The immigration complication

When he was 14 years old, my grandfather left the tiny mountaintop village in Greece where he’d spent his entire existence and walked with several other teens and young men down the mountain – a journey that must have taken a week or more – to the nearest port to board a ship to Athens, then another to New York City.

He never returned to Greece, never saw his parents or three younger brothers again.

I never knew my grandfather, because he died when my dad was just 15, so I never had the chance to ask him: Why?

Why was he willing to make such a painstaking journey at such a young age, giving up everything that he knew in exchange for so many things that he did not. A language. A country. A history. A family.

Why did he feel the urgency to risk his life in pursuit of something completely different? Why was he not too terrified to go through with the whole thing? He was just a kid, after all.

Of course, I can guess what he would have told me. That as it entered the first Balkan War, the nation of his birth offered little hope for the future. That poverty had reduced life to little more than a daily struggle to survive. That the risks he took to leave likely were no more dangerous than the ones he would have faced by staying.

And that the promise of a place where, with hard work, anything was possible was simply too powerful to ignore, no matter the eventual outcome.

My grandfather’s story is a remarkable one to me, unfathomable even. But what makes it truly unique is that it isn’t a unique story at all.

Thousands upon thousands of immigrants came to the United States in much the same way, willingly accepting impossible, exhausting journeys of several weeks or more to travel to a place they’d only heard about, usually arriving with no knowledge of the English language and little idea about what they’d do next.

We are all shaped in some way by the experiences that are closest to us. The knowledge that my grandfather came to this country in a difficult, desperate – but legal – way has shaped the way I view this country’s immigration issue.

President Obama last night outlined controversial plans to address the illegal immigration issue – plans that amount either to an illegal blanket of amnesty, a reasonable compromise or an approach that is far too harsh, depending upon whose opinion you value.

While I have empathy for those who seek to enter our country by any means possible in search of a better life – the same thing my grandfather and millions of others sought – I object to the idea that we should be accepting of those who come illegally. The homeless person who steals food from a store so that he can survive is still breaking the law and must face the consequences, heart-wrenching though that may be.

The same is true of illegal immigrants, and yet because our nation has failed for decades to strengthen its borders, this is a problem that has grown steadily. The slow evolution of this problem is not the fault of one political party or another. They share equally in the reality that they both helped create by failing to stop it, and now we all are left to select the lesser of several evils – whatever that may be.

The immigration issue elicits passionate discussion on both sides in part because it is not easily solved. In a perfect scenario, there would be only legal immigrants and no illegal ones – or those here illegally would be easily identified, located and transported back to their countries of origin with minimal effort and at little cost to the government.

But of course this is not the case. Millions of illegal and undocumented immigrants live in all corners of the nation, so woven into the fabric of the nation by now that many have spawned several generations here. The idea that the federal government has the resources, time and money to find and forcefully relocate them is nonsensical – particularly for a nation that’s already hopelessly in debt and at a time when many believe the government should be spending less money, not more.

Deporting those who had no role in the illegal acts of their predecessors – and who themselves have never known a home other than America – seems unfair. And yet, so too does the idea that we should simply allow millions of people to circumvent our laws and then help them benefit from their actions by showing them a path to citizenship, regardless of how dire the situations were that drove them here.

I don’t purport to have an answer. I tend to favor compromise in most issues, as I believe most people do, rather than one extreme or the other. But what does compromise look like in this case? I don’t feel sufficiently knowledgeable to say.

When my wife and I made the trip from Athens to my grandfather’s village in the Peloponnese mountains four years ago, it took us in total more than seven hours of travel by train and bus and car to climb a seemingly never-ending spiral trail to the top. The thought of walking back down that mountain was to me hopelessly nonsensical. Yet I wouldn’t exist today had my grandfather not chosen to do just that 102 years ago in search of the American dream – one that he ultimately found.

That dream is alive and well in millions of people from all over the world who would choose to live in our nation instead of their own and who should be welcomed here with open arms when they come legally. But in order to preserve what makes this place special, we must protect and enforce the ideals that made it desirable in the first place.

E-mail Citizen Publisher Tom Lappas at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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Henrico Business Bulletin Board

May 2017

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