Few things are as maddening to me as when politics gets in the way of doing the right thing. That’s just what happened in the U.S. Senate last week when the DREAM Act failed to pass.
Worse, the Senate vote emboldens those who want this country to be governed by fear, afraid of immigrants, gays, minorities, liberals, the federal government, and all those other imaginary boogies that they claim are trying to take America from them.
Perhaps some of you have followed the debate on immigration. This bill would have created an arduous but attainable path to U.S. citizenship for those who as infants or small children were smuggled across a border and who have now graduated from high school and have at least two years of college or want to serve this country in the military and fight against the Taliban or Al Qaeda. The great majority of these immigrants have never had another home other than the U.S., did not come here of their own free will, and want nothing except to work, pay taxes, and be citizens of the only country they know.
I’d like to extend a special thanks to North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, who was one of five from her party to join Republicans and help kill this bill. She claims on her website to be “for North Carolina families, our military and veterans.”
I happen to be a member of one of those North Carolina families, and I think Hagan’s stand on this issue is dead wrong. My father was raised the son of a textile mill worker before joining the military, and my mother was raised in a North Carolina coastal town where she worked on farms as a child. They both valued hard work, honesty and the American “lift yourself up by your bootstraps” philosophy that included a heavy emphasis on education. They overcame many disadvantages, but a belief in hard work and treating others fairly was ingrained from a very early age in my brothers and I.
I don’t understand this fear that immigrants may somehow take a job one of my children may need or want. To the contrary, I’m glad we have people here who value those same traits passed to me from my parents. This bill is not about some underclass that wants to take advantage of the system. To the contrary, it is about young people who want to attend college, serve this country, work and pay taxes.
If anyone — an immigrant who may have just attained legal status or a kid from down the street — bests one of my children as they work to attain their dreams, then the message isn’t that we need to block that other youth’s path to success. To the contrary, the lesson is that my kid needs to work harder and do better. You don’t blame the person who succeeded.
By my thinking this goes straight to the core of what most of us believe about America. We have an economy and a national philosophy based on the belief that capitalism, competition and a kind of Darwinian social system will end up bringing out the best in all of us and create the best society. If that’s true, then it is also true that we want all the smartest, hardest-working and best-educated immigrants in the world as part of the mix. We can’t open the door to every immigrant, but we need to roll out the red carpet to the best and the brightest and the hardest working. This bill was going to open a path to citizenship for just those immigrants.
But we’ve become timid and scared. Yes, there is terrifying drug violence and gang warfare along the Mexican border. Yes, we have illegal Hispanic immigrants using our social service system and health care system and our education system. Yes, Caucasians will become a minority sometime in the next half century.
This bill, though, was not about any of that. It was about those who were once small children who through no fault of their own were brought here by their parents. They are as American as our immigrant grandparents or great-grandparents, raised in a society that teaches that those who stay out of trouble, work hard and are smart can attain whatever they want.
Except, it seems, a path to citizenship.