My mother came to the United States as the wife of a military man. She had to earn her citizenship, however. It wasn’t handed to her. It took a number of years as a resident to earn it and during that time, a divorce and World War 11 intervened. Life as a single mother and as a foreigner was difficult for her Not being a citizen, she couldn’t work in the aircraft industry, where wages were decent. She had to piece an income together doing odd jobs. She rose at 4 a.m. to make breakfast for fisherman on the wharf, then cleaned fish during the rest of the day. On weekends, she earned tips as a cigarette girl at a night club. Safety net programs didn’t exist. Either she paid the weekly rent or she and I would be on the streets.
We never had to sleep in the rain. But sometimes we went to bed hungry.
I understand why she may resent illegal immigrants. She played by the rules, got her citizenship and crawled her way into the lower rungs of the middle class, eventually earning her license to work as a practical nurse. But she is the reason I do sympathize with them. My mother, as an immigrant, was tough, persistent and worked hard for her wages. When she got her citizenship, she went to work for Douglas Aircraft Industries and earned the nickname, “Gadget” because she was good at developing ways to do her job better. Once, she received $50 for an invention. I was proud of her.
That same work ethic and desire to get ahead exists in others who are drawn to this country. I’m not talking about the doctors and engineers we lure here with incentives. I’m talking about those who are escaping persecution or poverty. They struggle at jobs most of us wouldn’t touch and distinguish themselves by their ability to overcome obstacles. America can’t afford to turn these workers away, especially not with a growing, aging population. We need youthful energy.
A recent Gallop poll revealed a majority of Americans favor a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, 84%, including Republicans. (“Young American,” by Laurene Powell Jobs, Wired, November, 2016, pg. 88.) Only a few, noisy xenophobes think otherwise. I know we can’t open our borders to everyone. I wish we could. But a path to citizenship is fair. Let’s not let anger be our guide.