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Opinion: Breaking trust with the children of immigrants, ‘besides being un-American, is anti-human’

By Bill Manny | bmanny@idahostatesman.com

Immigration is a tough issue for me. I want my country to be welcoming, compassionate and humane; I also want it to enforce its laws. We are a nation of laws, and observing and enforcing the law is at the heart of who we are. If the law is wrong or bad, we tell our children, it’s our obligation to change it, not ignore it.

But in the case of immigration law, our nation’s practice has been a wink and a nod. When violations benefit employers and agriculture and big business, we look the other way. When it benefits politicians to rail against “them,” those others who come from somewhere else and take jobs and commit crimes, we decry the lack of immigration enforcement and coherent policy and demand action. Our society and our politicians want to have it both ways.

So I don’t know the right way to reform this broken system or handle the estimated 11 million people who are here illegally. Many are good people who came seeking jobs, opportunity, safety. I’m sure there are some whose motives were less noble. But where do we start? How do we decide who stays, who goes, who gets a second chance?

I don’t know where to start. But I know where not to start: With the innocent children of the immigrants who came here illegally. Regardless of what their parents did, regardless of their parents’ motives, those children made none of those choices. These are children and young adults who are American in everything except the paperwork: educated in American schools, raised in American culture, employed at American jobs, paying American taxes. Many know nothing but America. Sending them “home” would not just be unjust and unkind, it would be nonsensical. This is their home.

I am disappointed that Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is among the state officials who pushed President Donald Trump to take action to end the Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. I know he’s by-the-book tough, and I respect that. He’s also smart and compassionate, and I’d hope that aspect of his character would prevail.

I also worry that President Trump expects Congress to address this issue in six months. Imagining that Congress can address anything in six months is against all evidence to the contrary, especially on an issue as emotional and divided as immigration. What’s more, we asked DACA children to trust our government and register, to come out of the shadows and give up their personal information. The notion that in a few months, without a resolution from Congress, our government might turn that trust against them is beyond cruel.

As it happens, at the same time Attorney General Jeff Sessions was announcing the new administration plan for DACA on Tuesday, I was talking to the adult children of three immigrant families. For a Statesman project I’m working on, I was interviewing Idaho Rep. Hy Kloc; Concordia University Law School Dean Elena Langan; and Christine Hahn, medical director for the Idaho Division of Public Health. All are children of World War II refugees. They are Caucasian, and of European descent, and their families’ immigration experience is now several generations in the past. But as prominent leaders in Idaho, their experiences as children of refugee families are instructive today.

I’ll write more about their stories in a future column, but their views are worth sharing briefly today. It’s probably not a surprise that they are disheartened by this week’s news and would like to see the DACA policy remain in place. What follows is just a part of what I heard about them and their remarkable families Tuesday.

“The United States is still a land of opportunity,” said Langan, whose parents were from Lithuania. “It certainly was for my family. I would not be where I am today were it not for my parents’ interest in education, because neither of them had an opportunity to seek a higher education. I would like to see others have the same opportunity I had.”

Hahn’s mother was German, displaced by World War II, who ended up in a camp in Denmark. But she was a citizen of an enemy nation who was welcomed to the U.S. nonetheless.

“My mother came from the country of the Nazis, the most evil regime, maybe, in history. And yet the United States decided the approach should be to not only build up Germany into a stable and strong democracy, but to take the descendants and accept those that were refugees or immigrants or students, as my mother was. I see a lot of parallels to the countries now that people vilify — like Syria or others. …

“I also feel that every individual should be given a chance. If we all were judged by what our ancestors did, I’m sure we all could look back and see some ugliness there.”

Hy Kloc lost most of his Polish relatives in the Holocaust. He was born in Germany in a displaced persons camp before his family came to the United States after the war.

“Don’t let the sins of the father be visited on the children,” Kloc said. “These (DACA) children had no say in what was happening to them, where they were going, how they were going to live. Now to take that all away and try to send them back to some country they have never been to or don’t remember, besides being un-American, is anti-human.”

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