Since when did the hard-working immigrants become the bad guys? Consider the eight Mexicans who were stopped last month in the unprecedented domestic border checks while traveling from the San Juan Islands to Anacortes. One man, an Orcas resident for five years, was trying to get to the airport to pick up his wife and child who had been visiting family in Mexico.
Because he didn’t have U.S. residency papers, the man was handcuffed and shackled, and sent north for one day and then south for many more days to an unidentified detention center in Tacoma. The man’s wife, seven months pregnant at the time, had been waiting frantically at the airport with their 18-month-old child. She didn’t learn the exact location of her husband until more than a day later. A $15,000 bond was set and then reduced after they hired an attorney.
The man was quoted in the March 26 Sounder as saying, “All I want is a quiet and safe place to raise our children and to work for you.” This man is a construction worker who has maybe built homes for solid citizens of our community. His wife, a U.S. citizen, cleans local houses and hotel rooms, thereby also contributing to the economy of this region.
If these domestic ferry checks don’t end up forcing immigrants to move back to Mexico, they are sure to scare off local immigrants from learning the primary language of our country. Most of the Spanish speakers who had started English classes, which were sponsored by Skagit Valley Community College and held at the Orcas public library, stopped going after these first few “spot checks.”
Unless somebody gets away with rewriting history, the United States of America is still a united nation of immigrants. We are a colorful collection of people who share a common bond in that our ancestors all came to this country seeking a better life — unless they were Africans forced here on a slave ship or Native Americans forced to assimilate into a more European-centered culture once the settlers arrived.
In any case, today’s North Americans have roots that extend around the world: from Europe and Africa to Asia and Australia and South America. Actually, Mexico is part of North America, and most Mexicans are descendants of the indigenous people from before the Spanish Conquest. This means that the Mexicans were on this continent before most of us, even if they are newer to this country.
Do we disrespect our heritage so much that we want to traumatize others who come from different backgrounds just like we do? Certainly we can find room in our hearts to be a little bit compassionate towards our equally diverse neighbors.
By embracing them, we embrace ourselves.
Claire Reutter is Orcas Island School Librarian and lives in Eastsound.