On the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old husband and father, a successful business owner with a spotless record, was deported to Mexico. His parents had brought him here when he was ten years old. He had been in contact with the government and had done everything he could to apply for and receive legal status.
Mr. Garcia is one of thousands of people who are being deported from this country. Why? Ultimately, because of a conception of America as tribal, as a club earned by legal status, by birth or formal admission. That admission is controlled by those in power, and apparently those in power presently are interested in allowing only those with views, and perhaps even skin, similar to their own.
There are, in the United States today, approximately eight to twelve million people, about three percent of the population, who are undocumented. They, or their parents, either got into the country illegally or they somehow or other lost the legal status they used to enter the country. Slightly less than one million of them were brought here as children. This group of people, as a group, commit fewer crimes, make more money, pay more taxes, and achieve higher education, than native born Americans. All of that begs the obvious question: why is the present administration so bent on deporting all of them?
There is no one obvious answer to that. Perhaps it is that the present administration sees it as politically advantageous. Since, however, the vast majority of Americans want these people to be given a pathway to legal status, this answer is difficult to accept. Perhaps, then, it is because the present administration is prejudiced against the main body of immigrants on the basis of religion or skin color. That seems clearly true of a president who would refer to Hispanic and African countries as “shithole”, but I sincerely doubt that the main body of Republican legislators are that bigoted.
Whatever the reason, the impetus for mass deportation and greater barriers to legal immigration demonstrates an egregious misunderstanding of what it is to be an American. Our country was built on an ideal — equal birth and inalienable rights. That ideal was the ground for the creation of a nation made up entirely of people who were themselves immigrants. Some came here to escape oppression, some came for a better life, and some were brought here forcibly as slaves or indentured servants. It is discomfiting to realize that those immigrants disenfranchised, killed or enslaved the native population of what is now the United States, but that sad historical fact does not erase the fact that the new nation was based, not on ethnic, religious or regional bases but rather on a moral ideal, indeed on the defining moral ideal of absolute obligation to the rights of every human being.
We have been gradually abandoning our commitment to that ideal in favor of a commitment to self-interest. Why that is true would make a wonderful book written by someone far more talented than I. It is, however, true, and our present administration is the acme, the pure distillation of that gradual decline. That we the people are complicit in that abandonment is obvious by our willingness to ignore what would have, at some prior time, been considered the horrendous conduct of our president and by the willingness of our majority legislators to pass over that conduct as, at worst, “unfortunate.”
It is time, it is far past time, to arrest this slide into ego-centrism and to renew our commitment to the ideals that once made the United States a polestar of true freedom, that is, a freedom based on responsibility for others. That doesn’t happen by legislative fiat. It happens by individuals, you and I, refusing to ignore outrageous conduct and demanding that our legislators act, not in their own political interests, but in pursuit of the real American ideal. Politically, it means the election only of people — men and women, liberals and conservatives — who will make political decisions truly on the basis of how those decisions will promote the American ideal.
What about Jorge Garcia? I don’t know, but I do know that the world is watching, and if there are more such stories, we will likely not be seen as much of an ideal.