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Messenger: America’s struggle with immigration represents an opportunity, not a crisis
Tony's Take

Messenger: America’s struggle with immigration represents an opportunity, not a crisis

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The last time there was a group of minutemen in Missouri, they weren’t too happy with me.

It was 2008, and the Ozarks Minutemen, an ad-hoc group of armed residents of southwest Missouri, were worried about undocumented immigrants working at restaurants in Springfield. Spurred on by a right-wing radio host who was warning of hordes of immigrants invading America under the potential presidency of Democrat Barack Obama, the minutemen spread fear and racism. I was the editorial page editor of the Springfield News-Leader at the time, and I called them what they were, a group of white, gun-toting wannabe militia members who disliked people who looked different from themselves.

Thirteen years later, state Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, wants to bring the minutemen back. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that President Joe Biden is a Democrat and once again Republicans are stoking unreasonable fears that he’s coming for all your guns and opening the borders to all comers. (He isn’t, and he hasn’t.)

To turn attention away from Biden’s success in vaccine distribution, and the popularity of the American Rescue Plan, some members of the GOP are once again relying on their favorite fear-mongering technique, by trying to convince Americans that brown people are coming for their jobs. America has always been a nation of immigrants, of people leaving their homelands to come here for a better life, and it is to our country’s great shame that rather than fix a broken immigration system, we regularly get bogged down in fear-mongering debates over amnesty, or terrorism, instead of finding the compromise necessary to solve a real problem.

Polls say that the American people, regardless of party, want to find solutions, by protecting “Dreamers,” those young people brought to America by their undocumented parents and raised as Americans in our schools; by fixing the broken asylum system that doesn’t process applications quickly enough; by creating a path to citizenship for those immigrants who come here and serve in our military and want to stay in this country.

Last year, Gallup found that 77% of Americans believe that immigration is good for our country; and, for the first time, found the percentage of Americans wanting increased immigration was higher than those who want decreased immigration.

You wouldn’t know that listening to some members of the national media repeating the canard that somehow Biden has created a border crisis by trying to slowly undo the anti-immigration policies of the previous president; even though the number of migrants at the border have been higher at various times in the past few years. To his credit, in his first televised question-and-answer session with reporters on Thursday, the president outlined a step-by-step process his administration will follow to improve the flow of migrants from Central America making their way to the southern border.

Like the president, where some see crisis, I see a land of opportunity.

That’s what this country has been for Marie Gonzalez. She is one of the first Missouri “Dreamers” I wrote about. In 2007, at the request of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., she went to Washington to advocate for protections for people like her. She was brought from Costa Rica to the U.S. by her parents and raised in Jefferson City. Her father, who worked for state government, ended up being deported, and he died before she could visit him. She has stayed and made a life for herself and become an American citizen.

Areli Munoz-Reyes is still a “Dreamer,” feeling a little more at ease now that Biden is president. She grew up and went to public schools in University City, but is now at college out of state, in part because Missouri lawmakers made it more expensive for her to attend an in-state college.

When I think of migrants to this country, I think of my new friend Jawad Rahimi, born in Afghanistan, who came here as a dentist, learned English, opened a bodega, became a citizen and is raising his family in St. Louis. I think of Sa’ad Hussein, who fled war-torn Somalia to migrate to St. Louis, and despite the broken American immigration system, drove a truck late last year delivering some of the first vaccine to hospitals in New York.

I think of my friend and neighbor Emir Hadzic, who fled Bosnian conflict as a youth, and served his new country for two decades as a Marine before becoming a St. Louis County police officer.

These are the faces of immigration in America. They thrived amid a broken system held back too often by the worst political instincts. Missouri doesn’t need minutemen to protect us from them. We need to put down our literal and metaphorical muskets and welcome the next generation of immigrants with open arms.

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