse before she was married, and she thought she’d have a better chance to make a living in New York. Two of her sisters and one of her brothers were already living there. Another brother joined them a few years later. They helped each other in small ways. One of my grandmother’s sisters would mind her kids on the nights my grandmother worked an extra shift at the hospital. And they helped each other in big ways. That same sister took in three of her nephews when their parents died within a few months of each other. She had three kids of her own, she didn’t have much money, and it was during the Great Depression. The original plan was that each of her brothers would take one boy and she’d take the third, but she wanted them to stay together.
This is my version of the immigrant experience. None of us has become famous or particularly successful, but my people became Americans without losing sight of where they came from, and we’re happy to be here.
There’s a debate now about what our immigration policy should be and about how we should enforce it. One argument is that we should move away from family-sponsored immigration and toward skills-based criteria. That would give a higher priority to doctors, scientists, ballerinas, shortstops, and, presumably, the occasional supermodel who just needs a helping hand. But it would separate families and make it more difficult for new immigrants to find the support they need to succeed.
And the immigration debate has spread to a new area: the Dreamers. The term refers to people who were brought to the United States as children by parents who came here illegally. Many of them grew up here, in a new society, speaking a new language. Many of them have no memory of the places they were born. Deporting them because of actions that were taken by their parents is clearly unfair. But DACA, the Obama-era policy of Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, will end soon. And the people it was supposed to protect, the people it would have given not amnesty but simply a path to citizenship, will be betrayed. They’re being used as bargaining chips in a cruel and heartless game by the current administration.
The debate isn’t really about a wall along the border between the U.S and Mexico. It was never about that. It’s about fear, prejudice, xenophobia, and general meanness of spirit. It’s about forgetting that we’re a nation of immigrants. And it’s about directing anger away from the people at the top of the power structure and the economic pyramid and, as usual, toward the most vulnerable.
The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column. Tom Madden is the DTC’s Chairman.