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By Tom Cushing

Longing to Breathe Free

Uploaded: Jun 26, 2012

Americans are fond of asserting a "melting pot" image to explain the assimilation of successive waves of immigrants. That metaphor has never really appealed to your scribe, conjuring at best an amorphous, gooey mass of dissimilar ingredients there's a good reason why all those fondue pots are in permanent attic storage.

Somebody might better have chosen a "salad bowl" descriptor with compatible ingredients that retain some part of their flavors, but both approaches fail to convey the hostility with which each identifiable group of new Americans has been greeted -- at least since the Massachusetts tribes made the mistake of hosting Thanksgiving.

Newcomers have had to shoulder their way toward the mainstream, overcoming blatant and subtle obstacles erected by those who happened to come before them. On one level, that seems odd in a country settled in significant measure by those who couldn't get along in their native lands; but on another plane not-so-much, as folks who have struggled mightily to carve their niche may be disinclined to share it.

This has been a significant month for immigration policy. First, President Obama announced a new enforcement approach by Executive Order, which incorporates much of the unrealized Dream Act. By its provisions, persons now under 30, who were brought here illegally as minors, who have graduated high school and stayed out of trouble with the law will be issued work permits -- thus paving the way for their addition to the salad. And just this week, the Supreme Court delivered a split decision on the AZ law that sought to facilitate state-level enforcement of federal immigration statutes.

The Justices struck down parts of the AZ law that are "preempted by the feds" meaning there's no room for any concurrent state jurisdiction over the subject, but upheld the "reasonable suspicion" provision that allows the police to demand papers from those they "reasonably believe" may be here illegally.

Now, as to the Executive Order, the President characterized it as the right thing to do. I agree, although I'd add that it's "doing well by doing good," it may have locked-up the Hispanic vote for the Dems, as Mr. Romney's ham-handed non-response won him no friends he didn't already have (the more I see of him in "action," the more I have a sneaking suspicion that he is incapable of independent analytical thought, and his handlers hadn't yet told him what he thinks). I see no justice in punishing young people in those circumstances.

The ?reasonable suspicion" situation, however, gives me great pause. If it means arresting some guy in a dashiki who's hanging around the airport with a Stinger missile, then by all means do so. I fear, however, that in keeping with our history, this will be an invitation now to be copied by other states to profile drivers by their apparent ethnicity. I have heard enough stories from people I trust about the perceived offense of "driving while black" to be concerned about how enforcement will proceed.

More broadly, I have never been overly concerned about economic illegals -- those who have come north seeking opportunity (a flow which has slowed to a crawl as those opportunities have become fewer in this lousy economy). They contribute important labor and significant tax and fee revenue, and bear the personal rigors of situations in which the law is not there to defend them. I understand there are health system effects, but unless/until we otherwise get that chaos in order, I just don't care. There may also be some free education provided, but that's just not the kind of issue that sets my blood to boil.

I am hopeful for a pragmatic eventual resolution that is long on realities, and short on ideology. The illegals I fear are those who come to spread the Mexican drug trade/wars northward, and others who mean to do us harm as a society. It's also my hope that most of the federal and state resources directed at the problem will go after those types.

Until that time, "Give me your tired, your poor" is a noble expression of aspiration, but a misstatement of actual American history, and present policy.