Saturday, February 11, 2017


“I pity the poor immigrant
Who wishes he would've stayed home
Who uses all his power to do evil 
But in the end is always left so alone 
That man whom with his fingers cheats 
And who lies with ev'ry breath 
Who passionately hates his life 
And likewise fears his death.” 
    - Bob Dylan – “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” (1967) 

It doesn’t seem to matter what the issues are any more in America. The strident voices have taken over. This is very true when it comes to our current immigration policy and President Trump’s executive order on immigration.

I’ve seen a lot of information flowing hither and yon concerning the executive order, but I couldn’t find myself completely trusting what folks were saying. I probably should, but I know enough about human nature to understand that when people, friends or otherwise, have a political axe to grind, it’s Katy bar the door.

With all the give and take on the issue, I thought it might be a good idea to actually read Mr. Trump’s executive order. I did and it didn’t help a lot. Although the order banned entry to citizens of the now infamous Middle-Eastern countries, I couldn’t find anything in the order that barred entry to American citizens who had been born in other countries or citizens of other countries with green cards or valid entry visas.

At any rate, the matter has been litigated and the travel ban is now on hold, waiting for the President to either draft a new executive order or ram the current order to the Supreme Court. I guess it’s best to leave it all up to the lawyers.

In all the give and take about the executive order, I’ve learned that are lots and lots of shithouse lawyers in America these days. They seem to know or claim in subtle ways to know more about immigration laws than the people who draft them. When they comment on the subject, they cite their extensive knowledge and compassion. Please forgive me, but I doubt them. What little knowledge they have is a fig leaf for their alarming lack of understanding of how immigration is supposed to work in this country. They talk of compassion, but they wear a cloak that masks the sinister motives in their guts. When it comes right down to it, I think they hate Donald Trump far more than they love immigrants or refugees.

What little I know about immigration comes from experience. I’m the son of one. My mother was from Newfoundland, in the Canadian Maritimes. She came to America in the 1920’s with a third grade education, a little bit of money, and high hopes. She met my father, who was an American citizen, fell in love, got married, and started a family. I’m the youngest of her three children. My father died when I was six years old and my mother was left to take care of the three of us. In some ways she was fearless, but there was one thing that would always cause fear to bubble up in her like a volcano doing a slow boil. It was the dreaded letter from “immigration.” I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, it was one hell of a tough road for her to hoe.

I remember the very first job I ever had, delivering vegetables for a Lebanese immigrant named Mr. Sahady. I would ride in his truck on Saturdays. He would drive around, hawking produce on his loudspeaker as we made our way up and down the streets of Cambridge. “Raspberries, strawberries, thirty-five cents a quart.” The words rang out through his thick accent, but folks seemed to understand what he was selling. Theywould either come down to his truck when he stopped or call their orders in from their apartment windows. I got the honor making deliveries, earning a nickel tip her or a dime tip there. When the day was done, my mother would collect the loot, which almost always included a generous gift from Mr. Sahady’s wallet.

As we drove around, Mr. Sahady occasionally talked about America, spiced with love and that thick accent. “I love Ameeeericah, Butch. This is a wonnerfull country.” Mr. Sahady had somewhere along the way become an American citizen. Where he was born wasn’t nearly as important to me as knowing that he was one of us. He was an American. His accent didn’t disqualify him, nor did his past. He had taken the oath of citizenship and that gave him all the rights I, a citizen by birth, had.

As Mr. Sahady made his Saturday rounds with me in tow, I learned to love America too. I knew I was poor, but I also knew I was free. I knew I could make my way in life.

Call me a fool if you will, but I still believe that’s the way things should work today.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Nancy and I have lived in Emporia, Kansas since 1999. Over our years here, we have been hosts to young international students from the Republic of Moldova, South Korea, Vietnam, China, Germany, and Colombia. The longer they stayed, the more we’ve loved them. They, in turn, graced our home with many of their friends from far-flung outposts of the world – Bangladesh, Pakistan, Mexico, India, to name a few. We’ve loved them too and always will. We’ve told them that our house is their house and we’ve meant it.

The first student we hosted was a young woman from the Republic of Moldova named Corina Nour. She came to us in 2003, the same year the lights went out in New York City. By the time she got to Wichita, after a long flight from Europe to New York, followed by a few days in the dark, she looked like she was shell-shocked. Then, to add insult to injury, the airline had lost her luggage. Nancy and I could only imagine what she was thinking. “I left the poorest country in Europe for this? Get me out of here, I wanna’ go home.”

We’re glad Corina made her way past the rocky start. She stayed with us a year, went home, did her under-graduate work in Romania, then came back to live with us while she worked on her Master’s degree. From there, she made her way to Silicon Valley, began a career, fell in love, and started a family. She and her husband, Sherwin, who is from a thoroughly Persian family, live near San Francisco. They have one precocious daughter, Elina, and are expecting a second daughter in a few months. 

