By Mike Matejka
As we recently marked July 4 and our nation’s independence, it’s hard to feel celebratory when one looks at our Southern border.
The stories of children crowded into cells without care givers, food, blankets or clean clothes, along with women having a toilet bowl as their only drinking water is more than upsetting. It besmirches our generous and caring American spirit. Particularly when we celebrate independence, it’s stomach-turning to see fellow human beings treated this way. Within the Bill of Rights, the eighth amendment speaks against cruel and unusual punishment. The treatment of asylum seekers certainly violates that precept.
We can point fingers; we can blame President Trump’s attitude toward migrants; we can blame Congress for not appropriating enough funds; we can blame the Border Patrol and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Each can take their share of shame. Ultimately, it’s our American soil and our American spirit that future generations will look back on and shake their heads, wondering why people could be so cruel and heartless.
I don’t pretend to have complete answers. People are flocking northward, fleeing violence and desperation. We can look at our own history in Central America, where U.S. tax dollars supported military dictatorships and created armed camps. We can look at U.S. deportees who were guilty of gang violence and carried that violence southward. The extreme economic inequality between our nation and our neighbors is easy motivation for people to escape hunger by heading toward El Norte.
Long-term immigration reform is an elusive political goal. In 2013, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill that enjoyed bipartisan support. Four Democrats and four Republicans, including our own Senator Dick Durbin, crafted the compromise. President Obama promised to sign it. When it came to the U.S. House, it was never called for a vote. Every elected official speaks elusively of the need for immigration reform, yet we see little movement as hopeful as that 2013 effort.
We can push elected Representatives and our upcoming Presidential candidates to lay out clear policies and initiatives for immigration reform – it’s long overdue. In the meantime, there’s no excuse to not be humane. Anyone in U.S. detention should have access to clean water, food, adequate shelter and protection from the elements. Children detained should at least be with their parents; if they can’t, they should have educational and recreational opportunities.
Future generations will wonder about how this happened in the U.S.A. and shake their heads at us. I shake my head at us now; we’ve done the impossible before in this country, feeding women and children is not beyond our capabilities and our generosity.
Mike Matejka is the Governmental Affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council, covering 11,000 union Laborers in northern Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. He lives in Normal. He served on the Bloomington City Council for 18 years, is a past president of the McLean County Historical Society and Vice-President of the Illinois Labor History Society. He currently serves on the Normal Planning Commission.
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