(pictured above: New citizens take part in the local naturalization ceremony on July 4.)
Old Salem’s Independence Day naturalization ceremony was one of many that took place last Friday, on the nation’s most patriotic of holidays. President Obama even presided over one at the White House, giving the oath of citizenship to 25 men and women who haved served the United States in the armed forces.
“You did something extraordinary – You signed up to serve in the United States military,” the president told the new citizens Friday. “You answered the call – to fight and potentially to give your life for a country that you didn’t fully belong to yet. You understood what makes us American is not just circumstances of birth, or the names in our family tree. It’s that timeless belief that from many we are one.”
President Obama’s words were especially telling. As he spoke, the nation was in the midst of its current immigration crisis. There has been an influx of immigrants – mostly children – from Central America in recent weeks. The wave is reportedly being sparked by a rumor that children who cross into the United States are automatically given citizenship. The rumor is rampant in countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, but it is just that – a rumor.
Until officials figure out what to do with the new arrivals, they are being cared for and processed at facilities in places like Murrieta, Calif. The small border town has been in the news lately for its seeming anger over the decision to process the young border crossers in their backyard. A number of residents of the town (and many agitators from elsewhere) have disrupted buses carrying the immigrants, creating scenes reminiscent of 1960’s Mississippi and Alabama, when bigots regularly taunted Freedom Riders and other activists as they traveled by bus.
Many of the protestors say their anger isn’t solely about this particular group of young immigrants, but about an immigration system they say has been broken for far too long.
If that is the case, it is unfortunate that they have chosen to take their frustrations out on the innocent – kids who more than likely had the decision to migrate made for them. By all accounts, the youngsters endured a harrowing ordeal to get here. Many snuck atop, on board or in between the cars of trains. Their families back home paid local louts a handsome price to secure their child’s passage into this country.
Angry, yelling protestors will now be among their first memories of America, and they may not have time to make many more memories here. All indications so far are that the kids will be sent back to their home counties.
Since and before the United States declared its independence at around the time of the first Fourth of July back in 1776, it has been a nation of immigrants. The words of Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – were our mantra, so much so that they were blazoned onto the Statue of Liberty in the early 20th Century.
But the nation’s attitude toward immigration changed when the faces of immigrants became less European and more brown and black.
Some of the Murrieta protestors are the progeny of immigrants who left places like Ireland, Poland and Italy to escape persecution or to create new, better lives. Those goals and dreams have not changed.
Immigrants today – those from Mexico, Central America, Africa, Haiti and beyond – have no designs of coming here and supplanting the white majority, nor of robbing or drug-dealing. They want the freedom and opportunities that have long been hallmarks of this nation.
Yes, we can’t give it to everyone, but we also can’t slam the door and throw away the key. In the meantime, those who have issues with immigration should take their frustrations out on Congress, because frightening children is not American, it’s craven and cruel.