15 Jun 2014
By: Max Moll
My father is a mountain of a man. Not in the physical sense – he’s a bit above average height and of average build – but in the personal sense. It’s in the sense that makes a person who they are.
A man who has provided me with so much in life; he has taught me how to be a man, how to treat and care for others, and how to work tirelessly toward my goals. My dad has worked for everything he has achieved in life, and that’s what makes him undeniably American. Simply put, my dad is the embodiment of the American Dream. Oh, and he’s also an immigrant.
If you’ve been paying any attention to statewide or national politics, you’ve likely heard the rhetoric surrounding the “issue” of immigration. If not, here’s a quick recap: the Texas GOP held it’s bi-annual convention last weekend and adopted what is arguably the firmest stance against immigration taken by a political party in recent memory. They also took a harsh absurd stance on gay human rights that looks to push our state back into the 1950’s, but that’s beside the point.
At the national level, Tea Party candidates continue to oust “moderate” Republicans, looking to replace kind-of extreme policymakers with all-the-way extreme ones. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor – a Republican who was widely expected to *gasp* actually allow the immigration reform discussion to take place – was defeated by a novice candidate backed by overwhelming Tea Party support. Just sit on that for a minute. The most Conservative member in the House leadership was defeated because he wasn’t conservative enough. The Republican Party Civil War is alive and well, indeed.
The Republican Party is veering to the right whether it likes it or not. So what happens when the extreme viewpoint of a vocal minority overtakes the national discourse of trying to develop public policy that encourages responsible growth and, I don’t know, maybe even progress?
As I mentioned earlier, my dad is an immigrant. He came to this country from Santiago, Chile on a tourist visa, met my mother, got married, and is now a permanent US resident. He has paid his taxes, has purchased a home, and has sent two kids to college. Great story, right? Well, what if I told you that he might have overstayed that visa I mentioned earlier? Using today’s political rhetoric on immigration as our guide, it’s likely that you may now have a different view of my father’s story.
My dad would be the first to tell you that what he did wasn’t right; he was young and stupid, didn’t have many responsibilities – you know the argument. He would also say that he doesn’t agree with those who come here illegally and take advantage of our social programs while not contributing anything in return. But what he would also tell you is that he came to this country as a young man, fell in love with it (and my wonderful mother), and saw a better future for himself and his family within the borders of the USA. Because of that, he did what he needed to do to ensure that he could “right his wrong” the best way he could.
Our rhetoric on immigration sends a message to not just to those people who live within our borders, but to the rest of the world as well. So when we call for the rolling back of the state guest-worker program, or the repeal of in-state tuition eligibility, or increasing the penalties for those who “knowingly” hire illegal immigrants, what message are we sending? To me, the picture we are painting is a far cry from the one that depicts Lady Liberty as the beacon of hope welcoming foreigners to her shores.
At the end of the day, the majority of us are immigrants of this great country. Whether your family came from England, or Mexico, or Russia, or Nigeria, or Chile; most of us have that one thing that unifies us. I believe that it is our responsibility to encourage this unifying diversity. We must make the process of coming here legally easier, not more difficult. We must inspire the best and the brightest to come to our shores, not turn them away. We must foster accessibility to this great country, not stifle it.
I spoke to my father before writing this piece. I spoke to him not because I wanted to use an anecdotal story to push my point of view, but because I wanted him to know that his story is one that should be told. As we talked he said something that will always stick with me. He said, “Son, being ‘American’ isn’t about where you’re from, it’s about who you are. It’s about getting up every day and working as hard as you possibly can to accomplish whatever you’ve set out to do in life. It’s about caring for your family and neighbors, and making sure that future generations have more opportunities tomorrow than you did today.”
I couldn’t agree more.