Immigration and America’s future falling prey to the political divide

What will America become? The migration issue we confront today will greatly determine our future self-awareness and identity as a nation. It cannot be denied that we are a nation of immigrants. The current negative national narrative on migration has been influenced by various attitudes, such as racism and the fear of the strangers, for sure, but most of all by a misunderstanding of the present migration situation. Our nation is experiencing a historic political divide that seems to split the nation evenly on various aspects of migration.

As the saying goes, in order to prepare for the future, we must understand the mistakes of the past. In other words, sometimes a historical perspective can help us chart the future. Just prior to World War II, a French philosopher, Jacques Maritain, came to the United States seeking refuge from the impending Nazi invasion of France. From a philosophical perspective, he came to understand the greatness of America. This is some of what he said in the 1950s in his book, “Reflections on America”:

A file photo shows the main buildings where immigrants were once processed after arriving on Ellis Island, which is now a museum, as seen from the New York harbor. (OSV News photo/Chip East, Reuters)

“At this point we may grasp the hidden meaning of the basic part played by immigration in the life of this country. Each day, each year brings to the shores of America a flux of men and women who come from every part of the world and every cultural tradition, nearly broken by the moral persecutions, moral distress, or physical poverty suffered in the Old World,” who are now in the New World.

“They come over to commit all their remaining forces to the common task of the land of promise which receives them. Their children will be told of their sufferings and keep them in memory, but they will share in the youthful force, hope, and activity of their new national community. They will embark on the pursuit of happiness.”

“With respect to this basic sociological datum: the perpetual arrival of a new first generation of immigrants, as well as to the arrival of the first colonists, one might say that the tears and sufferings of many unfortunates have been and ceaselessly are a stream fecundating the soil of the New World and preparing for America’s grandeur.”

Maritain captures well the immigrant experience in our nation, as immigrants have helped build the country and at the same time realized their dreams. It is why we are, in many ways (but not all), a great nation. At this point we may grasp the hidden meaning of the basic role played by immigration in our national character.

The lack of immigration reform for the past 30 years, however, has brought the immigration situation to a historical juncture. The legalization of the undocumented in 1986 started a positive attitude and trend, but subsequent negative events and the lack of concentrated effort in keeping the immigration system in sync with our labor and family unification needs has caused our present problems.

Some of the issues we face today include providing permanent status to the children known as “Dreamers” who were brought here by their parents, asylum-seekers and the lack of resources to process their claims, parolees without a path to permanent status (e.g., Afghans, Ukrainians), those here on Temporary Protected Status (TPS) without a path to permanent status, religious worker visas with new restricted complications, and family unification needs.

To these issues can be added the labor needs for agricultural workers and technological workers. All these people need attention in our broken immigration system to provide for the common good of the nation.

What solutions do we have to these problems? Obviously, we need our legislators to be attuned to the reality of immigration and not just attuned to the media reports that give no real understanding of the issue or public opinion polls that reflect the same surface understanding of the issues. If we realize what is at stake, namely our national character, we will find solutions to the migration problems that confront us today.

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Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio is the retired bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. He writes the column “Walking With Migrants” for The Tablet and OSV News.

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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