Seeing Corina succeed has made me very happy. The only thing that would make me happier would be to see her become an American citizen. I think she wants to, but I’ll just have to wait and see. If, or when that day comes, I intend to be there to see her take the oath of citizenship.

If that time comes, Corina will have a lot to consider. She’s from Moldova and I’m sure there are loyalties she has to the country of her birth. She comes from a really good family. I’ve met her father, mother, and brother, and they are absolutely wonderful. The people of Moldova have much to be proud of. In the early nineties, they shook off the yoke of Soviet oppression and declared themselves to be an independent Republic.  The years since their declaration have been tough, but they’ve refused to be bullied by Vladimir Putin and his attempts to interfere in their political life.

For those who think that coming to America is as easy as a flick of the wrist, let me disabuse you of the notion. Becoming an American citizen and becoming part of our two and a half century old experiment isn’t easy. It requires a lot. Any prospective citizen must be at least minimally proficient in English, our common language. They must know something of our history, customs, law, etc. They must be, as President Trump put it so indelicately, subject to extreme vetting. It’s all spelled out in Section 337.1 of our Code of Federal Regulations and Section 337 (a) of our Immigration and Naturalization Act.

When those requirements are completed, a date is set and the applicant publicly recites the following oath:
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

Our oath of citizenship also requires anyone applying for American citizenship to divest themselves of any titles of nobility (prince, lord, etc.). In other words, once they become an American citizen, they are no better than any other American citizen. They are simply one of us, nothing more, nothing less.

The wording of the oath is purposefully strong. For Corina or anyone else taking the oath it means he or she must renounce and ABJURE any allegiance they may have had to their home country. They must swear “true faith and allegiance” to our Constitution and laws. They must be willing to defend the United States “against all enemies, foreign and domestic” when “required by law.” 

Think of what that could mean. What if Moldova, as an ally of a foreign power, declared war on the United States? This country would expect her to abide by the oath she had taken. The same would hold true for someone from Mexico, Syria, Yemen, or any other country in the world.

Just a flick of the wrist, eh? 

The world is going through an enormous refugee crisis right now. People by the millions are fleeing counties like Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Mexico, and small Central American nations in desperation. The situation is so bad that I don’t think the question before us as a country is not whether to do something, but what we should be doing. 

This is where we are at loggerheads. On one side you have those who would bar entry to all and on the other you have those who would open the floodgates without requiring those coming to consider why they are coming and what we should in turn require of them.

I saw this first hand in Emporia, Kansas back in 2007 and 2008. A large number of Somali refugees came to work at Tyson Foods. One thing led to another and before long, Catholic Charities wanted Emporia to be named a “sanctuary city.” City leaders seemed to endorse the idea. It all came to a head at a public meeting. It wasn’t pretty.  There were the usual culprits that crawl out of the woodwork when government doesn’t think things through and just acts willy-nilly. There were a few race-baiting bigots, opposed by the so called “enlightened” members of the community who delighted in calling anyone who opposed the idea  roaring bigots and xenophobes. But, the real truth of the matter was to be found somewhere in the middle of the mess. The primary objection had to do with employment. Other minorities, Mexicans, Central Americans, Vietnamese, etc. saw the Somalis as a threat to their employment at the plant. They had families with hungry mouths to feed, bodies to clothe, and rent to pay so their families could stay warm. The “enlightened” members of the community, particularly those from Emporia State University couldn’t see that, or refused to. After all, many of them had secure, tenured positions at the university. I told some of them after the meeting that if the shoe had been on the other foot and the Somalis had coveted their jobs, they would have had no trouble finding their inner bigots.

Sometimes it’s a matter of whose ox is being gored, isn’t it?

Probably the most significant problem the city had with the Somalis, however, was that they did not want to assimilate. They had come here from a tribal culture and wanted little or nothing to do with America beyond employment. They cared little about our Constitution and didn’t appear to be willing to become part of the American way of life.

I asked several of the Somalis who attended the meeting if they understood why feelings were running so high. I talked to them about how America’s mission of mercy in Somalia back in the 90’s had turned into a nightmare. I asked them if they understood how some Americans felt as they watched some of their sons’ bodies being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by warlords. I asked them if they understood that most Americans were willing to once again extend the hand or mercy, but that they wanted some expressions of support for our way of life in return. The Somalis didn't seem to care; they just wanted to be left alone.

I don’t think the current situation with refugees from other countries is much different.

I’m one of many Americans who wants to help. I want to do my part. I’ve even sent a written recommendation to my Senator, Jerry Moran, on how it could be done. It’s probably a hair-brained idea, but I sent it because I care and I want to solve the problem. I’d be willing to bet I’ve done more in doing that than most of the President's critics have done in their lifetime when it comes to helping immigrants or refugees.

In a recent letter to our local newspaper, a friend of mine named Bill Hartman cited a speech made by Theodore Roosevelt in 1907. In think it’s appropriate to close with it and ask if those who oppose the President’s executive order so vehemently would be willing to support ideas that lend a helping hand to those in need while also upholding what I believe to be the heart of what it means to be an American:

“In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language .. And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”

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