Commentary and Philosophy Fiction posted August 11, 2014

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History 101

Broken Immigration Policy?

by lancellot

“Is anyone here a doctor? Oh, I am,” Dr. Strauss called out, and placed his briefcase on his desk.  So much for starting the day with a joke. Good morning, class.” Strauss looked at the bored faces of his senior class, and waited for responses.



“It’s too early for questions...”

He smiled at the half-hearted replies.

Deciding to throw a little water on the class, he grabbed his marker and wrote three words on the board.  Broken Immigration Policy?

“Unless you live in a cave, you no doubt have been inundated with the slogan, or statement: We must fix our broken immigration policy or laws. Or maybe you heard: We need comprehensive immigration reform.  On the fringes of these two major cries are talks about amnesty for illegal immigrants or securing the border.” He smiled inwardly at seeing all eyes were glued to him. I guess I hit a nerve.

A hand went up in the back row, and Strauss pointed to Jake Wilkins.

“I’m not trying to be rude or anything, but this is a history class, not political science,” the boy said, and then looked around for a laugh that didn’t come.

“Do you think we are the first nation to have an immigration problem?” Strauss asked looking at the boy.


“Do you think people emigrated from one country to another 50 years ago, 100 years ago or

“Yeah, of course they did.” The boy squirmed in his seat as Dr. Strauss slowly walked towards him.

“Then,” Strauss stood over the sweating teen, “wouldn’t you agree that history is repeating itself here right now before our very eyes?”

“Yes, sir,” the boy stammered, and lowered his head.

“Good.  There are those who feel America is a nation built by immigrants, so all people should be welcome. There is a lot of truth in that statement. I am a historian and realist, so I do not believe in denying historical truth, simply because it is inconvenient.  But, I also know it’s equally true that unchecked immigration in a land can be a horrible thing too. If you don’t agree, just go ask a Native American, if you can find one.” He walked back to the front of the class.

Another hand went up, and Strauss pointed to Susan Miller in the front row.

“We are a nation of laws too, at the least that’s what the President says…”

“When he’s not breaking them,” Mikey cut in. His Joke was met by a chorus of boos. “Boo all you want. You know it’s true. Isn’t that right Mr. Strauss?”

“We’ll get to the President another day; go on, Susan.” Strauss pointed at the girl.

“All I’m saying is that they should do things the right way, the legal way. They are breaking the law, at least we can all agree on that, right?”

You’re right. They are breaking the letter of the law. Do I blame people for wanting a better life? No, I don’t. I can easily put myself in their shoes. For example, how many of you remember our lessons on German history before the start of World War 2?  Some of you asked why the Jewish people didn’t leave Germany when the Nazis were rising in power. How many of you read the Diary of Anne Frank, and said, “I would have left before the killings started, couldn’t they see the writings on the wall.” I’m sure that many Jews did see, but where were they to go?  And how were they to get in?” Strauss paused and let his words sink into his students.

“Yes, I can certainly see why a person would flee Nazi Germany, or Central America. When it is a matter of life or death, how strong is an invisible border and a paper law? Am I saying it is right to break another country’s laws and borders? No, the day my needs or wants justifies me to take what belongs to another is the day chaos reigns.”

Several youth were looking at each other and raising eyebrows.

“By the looks on your faces at that last line it has some of you thinking, Um… I don’t know about that. If you really need it, for survival, then you should have a right to it. This is not a lesson about property rights versus human needs. That is a debate for another class, and one that could last forever, depending on who is the needy and who is the property owner. You would be surprised how when those roles are reversed, so are the opinions.

Anyway, it is understandable how a person would want to flee for an opportunity of prosperity. It is a basic human desire. But if there are people streaming across a nation’s borders, without the authorization of that nation, in defiance of its laws, does that mean the laws are broken?”

“Yes, they are broken,” Gloria Sanchez spoke. Strauss nodded for her to continue, “It is too hard to come here legally, and many people know the laws don’t work, that’s why they just come across. They should be allowed to stay. It’s not their fault the system is trash.”

Mr. Strauss paced before the class and composed his thoughts. He could tell by the tone of Gloria’s voice this was personal to her.

“Interesting, Gloria, I’m glad you spoke out. Now, let’s look closer at this. Every day in our country people commit murder, rape, and robbery, are the laws against those acts broken?” He saw her head shake and raised a finger to stop her. “If you answer no to that question, then why aren’t they broken? People are breaking those laws just as they do the immigration laws. Some people believe others need killing. Some men and a few women believe they should take what they want, and are justified in doing so, regardless if that thing is a woman’s body or a purse. Why aren’t politicians, actors and protestors crying the rape laws, and murder laws are broken and in need of comprehensive reform? Why aren’t you?” He looked at his student and waited. No one broke the silence.

“Now, here is where we separate those seeking the truth, from those who simply want to be right.  I can answer that fundamental question based on historical precedence, but I think it’s better if you answer it for yourselves.”

Gloria raised her hand and voice, “I still don’t see the harm. Some of those people are hard workers and refugees from terrible places. This is one world for all people. Borders are like segregation in the South. They are morally wrong.” She crossed her arms in front of her. Several kids nodded their heads in silent agreement.

Mr. Strauss slowly stroked his sparse beard. “Why not simply let anyone who wants to enter America come right in? There are many people who agree with you, Gloria. They feel we should have no borders.  Let’s look at that in a different scale. Sometimes things look differently if we change the perspective to a more personal size.

We’ll use a random house as if it were a nation, and its family as the citizens.  The family has parents, two kids and a dog, let’s call him Rover. This family, the Smiths, live in a nice four bedroom townhome. It’s not a mansion but they can afford it. One day, after taking the kids to Chucky Cheese, they come home and find that an equally nice Rodriguez family has ‘immigrated’ into their home. They tell the Smiths of the hardships in their former home.

Mrs. Smith is a softy, and her heart goes out to them. At a family meeting Dad is outvoted, and called a meanie for wanting to toss them out. The new family stays, and now there are eight people in this three bedroom house. Months pass, and Mrs. Rodriguez gives birth. Mr. Rodriguez claims now that there are more people in his family, they should have a say on how the house is run. After all, he says, they have rights too. Another year goes by, and one day the Smith’s wake up to find a third family has now moved in, the Gonzalez clan.

Now the house hasn’t expanded, and the Gonzalez clan is demanding they have rights in the house too, and they aren’t leaving. If you are a Smith, what do you do? What do you think the Rodriguez and Gonzalez family will do? Could you stop them now, if you wanted to?
But not to worry, perhaps everyone will sit by the fireplace and sing Kumbaya, because historically that’s what people do when their numbers increase and resources get scarce, right?

Some say, refusing entry into the country for people just seeking a better life and safety is inhumane. I will not lie to you, and claim they don’t have a point. I only ask that those same people  admit to the other aspects of human nature; the aspects that Native Americans, Mayans, Africans, and countless others throughout history discovered. Sometimes if you want to know what you should do today, look back at what was done or wasn’t done yesterday.”

“So what are you saying, Mr. Strauss,” asked Gloria, with the beginnings of tears in her eyes. “You want to turn children away?”

Mr. Strauss smiled and said, “I’m saying you had better do your homework tonight, and read chapter seven. There are no easy answers in life, but there are workable solutions. I want a two page essay on your solution to the problem, with historical examples.”

The bell rang for class change, but no one moved. Dr. Strauss smiled.

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