As the endless debate over American immigration rages on in both the public and private mind of professional political hacks, let’s not forget the stark reality that millions of people will depend on the ultimate outcome one way or the other. In 2010, those who crossed the U.S.-Mexican border illegally were estimated to have made up at least 6 percent of Arizona’s total population.
Just last week, I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to meet recent immigrants in Mesa. Their exact legal status remained a mystery to me, but their work ethic surpassed that of a great many born and raised U.S. citizens.
I found the lengths these people are willing to take simply to live a comfortable life in a place with more opportunity than their home country to be both remarkable and inspiring. What more appropriate an expression of an American dream now realized?
One migrant I spoke with was a sophomore at a valley high school. She is a recent convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and perhaps an aspiring social worker. Her father is a day laborer and still returns across the border whenever he is caught and deported back. I was surprised to realize what a typical day for migrant families entails and was even more shocked by how calm the teenage girl seemed about her family’s situation. A great many citizen families, now matter how dysfunctional, are rarely faced with such an imposition as citizenship getting in the way of normal life.
The high school sophomore told me she had been a citizen for two years. Another immigrant with whom I got acquainted had picked up very good English, yet had only been in Phoenix a month and a half. Born and raised in a coastal town off the Gulf of California in Sonora, this elderly Scottsdale nanny by trade was one of the most genuinely nicest people I have ever met. She has a very large family. Scattered from coast to coast, they look for work and opportunity wherever and whenever they can from Los Angeles to Boston.
The overall encounter was both humbling and insightful. Had the same restrictions and challenges imposed on immigrants today been in place when my own ancestors, and likely many of yours as well, fled war- and famine-torn Europe for “streets paved with gold” in America, perhaps the engrained immigrant culture of diversity would have fizzled with them (St. Patrick’s Day included)?
Maybe a more common understanding, above all else, could elevate the plight of migrant families affected by cultural norms and stereotypes. Just like I recently learned, it’s important to keep in mind that issues in our country that don’t affect us directly have an effect on our national psyche.
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