I met my birth father at my mother’s funeral. He’d skipped town before my first birthday, and though we met briefly when I graduated high school, I did not know his people, and I did not recognize the man who approached me at my mother’s casket to offer condolences.
On my mother’s side, my German great-grandmother Anna came to the U.S. at age 16. She’d intended to accompany her sister, two years older, but the sister fell ill in the weeks before the trip. Anna was brave, she boarded the ship alone, and she never saw her parents or her siblings again.
Unless you’re Native American, you come from a family of refugees, immigrants, or slaves, most of whom arrived in this country without elite skills or education. But in a FOX News interview this week, selling the Trump Administration’s latest salvo on chain (aka family) migration and merit-based immigration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “What good does it do to bring in somebody who’s illiterate in their own country, has no skills, and is going to struggle in our country and not be successful?”
California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher responded on Twitter: “My father never never finished school in Mexico. He came to the US to pick & pack your food, opened a small business, bought a restaurant, purchased property—employed folks & paid a lot of taxes. His kids became a teacher, a lawyer, and a legislator.”
What good does it do?
Tony Fratto, a former Treasury official and deputy press secretary under President George W. Bush, said it best in a long series of tweets that read, in part: “A benefit to family migration is that immigrants are brought into supporting communities, extended families serving as a ready safety net. In fact, to bring relatives to the US, the resident is required to demonstrate sufficient financial means to support the incoming immigrant. Family-migration is also limited by caps. I wish the caps were way higher, but they’re not. They exist & the result is it can take decades — averaging 13-23 years —for queued family members to actually migrate to the US. That’s a really long time. But poorer immigrants form communities & commit to self-support. They’re patriotic, and they serve their country, go to church & start businesses at higher rates than native-born Americans. In many ways they’re the Republican beau idéal!”
With merit-based immigration, I consider my own (lack of) merit. I know little about my ancestry. Disinterested in school at age 18, I scored an embarrassing 1.8 GPA on my first college try, so I quit and went to work, circling back to college in my thirties to earn a Bachelor’s Degree weeks before my 40th birthday. What skills would I, as a young person, have had to offer?
That day beside my mother’s casket, the father I never knew handed me his business card. It indicated he worked in a lumber yard. And I know little about his parents, excepting they were both orphans.
On my mother’s side, great-grandmother Anna spoke only German on her arrival at the port of New York. She was uneducated. She waitressed and took in sewing until she met and married a young Austrian immigrant and built a family in southern Illinois.
What good was their struggle?
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day — as President Trump spent yet another sunny day on his golf course, and as Congressmen debated whether he’d referred to African countries shitholes or shithouses in an Oval Office debate on immigration — a hardworking, taxpaying landscaper in Michigan said goodbye to his wife and children and boarded a plane for Mexico, deported from the only country he’s ever known.
What good, I ask AG Sessions, does this cruelty, this destroying of a family do?
Does it make us better, safer?
Does it even, we must ask, make us American?