Segal: Open letter from an illegal ‘alien’
My fellow Americans:
In this 75th-anniversary year of my arrival in this land, at this time of public debate about immigration in our great country, the time is right for me to add my voice to the conversation. (Good thing I have friends in journalism to give me a forum.)
For many of you, I have come to represent the goodness at the heart of our country and what we aspire to be. I stand for “truth, justice and the American way.” It’s no coincidence that my signature colors are red and blue.
I am also an immigrant —and an undocumented one at that. I didn’t choose to come here. My parents sent me here as a baby, the last hope of a dying world far away. Their dreams for the future rest on my shoulders, and I strive to honor their memory.
How many immigrants share a similar story: brought or sent here by parents who wanted nothing more than a better life for them? Should they be punished for choices that were out of their control? Or should we find a way to integrate them — us — into American society as responsible, productive citizens?
Of course, not every immigrant will turn out to be a superhero. Some are more mild-mannered. But the vast majority are here for the right reason: to make a better life, to invest in the promise of America. That sounds plenty heroic to me. And besides, being an immigrant or a child of immigrants has its own challenges. Living with a foot in two worlds can be trying, balancing assimilation into American society with the preservation of ethnic identity and tradition. It is precisely this dynamic that has given America her exceptional wealth of cultural and intellectual diversity and achievement.
This population of strivers makes America stronger. It links us to our immigrant history, as well. I was certainly not the first refugee from a dying world; America has stood as a beacon of hope and liberty, a shining city on a hill, for millions fleeing oppression. Our nation is founded on immigration. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin even wanted the Great Seal of the United States to depict a scene from the biblical Exodus, the quintessential immigrant story.
I must acknowledge that there are those who come here seeking to do harm by exploiting America’s freedoms. They are a minority, to be sure, but one whose effects we feel — and mourn — all too often. I confront them regularly in my work, so I of all people understand the need for heightened border security. Yet despite all my exceptional abilities, I can’t save everyone, all the time. That is the price of a free society, a price worth paying. And it means we must work extra hard to create a voluntary culture of responsibility, for ourselves and for each other.
In the end, political solutions aren’t my arena; I will leave that to the politicians and pundits. By coming out publicly as an undocumented immigrant, I hope I can help broaden perspectives and change attitudes. As the public debate continues, let’s avoid demonizing immigrants or those who disagree with our positions on this complex issue. I invite each of you to ask yourself, to remind yourself, as I do every day: “What is my family’s immigrant story? When and why did they come here? Am I living up to their legacy?”
Let empathy guide our thinking as much as law and order. And may the gratitude we feel for our immigrant forebears inform how we treat today’s generation of seekers of freedom and opportunity.
Proud to be an American,
Rabbi David Segal, of the Aspen Jewish Congregation, can be reached at 970-925-8245 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at http://www.aspenjewish.blogspot.com, and his column runs the first Saturday of each month. Superman filled in for him today. He can be reached through Clark Kent at the Daily Planet.
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