After reading through U.S. Representative Rosendale’s rant on refugees and immigration, I got to thinking how great it would be if both sides of the congressional aisle would sit down and work out a bi-partisan, revised immigration policy as a prime goal for the New Year. For decades immigrants have come to America from all over the world and we have never had a workable immigration policy. When hundreds of thousands of people came in the early 1900s it was all well and good; they were inexpensive and plentiful labor. Big business was excited to see them come because they thought they would counteract the Unions and the growing Labor movement. Railroads recruited them because they would come and settle the open land and provide markets. Chinese were recruited with the idea they would return to China when the railroads were built, but in the meantime they were inexpensive labor and if they were injured or died, too bad; they were just temporary anyway. When they kept coming, Congress set up an immigration act that simply excluded people and did not enact workable policy.
No political administration can blame the other for what has happened. In my own lifetime: as a child I remember people who were called “D.P.’s” or displaced persons. They came from Eastern Europe and Germany and were refugees from World War II. That same decade (1950s) saw people coming from Korea because of the conflict there. There were many Korean children of mixed parentage who were adopted in this country following the war. Refugees from Cold War Communist activity brought Hungarians and Eastern Germans fleeing to America over the Berlin Wall. Through Lutheran World Relief, a Czechoslovakian family came to Glendive and lived here for a time. They had crashed through a police blockage to get to the West. In the 1960s, I remember reading about refugees from Castro’s Cuba trying to make it to Florida on rafts, often drowning, so desperate were they to escape Communism. Following the Viet Nam war, refugees were a huge issue. Again there were boatloads of people rescued in the South China Sea. People who were college professors worked in cleaning crews all over so their children could have a safe home and a good education. Often they took the jobs U.S. laborers would not take. This was true of the migrant laborers who worked the sugar beet fields and harvested crops in Washington and Oregon. In our Yellowstone Valley migrant workers came for many years. You would see them hoeing beets in the fields where the crop was irrigated. For a number of years the School System provided facilities for a Migrant Children’s program which provided summer school classes. Several of the churches in town got together to provide a picnic to welcome these people to our community. People from Haiti struggled to find ways to come to the U.S. At one time we were dealing with refugees from Ethiopia and of course our longest struggle has been caring for people from the Middle East whose countries have been destabilized by a long and bloody conflict. Refugees from Central America are simply detained and abused.
I have always lived in a country that worked by the creed Emma Lazarus gave us to take in the “poor and huddled massess.” These days we do them no favors when even people who have lived here for years can’t get their immigration status changed to “citizen” because the system is so backed up. They can live here for twenty years and still be deported. This isn’t fair to these people. They have lives and families and they have been contributing members of our society. The old image of someone who “works the system” is not a correct one. There are too many powerful players who want to warp the system and hurt these people for their own gain. We can’t keep avoiding the issues that arise.
But decades have gone by and Congress has never even tried to sit down and come up with a system that works for a common humanity. That would be the greatest Christmas present we could receive as a nation.