President Barack Obama three weeks ago attended July 4 ceremonies for 25 members of the U.S. armed forces who were sworn in as newly minted American citizens. It was a quiet, dignified and impressive event that punctuated the importance of somehow solving what has become the nation’s most pressing domestic problem: the lack of coherent immigration policy.
More than that, it seemed an oasis of sanity in the political upheaval that is bound to be a major issue in the coming midterm elections and the crisis that deepens daily, aggravated by an onslaught of homeless children at our borders and the refusal of the Congress to pass the fiscal wherewithal to deal with it before the coming August recess.
If House Speaker John Boehner is to salvage any hope of being regarded in history as anything even close to mediocre, he needs to get his majority Republican troops in line with a reasonable solution or reach some compromise with the administration. The president has asked for more than $3 billion to meet the current challenge, and under the circumstances, it seems like a reasonable request. If Republicans on the far right don’t think so, Boehner should demand they at least propose their own solutions. What’s the alternative? Should we haul tens of thousands of children back to some jungle or urban nightmare and just dump them?
Be that as it may, during his brief remarks to the new citizens Obama noted that they had stepped up to risk their lives to prove the sincerity of their intentions, that as a nation of immigrants millions before them had proven that democracy would never have been sustained without their sacrifice.
The president quoted no less an authority on what it means to be an American than a naturalized citizen whose own youthful escape from the horrors of oppression early in the last century is an inspiration for us all.
Master chef, restaurateur, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner George Mardikian survived the genocidal policies imposed on his Armenian homeland to dedicate his life to promoting the freedoms he found here.
“You who have been born in America, I wish I could make you understand what it is like not to be an American – not to have been an American all your life – and then, suddenly, to be one for that moment and forever after,” Obama quoted Mardikian, whose 1956 book, the “Song of America,” has sold millions of copies.
The president noted that in many sites around the country that same day immigrants were becoming citizens. Many had sacrificed for years to get “to this moment and forever after.”
Whatever one thinks of this president, to believe that nothing from now through the election of a new chief executive two years from now can be expected is perhaps the saddest and in many ways the most frightening prospect this nation has seen in a long time. Immigration needs to be solved as do a half dozen crucial issues or why should we elect a Congress?
Mardikian’s biography lists his political affiliation as Republican but it was a Democrat president, Harry Truman, who awarded him the nation’s highest civilian honor for his contribution to liberty. He was a friend of Herbert Hoover, a Republican, and is quoted by a Democrat, Obama.
Is it not possible today then for Republicans and Democrats to recognize the contribution of each other for the good of the whole without sacrificing one’s convictions? If not, Mardikian and those who were inspired by his view of a shining, welcoming country where one could live in peace and freedom and prosper is increasingly fantasy.
Ideology certainly has a place in politics but it should not override every reasonable consideration. One’s social beliefs are his or her own but they need not be imposed on those who hold other ideas, and there always should be room it seems to me for compromise. An unwillingness to reform what clearly requires fixing, a capricious, hideously expensive (in both money and its toll on our citizenry) lack of coherence in immigration policy, could be the rock this country eventually founders on.
If we don’t find a way to accommodate the Mardikians among the masses who want to huddle here, where will we be ultimately?
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.