Immigration is a hot topic these days. I am using the word “days” here as a comfortable euphemism to disguise the fact that immigration has become a never-ending topic of debate, which seems – like God – to have had no apparent beginning and no obvious end. Or maybe I should say that it is like some neurotic version of hell since it seems to come with its own inescapable form of condemnation and punishment for those engaged in the debate as well as those in torment awaiting a peaceful resolution.
At times it seems to have the same caustic effect on our nation as slavery did in the decades prior to the Civil War. No matter what the explicit topic is under discussion, immigration influences positions taken and the virulence of the antagonists, who somehow manage to construct a connection between it and all other issues. Hence we have a budgetary driven shutdown with a border wall being the immovable object proving that our government is in all actuality a stoppable force.
Personally, I am opposed to building a wall across the southern part of our nation which borders Mexico. Such walls took on a sinister presence when the Russians put one up in Berlin. Its fall was a humiliating defeat for its contractors and a cause of universal celebration with everyone else. We seem to be tempting the same fate, which would truly make us deplorable, but as a nation, not as a single person or a minority of blind followers. Walls do not make good neighbors, but they do make for divisive politics internally and the loss of trust with needed allies externally.
I think it is time that we remove the onus attached to the topic of immigration or more precisely to the people we label as immigrants. We do, after all, celebrate some occasions where large numbers of people moved between nations to great effect. Moses led the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt and into the promise of the America of his day. The nation of Israel came about as a result, which today serves as a beacon of democratic rule surviving in the midst of totalitarian regimes.
Think of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad secretly bringing undocumented workers north during the Civil War era. Think of those anonymous heroes, who helped the people of Hebrew heritage and other undesirables escape persecution from Nazi occupied Germany before and during WWII. The US benefited both times from the new influx of labor and knowledge brought within our borders by those seeking asylum, allowing us to rightfully accept the mantel of being liberators from ethnic, political and economic oppression.
For those of us who follow the Christian faith, we often forget that Jesus told his followers, before his ascension into heaven, to migrate across the entire planet, preaching the good news and immersing people into the new faith. We are a people of missionary endeavors and pilgrimages, which perpetuate the original concept of Christians being transient representatives of a spiritual nation and not one confined to definable borders.
We have a genius in this country of effectively renaming toxic and divisive issues in order to make them more palatable. One case which I admire, but do not agree with, is the name evolution for the concept of viewing abortion as a woman’s exclusive choice about – of all things – the termination of conception. They were once chastised for their pro-abortion stance, but the a-word has its own sinister connotations; murder being one. So the label migrated (pun intended) into that of pro-choice, which eventually settled on the brilliant designation of being about women’s reproductive health. And who can be against such a progressive and humanitarian proposition? Name changes work wonders on our collective psyche. So let’s indulge in a new one.
I wish with this week’s message to take my own stab of repositioning the immigration topic by giving its participants a new title to enhance their image and make them more desirable as neighbors. Let’s take the sting out of the issue of immigration by giving all those people, who are passionately crossing various borders on our planet, the new and innocuous name of Travelers. We are, after all, a nation of travelers of one kind or another as exemplified in our own transportation history.
On this continent what were once deer paths became foot trails. Wagon tracks became rail lines. Dirt roads begat paved roads, which begat freeways and divided highways, which ultimately led to the creation of the entire interstate system, which is still under construction, by the way; an infrastructure in need of more support, while providing greater value than any border wall. Trains, planes and automobiles keep us on the move at a pace of which our ancestors could not even imagine. We migrate. We just don’t call it that. Instead we travel and have even found a way to get perks for the number of miles we accumulate chasing after the enticements offered by commercial behemoths profiting from our mobility. Therefore, let’s use our native ingenuity to find the means to address an unfortunate imbalance between classes of travelers. We don’t have to give up going first class by making sure others have access to steerage. My European ancestors got here that way.
We already make use of the term Dreamers for some of our fellow travelers, but that term is generally applied only to children. What about the adults? They need a more gracious, more forgivable nom de plume to make them acceptable as aspirants for a better life. I have written before of my own conviction that as long as America is the Beautiful, immigration will be an issue for us. So let’s launch this idea of a simple name change for those seeking entry onto our super highways and see how well it travels.