I’m taking a few steps back from the fray. Away from Arizona, from racial profiling and constitutionality, from fences and troops and lettuce-picking.
All of us are immigrants or descendents of one. We came here either in flight from tyranny or enticed by the beacon of opportunity. Except for Blacks who made their passage in chains as three fifths of a human, our descendents came as uninvited guests, killed out hosts and never left. Our history is bloodied by forced labor, land grabs and genocide.
When we scream today about legal / illegal it has a hollow ring in my ears. Legal is nothing more than the political calculation of the legislators and/or judiciary of the day. Legal was the Fugitive Slave Law and Dred Scott decision. Legal excluded thousands of Jews in the 1930s and interred Japanese-Americans in 1940s. Legal is the stroke of a pen. It confers no moral authority.
Nativism raises its head in hard times. Xenophobia becomes the cry as folks look for a source of their discontent. As a nation we are easily misled and distracted. If we deported twelve million people I doubt if the unemployment figures would move significantly. There are no takers for stoop labor or menial day jobs.
On a more existential level I wake up every morning, undocumented, arriving on the shore of myself. I’ve crossed an ocean in steerage from another country just like everyone else. I’m learning the ways, the language and how to be in this world. Whether it be from a dream state or from the place my imagination has transported me I live in exile. I must check in at my own Ellis Island to re-enter this agreed-upon world.
In this sense immigration is a form of re-invention from Don Draper in Mad Men to the characters in Ragtime. Since Europe colonized the Americas, people have crossed the ocean to start over, to dis-identify with their past, lose their accents, and assume new names.
With climate change now a fait accompli the next centuries will be marked by massive dislocations and migrations of people, unprecedented in recorded history. The Internet is already erasing borders, relegating the old geography to an artifact of a past age. Globalization, as well, will cause cartographers to re-draw maps.
I’m well aware that few people will share my vision. Too many Americans think this is an issue between us and them. It’s time to close that gap. We are one people sharing this piece of orbiting land and sea.