Robert Ehlert: Immigration mess riles editor, readers

rehlert@idahostatesman.comJuly 6, 2014 

Robert Ehlert

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This column ran online previously in a blog.

Besides the temperature and hurricane season, there's something else heating up in these United States as we enjoy our Independence Day weekend.


Though we keep trying to patch it, paint over it or ignore it, the roots of it never seem to go away.

I'm talking about the layers of ugliness surrounding our immigration policy in general, and specifically the way some people are dealing with the Central American children (and some of their parents) who have gambled everything to enter our country illegally in search of the things our Constitution guarantees.

I get the fact that this is a mess and a grand example of humanity's cold shoulder. I understand the very remote chance that a few of these kids could be carrying serious disease and some of their relatives might be criminals using this mission as a ruse to cross our borders.

I especially get the fact that we have our own problems in this country and our resources are already stretched thin.

But when I see protesters in Southern California acting ugly toward a busload of homeless, scared children and their moms, I am embarrassed on a multitude of levels.

I am embarrassed that we have forgotten how our ancestors got here and how some of us have closed the borders of our compassion.

I am embarrassed about how we have ignored our duty to create a workable immigration policy. I am embarrassed that we have put border states like Texas and Arizona (and now California) in the no-win position of dealing with this situation while the rest of these United States can sit back smugly and say "NOT OUR PROBLEM ... pass the sparklers and potato salad."

It is disgusting that our president and Congress can keep ignoring what's happening on our borders. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are wasting their breath and our time sending messages to the homelands of these refugees that they have been misinformed about resources available here.

And I am embarrassed about the shallow level of our compassion in some quarters.

Most of my outrage, though, is aimed at Congress.

This is a crisis eating at the DNA of who we are, and a crisis that deserves the attention of our leaders. One year ago the Senate advanced a bill that - because of its "comprehensive" nature - went nowhere in the House, which prefers the piecemeal approach. This abandonment has begot a porous border and a polarized populace.

I am waiting for someone in Congress to risk his/her re-election, to stand up and demand that the House and Senate calendars be suspended but for one item: immigration. Yes, right now in an election year.

Gamble your future as these children have wagered theirs on this journey.

Put immigration on the docket. Put it on the line. There is no going forward with anything else on these agendas if we can't find a piecemeal approach to shoring up our borders, fashioning a guest worker program, and creating a fair and orderly approach to citizenship.

Just get one thing done and it might lead to another.

In the meantime, let's get real and understand compassion is not the strength of a government. That can only come from our charitable cities and communities of faith.

It is no accident these children are here. It is a test, a test of our ability to be the kind of Americans who came before us.

Congress must act now on this crisis. The practice of Americans screaming at busloads of scared children is a sorry manifestation of ugliness that will be our undoing.

That well-known passage on the Statue of Liberty - "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ..." actually continues in the Emma Lazarus poem: "The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

So, maybe I'm being preachy. Preach back. Let us know what you think.

Here are some samples of those who weighed in with comments to my blog:

Joe Barnett The "ugliness" you refer to was not directed toward the children, but toward the cynical "ugliness" of the Obama administration, who are using these children in order to blackmail all of us into accepting their politically motivated agenda for amnesty. Why is Mexico now granting them travel visas (30,000-plus) at their Southern border? Why aren't they being taken back to their countries of origin rather than being dumped on cities and states to support and provide for? Your editorial is a thoughtless piece of propaganda!

TJ Cullen Well said, Mr. Ehlert. It needed saying. Thanks.

Ian Freeman You should bring these kids to your home, with your children. Have the courage of your conviction. I am sure you will be happy to expose your family to TB, hepatitis, swine flu, etc. And don't forget to pay for it all. The schools children are required by law to attend must be paid for. As well as food, clothes, and medicine. I am fondly looking forward to reading about your welcomed house guests. I do agree that something needs to be done. Border Security is what the Republicans have asked for. The president said the southern border is secure... I would guess that you agree President Obama lied, again. Secure first, then reform.

David Rencher Yes, because that is EXACTLY what he said now, isn't it? He did not say we should welcome them with open arms. But it IS an embarrassment that grown adults would treat children the way these protesters are behaving. What happened out there in that protest was a sad shame and a poor example of how to behave. But you can't see that, can you? ... What should we do with these kids? Just dump them back on the streets in Mexico? Is THAT how you would deal with it? Just abandon a few thousand kids and "pray" that it'll be OK? How so very humanitarian that would be.

Dave Mesenbrink David R., they bused illegal immigrant families on those buses. The author of this article misled you to think it was only children. This entire thing is a political stunt Obama is pulling to use children to stir up the media to somehow blame Republicans, when it's the president who is unwilling to enforce the laws on the books. BO is a lawless man.

Chuck Davis Obama has been shackled in his effort to reform our immigration policies by congressional Republicans who don't want him getting credit for it. As Jon Stewart just said, "For the Republican caucus to suggest that they will not entertain immigration reform because they don't trust this president to enforce the laws of the land is perhaps the greatest projection in the history of psychology," before rattling off a list of laws that congressional Republicans have refused to support simply to obstruct the President.

Gene Fadness Excellent commentary. I also was embarrassed at the so-called patriotic Americans waving flags and screaming at the children in the bus. And am also impatient at a speaker who informs the president Congress will do nothing on immigration reform this election year.

John Briscoe "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." - John Kenneth Galbraith.

Anthony Boatman These hate-filled, flag-waving people are an embarrassment to the United States. More than anything else, they harken back to the redneck crowds of the 1950s and '60s who battled school integration, voting rights, and the end of Jim Crow laws. One wonders what they would have done to these little children, had they been able to get at them. The spirit of Bull Conner lives on.

Michael O'Brien Good article.

Mandy Hardan This is embarrassing and shameful. The United States is built on immigration and we are more than happy to butt our heads into other countries' problems ... as long as it benefits us.

Lynn Link Young I agree with the points you have made, Mr. Ehlert. Those children must have been very frightened by this mob "greeting" them and blocking the buses. I doubt that they would understand the politics of this, but rather were tired, hungry, and in need of a comforting hand. That is not what they got. I am embarrassed by the behavior of the demonstrators and angry that Congress has yet to even try to work on meaningful reform to immigration policy. This is what we pay our legislators to do - take on the tough issues and find common ground and solutions - work together to make this country stronger.

Roy Corkill We cannot save the world! We are already taking care of millions of illegals that use our health care, Social Security, and have never paid in a dime for it. It was not intended for them. I have compassion for these kids, but maybe Mexico needs to close their own southern border and quit letting this through. Look at the diseases and creatures crawling on this, even the nurses treating them are walking away from it. Sorry, send 'em home. And not at my expense.

Justin McMurdie Gene Fadness, TJ Cullen, Scanlin, et al. I agree with you that citizens turning their outrage toward innocent children in the bus is ugly and wrong. However, this problem is a lot more complicated than you seem to think, and we can't just say "have compassion" and act like this isn't an extremely complicated issue.

Judy Borchelt The people for whom compassion is needed are the citizens who live close to the border. Their lives have been turned upside down, their land invaded, homes burglarized, their children put in danger, their businesses thrashed, all by the illegal alien problem.

Chuck Newton Yes this country was founded on immigration, but that was then and this is now. That system is broke, how do you fix it? My issue with this is that we can't take care of the millions of Americans who are homeless, why take on more burden?

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6437, or on Twitter @IDS_HelloIdaho.

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