Clackety-clack, track after track, the train powers through the night toward the border crossing that will mark its entry into the United States. A young boy, a stowaway, is among those jammed on board.
He’s the one we’ll be following here.
The news these days is about thousands of children who are surging illegally into the United States – on trains, on buses, on foot. They are being warehoused in deplorable detention border centers. Many in the heartland and in Congress are demanding just one solution: Send the children back where they came from.
Luckily, the stowaway boy we are following never faced that unhappy fate. For one thing, this boy was not alone; he was hiding with his dad, mom and five sisters. For another, their trek occurred almost a century ago.
Undetected and undocumented, the family hopped off after the train crossed the border and started a new life in a new community. In a border state place called the Bronx.
The young boy in our story was Abe Rosenthal. He became a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for The New York Times and one of the famous paper’s most famous editors.
The story of how Abe came to the United States was never a part of his official Times bio and you won’t find it in his 2006 New York Times obituary. But one night, Abe told me the real story of how he came to America as we sat in a bar somewhere on some presidential campaign trail. Abe’s story is worth recalling today as America seems to be taking a very different turn on the pathway of heritage and history our relatives once traveled and we once valued.
Abe was the son of a Belorussian farmer and his wife. They came to Canada in the 1890s and changed their name from Shipiatsky to Rosenthal. That’s where Abe was born in 1922. Abe’s father became a fur trapper and trader but wanted a better life for his family. So they stowed away on that train.
Abe got his first job with The New York Times in 1943. Eight years later, he took care of some unfinished business – and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He was one of the proudest and most patriotic Americans I’ve ever known.
Today, our proud history and heritage – and our partisan politics – all seem to be racing forward in reverse.
Years ago, a seemingly farsighted Texas governor named George W. Bush bought into a grand scheme devised by his strategist, Karl Rove, to remake Republicans into America’s perpetual majority party. They knew their solidly Republican Texas was just a few Latino immigration surges away from forever losing their Grand Old Party’s dominance in the state.
Their plan: Offer a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who were living productively in America. Whoa! Today’s shortsighted Republican leaders, fearing tea party challenges, shrink from any immigration reform other than round-them-up and throw-them-out.
But political myopia is not an exclusively Republican malady. President Barack Obama’s advisers boggled the minds of fellow Democrats by announcing, with inexplicable political insensitivity, that while in Texas for two political fundraisers, Obama didn’t intend to visit those squalid border immigration detention camps. So the White House scrambled to put together a meeting with local officials. But Obama’s advisers compounded their problems by first saying they would ask for $2 billion to deal with the surge of illegals, then asking for almost twice that, with no explanation of what changed.
Almost lost in all this is the concept that America can still create a humane response.
On the Fourth of July, a New York Times editorial called for “giving millions of immigrants permission to stay, to work and to live without fear. Mr. Obama needs to scale back the deportation machinery, which he greatly expanded. His decision two years ago to halt deportations of young immigrants called Dreamers was a good first step. Now he should protect Dreamers’ parents, and, if possible, parents of citizen children.”
Above that clarion call, the Times masthead reminds that the paper’s influential editorial page editor is Andrew Rosenthal. (Yes, Abe’s son).
What America needs now is a new bipartisan presidential team to solve today’s immigration crisis. We need a patriotic initiative that deep-sixes politics, brings together Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama – and encourages us all to follow.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at [email protected]