President Obama and Texas Gov. Rick Perry came face-to-face to talk about the flood of Central American children coming across the U.S. border with Mexico and, despite their stark political differences, managed to be cordial and constructive. They set a good example for Congress and the rest of the country.
Since October, 57,000 kids from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have come into the U.S. illegally, overwhelming processing facilities and immigration courts. On Wednesday, Obama and Perry met with local officials in Dallas to discuss what to do about the crisis.
One attendee at the gathering, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, told a Los Angeles Times reporter that partisan positions were left at the door. “For Texas politics, it was not a particularly tense meeting,” he said.
Jenkins has reportedly gotten some heat for pushing a plan to open three new shelters in the Dallas area to house 2,000 of the apprehended kids. Despite the complaints, after seeing the overcrowded “drunk tank” where the children are now being held at the McAllen Border Patrol station, he felt the need to do something.
“Whatever your politics are, these are children,” Jenkins said. “They deserve our help.”
What a contrast with the screaming protesters in Murrieta, Calif., who have turned back busloads of kids who need a temporary place to stay while they are being processed through the legal system in anticipation of their being sent back home.
Don’t get me wrong, American borders need to be secure and immigration needs to be as orderly as we can make it. Tens-of-millions of people from around the world would hike, bike, swim or crawl to get to the United States if they thought they could just show up and stay. As much as we benefit from new immigrants, our society cannot sustain an unlimited invasion.
Still, as we debate ways to keep the number of newcomers at a healthy level, it’s worth remembering that most of us are in this country due to the luck of birth. Being born in a comparatively free, prosperous, stable, safe place is rare in this world. That is why the United States and Europe face the constant challenge of new immigrants pressing at their borders and why no one is eager to pick up roots and move to Somalia, the Central African Republic, Syria or North Korea.
I am fortunate enough to be an American because a man named Stephen Horsey shipped out of England and landed on the wild eastern shore of Maryland in about 1640, when there was no border to be patrolled. Through the many years that followed, my ancestors pushed across the continent, pretty much wherever and whenever they chose.
One of those ancestors headed to the California Gold Rush in the middle of the 19th century among thousands of other young men seeking fortune in a new land. They took over, pushing aside the Spanish families who had been living in California for generations and nearly wiping out the Indian tribes who called the place home far, far longer.
American history is a testament to the immense force of human migration. It is a force that can be hugely creative and terrifyingly destructive. That is why it has to be managed well. But, as we seek to devise better immigration policies, our national history and our great good fortune to be born Americans should make us humble, grateful and as generous as we can be.