My Dad, the Legal Immigrant
Arellano proudly tells the story of how his father made multiple illegal border crossings from Mexico, served time for using false documents, and has failed to fully assimilate. In his words:I'm glad that my father entered this country illegally. If he had come "the right way," our family's success would've been chalked up as just another example of immigrant can-do.I guess that makes my dad just another example...of why Arellano's attitude is a smack in the face to immigrants who respect this country enough to come here legally.
My dad grew up one of five children of an impoverished family in one of London's roughest neighborhoods. He started working odd jobs at a young age, and left school at 15 to work, briefly, in a tailor's shop. After that he was a servant for multiple members of the Astor family, working 6 to 6 1/2 days a week for a much-cherished Sunday afternoon off.
He, too, dreamed of the opportunity for a better life that America promised, so he sought a way to get here legally that was within his means. It came in the form of another job as a servant, this time with the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. He celebrated his 19th birthday on the Atlantic aboard a ship bound for New York City.
He worked a few other assorted jobs after the one that opened the door to his American dream. In March of 1965 he reported for basic training with the U.S. Air Force, beginning 21 years of military service to his adopted country. He married by mom the same year, and they welcomed me into the world two years later.
I was two when my Dad became a citizen on a day he always described with great pride, appreciation, and often a decided dampness to his eye. It wasn't as easy to pursue an education in your spare time then, but Dad was determined. He started back in the 60's fit in a class here and a class there between having and raising kids, working, and the constant moving of military life. Two decades later he had a high school diploma and an associates degree to show for his persistence.
After retiring from the Air Force he ended up serving in a civilian capacity for another 14 years, until cancer rendered him unable to work. He died at 57, the birthday Arellano mentions having recently celebrated with his father.
Dad's love of our country was fabled in our family—on both sides of the ocean he crossed to get here so many years ago. My brother and I used to roll our eyes every 4th of July that we hosted a family gathering, as Dad set up the boom box outside to greet our guests not with good, old-fashioned rock'n'roll, but with John Philip Sousa. He said it stirred the patriot in him, along with the flags that festooned the yard.
But his love for America was so much more than flags and music. It came from knowing the history of this country, good and bad, from recognizing freedom and opportunity that was hard-fought and hard-won by those who came before him. And he recognized the crucial difference between taking the opportunity that America offers and stealing it.
When Arellano says...We deserve an accurate account of who enters and leaves the United States. We deserve immigrants who don't cheat the system, don't commit crimes against others, who better their communities and don't become burdens. But the traits embodied by Dad and so many more immigrants that spurred them to enter this country illegally—courage, an indomitable spirit, the ambition to seek a better lot in this country—are to be lauded and copied....I have to agree with him. We DO deserve to know who's coming and going. (I'd add that we also have the right to decide who comes and goes.) We DO deserve immigrants who don't cheat the system, commit crimes, who better their communities and are not a burden. The qualities he praises—courage, an indomitable spirit, and the ambition to seek a better lot in this country—have undeniably contributed greatly to the nation we love.
But having the "courage" to break our laws, the "indomitable spirit" to insistently keep breaking them, and the "ambition" to claim what has not been earned through legal channels? I'd think twice before taking such pride in "qualities" that do so much to undermine the very fabric of our society—namely the precious value and responsibility that is American citizenship.