Oh, For A Cup Of Tea Together

So many times, I’ve wished that Ashwin and I could meet each other personally, discussing over a cup of tea our many differences and, I’d imagine, rejoicing over the commonality we have in the One who unites us. But he is out of the country, not likely to ever visit Moscow, Idaho, and so I’ll have to engage with him through his comments and my responses, which I’m happy to do, and do with gratitude for his concerns.

In this case, his comment about my most recent post — regarding the young man whose parents brought him over the border from Mexico without papers when he was a toddler — deserves more prominent display than the “Comments” section usually attracts. I think he’s misjudged my words, and the point that I was making is important enough to me that I’ll discuss it here, starting with Ashwin’s comment from Nov. 23, 2010:

(Ashwin) You said: “The DREAM act is one of the most humane, reasonable, intelligent — I’d even say God-honoring, for any Christians reading — pieces of legislation ever conceived in the United States.”

Reasonable statement if you discount the hyperbole. I am sympathetic to Mr. Ramirez myself.

Then you said: “In fact, I think it embodies the very highest promise of this nation, and its non-passage should outrage all of us. Sadly, it won’t, which is a sad reminder of how the reactionary politics of today is fueled less by intelligent debate than by fear, hate, and cowardice.”

What was the need for this? What you COULD have done is presented the other view point. Is it really so far out to think that a person who breaks the law should not benefit from the transgression? It that what you want to say? What do you want to say? That people who disagree with you on this point are irredeemably corrupt? (Comment, Prevailing Winds, Nov. 24, 2010)

OK, clearly my brother and earnest correspondent thinks I’ve done once again what he believes I’m entirely too given to doing, and that’s blast opponents simply for disagreeing with me. I don’t, however, believe that’s the case here. What I said was in regard to the debate around the DREAM Act, which would grant automatic legal immigration status to adult women and men who, when they were children, arrived in the U.S. with their undocumented immigrant parents and who then serve in the armed forces or complete their college education in the U.S. I then said that objection to the Act was fueled by fear, hate, and cowardice rather than sober analysis and reasoned argument, and I continue to believe that.

Remember that the initial post was prompted by a young man — the student body president of his California university — who was anonymously “outed” regarding his and his family’s undocumented immigration status on the eve of his scheduled address in support of the DREAM Act. I considered outing him, and doing so anonymously, to be an act of malicious cowardice; I’m sure Ashwin would agree. The debate focuses, however, not on the overall issue of immigration policy in the U.S., nor on the unfortunate gossip directed against Pedro Ramirez. The DREAM Act was what I was speaking of; what happened to this young man simply epitomizes, in my mind, the tenor of the opposition to it.

The debate that I believe is fueled by fear, hate, and cowardice is the debate surrounding the Act, which simply recognizes that toddlers and other minors are not moral agents and not legally responsible for the actions of their parents, and that children who were brought here illegally should not suffer under criminal penalties nor be denied the opportunity, once they’ve exhibited a commitment to this country, the opportunity to live here legally. Ashwin rhetorically asks if I really believe that it’s “really so far out that a person who breaks the law should not benefit from it,” and I’d have to answer that no, on its face, that’s not unreasonable — while reminding him that Pedro Ramirez and others who would benefit from the Act didn’t break the law. Belief in original sin and humankind’s sinful nature doesn’t, after all, require us to believe that toddlers can conspire with their elementary school-aged siblings to subvert the law.

It’s reasonable to me that a young person brought here not of her own accord but who grows up in the U.S. and succeeds in college or fights for his country overseas ought to be able to live, serve, work, and prosper here without fear of deportation to a country many of them have no memory of. That it makes economic and social sense to extend citizenship to them — to benefit from their education as we’ve benefited from t heir military service — seems irrefutable; that it’s simply fair, kind, and charitable is also hard to argue against. And that, Ashwin, is my point.

However liberal my views on immigration policy, and however much personal experience with and affection for I have with scores of young people in situations just like Ramirez’, I recognize that good people can disagree on immigration policy — as long as the disagreement is free from hysteria, falsehood, and bigotry, the inclusion of which by those who decry illegal immigration and immigrants is sufficient, in my mind, to mark them as less than “good people.” And I freely confess that I believe that the United States would be best served by an immediate, merciful, and comprehensive amnesty that would grant legal residency and a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented workers and their families who are here now, with strong but just immigration reform working at the same time to sharply reduce the number of undocumented immigrants coming here as well as the need for them to do so. This echoes, by the way, the spirit and the letter of Ronald Reagan’s late-1980s amnesty, which was, perhaps, not brought forth for humanitarian reasons but because of the economic benefit that would result in the fair taxation of millions of workers operating in a perennial shadow economy. The conservative icon of the Right and I agreed on this one.

But this is not a debate about what to do with adults who cross the border without papers. The DREAM Act says nothing about extending residency and a path to citizenship to those who, as adults, crossed the border illegally — however much I wish this nation would do so. The Act simply, and reasonably, recognizes that little kids are often put in situations over which they have no control, and that illegal immigration scenarios involving parents and their minor children crossing the border without papers result in those children, once they become adults, being denied legal residency and, worse, being forced to live in fear of deportation to a country whose language they likely don’t speak and whose culture is foreign to them. The children of immigrant parents, particularly those who complete their education, serve in the military, and remain in this country to raise their families, are not “foreigners.” They’re our neighbors, and their skills and their loyalty to the U.S., not to mention their economic contributions, ought to be welcomed by a country struggling through a recession and deeply divided by hate.

Whatever other legitimate arguments against illegal immigration exist, it’s frankly very difficult for me to presume that opponents to the DREAM Act are motivated by anything other than a poorly-reasoned, short-sighted, and unloving desire to punish children for the actions of their parents. I’d be fascinated to hear an argument against the Act that doesn’t play to Pat Buchanan-style nativism, fears of “illegals” taking jobs that “Americans don’t want,” or Dickensian values of law and order that reflect the very best of feudal Europe in enlightened society. But I haven’t heard or read a single argument against the DREAM Act that wasn’t accompanied by hysterical claims, masquerading as sober public policy, of sweeping Brown hegemony, or by Beckian weepiness over the supposed disintegration of family values and societal law and order. Arguments against the Act have the inexorable effect of punishing kids for the crimes of their parents. I don’t, and won’t, hesitate to call those arguments what they are — appeals to the very worst of fallen humanity against the very best societal notions of what’s fair, what’s kind, and what works.

I would be wrong if I said that everyone who disagrees with me on any point of immigration policy is hateful, or cowardly, or poorly informed. In this case, though, it would be wrong to suggest that I did.

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