The Most American of Stories

The Most American of Stories

"The recent cascade of Central American children crossing the Rio Grande and surrendering as fast as they can to U.S. border patrol officers - in full knowledge that they won't immediately be sent back - has confounded our already stunted national debate on immigration. ... No mystery need enshroud the reasons why the children are coming.  Central America's nations are among the most violent in the world. ... And still, they make the journey, not because they're oblivious to the dangers of going but because they're all too conscious of the dangers of staying behind. ... And in so doing, they re-enact the most American of stories.  Throughout our history, people have come here not only because the United States offers greater opportunity than they could experience in their homeland.  They have also come here for the simple reason that they could not survive if they stayed at home.  The Pilgrims came escaping persecution, at a time when those labeled heretics were routinely tortured; the Irish came rather than starve during the great famine of the 1840s; the Germans arrived after the revolutions of 1848 failed and the Prussian and other autocracies began to round them up; the Jews came after the czar decreed open season on them in 1881.  People came to America, often as not, because they were fleeing for their lives.  Throughout much of our history, we welcomed them.  Our openness defined us; we were a refuge among nations.  Throughout some of our history, however, we did not.  At the insistence of a largely anti-Semitic State Department, Jews attempting to flee the Nazis were sent back.  And now come the children of Central America - encouraged by the smugglers' misrepresentations, to be sure, but also in a flight for their lives every bit as genuine as those that brought the Pilgrims and the Irish and the Germans and the Jews to our shores.  Sending them back poses a threat not just to them but, even more fundamentally, to our nation's raison d'etre." - Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, June 18, 2014.