You have heard the story before. You have read the story before. Indeed, you have your own story.
The particulars of my story are: About 1904 my 25-year-old paternal grandfather got on a boat and came to New York. He ended up in San Francisco where he married the daughter of an immigrant. His son, my father, married a Chicago woman whose grandparents had been immigrants. I married a Canadian woman who immigrated. She was the daughter of an immigrant to Canada. Although my father is a veteran of Iwo Jima, I am privileged to be a friend of a man whose Japanese parents immigrated and he is a member of our Foreign Service.
Yet, despite our stories, and despite the number of immigrants who day in and day out join us here, we are all tempted to be insular, to become used to America, to take America for granted, to think that America is not exceptional.
Consider, however, the illegal immigrants — not the ones who enter lawfully, often by boat or plane, and who overstay their visas. Rather, consider those who enter unlawfully across our southern border. They leave their parents, their spouses, their children, their hometowns, and walk and walk and walk, often hundreds of miles. They risk death from asphyxiation in trucks, kidnapping and death at the hands of strangers, death from desert heat. We cannot but admire them. And we cannot but see America through their eyes: as the exceptional country it is.
We listen to Neil Diamond’s “America” (1980) and we see the star to which they travel:
We’ve been traveling far
Without a home
But not without a star
* * *
Everywhere around the world
They’re coming to America
Every time that flag’s unfurled
They’re coming to America [copyrighted]
That said, we — President Obama, the Congress, and the American people — are responsible for the deaths of those who have died trying to cross the southern border.
These people from the south are attracted to America like moths to a flame, like children to a pool. If they knew that their chances of success in crossing the border were remote, they would not risk death. But we do not make their chances of success remote. Our border remains porous. We invite them to cross the way a landowner would invite children to swim in his pool if he had no fence.
And so they come.
Last week, 72 migrants from various countries, including Guatemala, Brazil, Honduras, El Salvador, and Ecuador, on their way to the United States, were kidnapped and then massacred 100 miles south of Brownsville, Texas, by the Zetas gang. (Warning: the picture is graphic.)
Many Americans think they are being compassionate when they encourage the Federal Government to stand down from its responsibilities to close the border and when they help illegal immigrants find work in this country. Many Americans think it would be racially discriminatory to close the borders to Hispanic persons from the south.
Would it not be more compassionate to close the border? To stop hiring illegal immigrants? To encourage Mexico and other countries south of ours to grow their economies? To change our laws to enlarge the number of temporary and permanent immigrants, including people of color from not only Mexico and Central and Latin America, but also people of color from Asia, Africa and the Middle East who cannot walk here and who wait years to enter lawfully?
I believe in the frog phenomenon. A frog put into boiling water will jump out. A frog put into lukewarm water that is slowly raised to boiling will cook. The number of kidnappings and the deaths of people coming to join us from the south over more than 30 years has risen in stages not sufficient to cause us to jump. The massacre of these 72 coming to America may finally cause us to act.
Let us recognize that America is an exceptional country and that people from all over the world are drawn to join us. We should not allow conditions that encourage them to risk death to do so. Our memorial to these 72 should be a closed border.