Story of America is still changing as we live

To the editor:

When we were young, they told us a story about America.

It was a grand adventure story, full of pioneers seeking new frontiers and immigrants braving oceans ands hardship to get to a land of opportunity. America was the New World, the place to come to when you were lost or afraid. Anyone willing to work hard and get along with their neighbor could come and add their voice to a swelling chorus. When the time came to defend those ideals abroad, we answered the call.

Later we learned that this story wasn’t always accurate. It left out a lot of people: the Native Americans those pioneers drove off their ancestral lands, the hardworking people denied opportunity because of the color of their skin. But the new story was richer, because we admitted our guilt, and tried to learn from our mistakes and overcome prejudice. There were so many heroes fighting tyranny and hate, and we just knew if we had been alive in those times, we would have been standing by their side.

With such a wonderful story, it’s no wonder that people are still coming. Some come because they are afraid, fleeing violence for a land of peace. Some come because they hope, fleeing poverty for a land of opportunity. But when they arrived on our southern border, they were refused asylum, thrown into cages and uncertainty.

Right now, human beings are being warehoused in overcrowded cells. Adults are being held with only toilet water to drink. Children are being separated from their parents and held without access to things like soap or toothpaste. It’s no wonder that many are reported to be sick. It’s known that several have died.

The human beings our country is treating this way are no threat to us. They came to us because they wanted to be part of our story. They have human rights and we have a responsibility for their safety. To treat them in the way they are now being treated recalls some of the darkest episodes in our country’s history, from Japanese internment to the Trail of Tears, when public policy called for confinement and relocation of disfavored minorities, and the national heart became stone in the face of fear and death.

There is a better way to handle immigration. We could begin with aiding the countries that migrants come from, helping our neighbors and making us all better off. For years, refugees who arrived here given a court date and released to their families would reliably show up at the appointed time, hoping to be dealt with justly. Now our Border Patrol includes some agents who call this system ‘catch and release,’ and the fishing analogy is no accident. We must treat immigrants as human beings, not as animals. We must also take the responsibility to tear out racism at agencies which exercise this authority on our behalf, root and branch if necessary.

Our story has never been perfect. The America that we have is more than the dream: it’s a material reality which doesn’t always live up to our aspirations. But for those people scrambling to get here, that dream is the only America they have, and we have the chance to live up to that ideal. What you’re doing now is what you would have done then: this is your time to stand up for the America you want us to be.

If you’re angry that children and refugees are being treated like this, say so: contact Rep. Bergman, Senators Peters and Stabenow. Encourage Governor Whitmer to continue standing up against those who seek to profit from this system of horrors. Attend a rally and make your presence known — there will be one in Houghton this Friday July 12th at 7 p.m. near the Miner statue, in nationwide coordination with hundreds of other sites under the banner of Lights for Liberty.

The story of America is still being told. You are telling part of it. We can be the country we say we are, the hope for the refugee and the striver. You can help make us that country. What part will you play?