For most of us we needn’t go back more than a few generations to find ancestors who immigrated to the United States.
In my own family we are descendants of fur traders who journeyed from France to Canada and ultimately to the Midwest around the time of the Revolutionary War, as well as Germans seeking political refuge and Welsh miners and laborers escaping possible starvation in the 19th century. Some came seeking fortune and wealth. Some were fleeing poverty, political injustice, or religious persecution. All came hoping for a better life.
In the 18th and 19th centuries when our nation’s economy needed foreign labor, my great-grandparents and great-great grandparents (and many other immigrants) provided it. Most of them suffered great hardships yet they built lives and in turn they served their new homeland. They worked hard. They built homes. They built churches. They raised families. They built our nation. They built a better life for the generations who followed.
Today our nation’s economy still demands foreign labor, yet there are insufficient visas to meet this demand and a political climate that denigrates immigrants. Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents face unreasonably long separations, due to backlogs of available visas. U.S. immigration laws and policies need to be changed. Today’s immigrants are also hoping for that better life that we take for granted.
Why do we often label those who are seeking asylum as villainous? Why do we disregard the humanity at our borders as pawns in some political game? Why do we only see danger, terror, and suspicion in those searching for a better life?
There may have been some who were frightened by my 13 year-old great-grandmother when she immigrated to the U.S. alone in the late 1800’s. She spoke no English. She had no marketable skills. She had nothing to offer. Nevertheless, she persisted. She found a better life for my grandfather, my father and ultimately me.
The next time we think of immigrants as non-persons or some problem that we wish would go away, we should remember that for most of us it was only a generation or so ago that we were in their shoes. And how much better is our nation because our forebears crossed that border?
Let’s be a nation that welcomes our sisters and brothers.