I saw a poster the other day on the Internet that I really wish I could have framed and put on the wall. It said something like “Illegal immigrants refuse to learn our language, yet still get food assistance.”
What it showed was the first Thanksgiving.
What it could have added was that those same undocumented aliens were often guilty of tremendous violence against the native population.
Today, the descendants of those illegal immigrants have been wrestling with what do to about those who followed in their footsteps, centuries later.
The fact is that there are millions of so-called undocumented aliens in this country, maybe 100,000 in Michigan, and that our economy depends on them.
These immigrants, by and large, do the jobs nobody else wants, working hard for little money. When they do become legal, they tend to be tremendous job creators. Gov. Rick Snyder knows this; that’s why he has asked Washington to make more visas available for immigrants with special skills to come to Detroit.
There are legal immigration routes, complex and bureaucratic. But there are also millions who came without papers, or were brought here as children.
They have no other home. They are, by and large, productive members of our society. But they live in fear that any day they may be found out and deported.
President George W. Bush, no great liberal, wanted to set up a legal path for citizenship for many of them, but his plan was rejected contemptuously by his fellow Republicans in Congress.
Tonight, President Obama is apparently going to announce a program whereby as many as four million undocumented immigrants can apply for a program that will allow them to work here legally, if they have no criminal record, and protects them from deportation.
They won’t be citizens, and they will be second-class residents in every sense of the word. They won’t get federal subsidies for health care. Nor are they likely to qualify for food stamps or Medicaid.
Farm workers won’t be eligible at all. Some people brought here as children will be shielded from deportation, but not their parents. The president plans to do this with an executive order, since he knows perfectly well he could never get this through Congress, especially after Republicans take full control next year.
Denying them health care assistance is unlikely to appease Republicans. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas attacked the idea.
Ironically, Mr. Cruz, whose real first name is Rafael, was born in Canada to a father who fled Castro’s Cuba and who did not become an American citizen until nine years ago.
The senator is now a citizen of both Canada and the U.S., and his eligibility for the presidency is in some doubt. His parents were able to bring him here when he was four, because his mother was an American citizen.
But he doesn’t want to allow others like himself without a citizen parent to stay. There is something to be said for basic humanity. And for recognizing reality, which is that these people are here to stay, and that our economy needs them. Thanksgiving is coming.
And my guess is that the ghost of Squanto would agree.