*Just a quick note: Since I have declared that I am running for Sullivan County Commissioner I will not be able to contribute to the Bristol Herald Courier until the election is over. I’ll be posting things here – hopefully – weekly.
This time last weekend the government was shut down. It has been called the “Schumer Shutdown,” which, unfortunate for the senator, is catchy and plays well with Trump’s rhetoric. Within all the partisan reasons for the 3-day shutdown, however, is the issue of immigration. Now the government is up and running again, at least until February, but immigration and DACA remain open for debate. In fact, as I write, people in Washington are talking it out.
Of course, they aren’t the only ones talking. I overheard a familiar conversation a few weeks back. One person brought up the issue of immigration to his cohort, which brought on an onslaught regarding foreign people overrunning our borders. At one point one man said, “all those damn, raping illegals keep taking our jobs.” His advice to those in Washington was to build a wall high enough and long enough to keep everyone out.
A few choice words ran through my head, but I refrained from saying anything. It was clear that this person has bought into an ideology that no sort of reason can address. It was also clear that he actually doesn’t know much about this area or the people in it; even worse, he doesn’t know anyone who has immigrated to the US and most likely doesn’t even know anybody of another race.
I have to say that my life is richer because of the immigrants that I have met who immigrated to this country, especially as I learned their reasons for doing so. Years ago, I met a woman named Rita. When I met her, she was 98 years old. She welcomed me and another member of our church into her home with a hug and a small kiss on each cheek. As I sat in her living room, I marveled at the needlework that lined her walls; they were like tapestries – intricate in beauty and detail. It was a skill she had learned from her mother – when she was a little girl growing up in Germany.
Rita had just married as Hitler rose to power. Even as a young woman, she has already lived through the devastation of WWI and the loss of her brother. She feared another war, something she was certain Hitler would bring. Her husband, a devout Christian man, refused to take part in the Nazi party or the army out his convictions. That sort of attitude was a risky one at best. Being alerted of an impending arrest, the two of them were forced to flee, leaving everything and everyone they had ever known behind. They sought safety in Holland, but it wasn’t long before the Nazis arrived there, too. Rita and her husband were forced into hiding until they were finally able to make it to the US. They knew this was the one place they would be safe.
Unfortunately, Rita’s husband died eight months after they arrived here but her neighbors and a small church, knowing that she spoke almost no English, stepped in and helped her. In spite of all her troubles, Rita was known to say, “God has been good to me.” Some of that goodness came from the good people of this country – at least those who understand the plight people have to deal and the respite the US offers.
Rita isn’t alone. There is my friend Najib. He came here in the 1970s from Lebanon, just after the revolution. Najib and his brother owned a store but when the revolution occurred both of them became targets because they were devout Christian men. Both of them endured near-constant harassment; they were arrested and beaten, taken from their homes at night, dragged out in front of their children. Najib’s brother died during all of this persecution; Najib and his family made it to the United States. They knew they could make a life here – where they would be free to worship and free from persecution.
There are more Ritas and Najibs than criminals crossing the borders. Sure, there are people who have come into this country illegally with evil intentions, but they are not the norm. Perhaps there are some that need to stop acting as if they all are. Those of us who were fortunate to be born in this country often do not realize the gift that we’ve been given and the gift that our children have as well. Perhaps it is time for some level of immigration reform, but the kind that causes us to check our attitudes so that we can continue to be a nation that does the sort of good in the world we’ve always been known for doing.