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May 27, 2014 at 1:52 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

A Case for the Immigrants

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes@flickr

The politicians are at it again, vying for votes and weighing in superficially without actually committing on the various issues of the time. Some would call this the art of politics. One particularly slippery issue over recent times has been immigration and the regulations surrounding this topic. There are a lot of people out there, Americans, who would like to see our borders closed, keeping out foreigners. According to these voices, the melting pot is now a cauldron of unemployment, outsourcing and freeloaders consuming benefits.  

I take a different stance on immigration.

In my life I've learned a lot of important lessons from immigrants and I feel America as a whole could look to these pillars for solutions to our woes as a country.

House Guests

I had a couple guests in my home this week. One is a woman who made a brave decision in the early 1980's to pack her family and a few possessions into the family car, telling friends and family that they were leaving for a vacation. The car left Poland and drove across the Iron Curtain to Austria. There was no looking back.My other guest left Nicaragua in the late 1970's amidst political turmoil. For reasons of safety, his parents made the decision to flea their home to Mexico. Both of these people eventually found their way to America after the heart-wrenching loss of everything secure on the hope for a better life beyond oppression. Coming to America was starting over. They both worked entry-level jobs and advanced based on their merits. Today they are living what many would classify as the American dream. 

I find that I have an affinity for immigrants.  With these people in general there is no expecting something for nothing. They are thankful and appreciative. They are passionate about making the most out of their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Entitlement is not a word in the vocabulary of a new language they may be struggling to learn. 

From One Struggle to Another

There have been times that I have been embarrassed how we, a people of such diversity and freedom, treat those who cross over within our borders to become one of us. To me, it's akin to racism and beneath that ignorance. 

I have a patient, a wonderful young man who came from Sudan a refugee from the horrific genocide in his homeland. He worked bagging groceries and eventually secured better employment in a hospital. A large portion of the money he made was put away to support his family members. I couldn't help but be proud of him as he expressed disappointment in getting a C in American history at the community college where he was studying criminal justice.  I thought about him sitting among more privileged kids who were in their second or third go-around of the history topics.   

One day he came in with multiple scrapes and bruises. He and his friend, a Bosnian immigrant, went to the park to play some basketball. They were two young men from war-torn countries out to engage in some sport, but while playing, they were approached by a group of young men who assaulted them. As they were beat up, they heard shouts that white and black people shouldn't be playing basketball together. I was haunted by the notion that entitled, privileged Americans felt it proper to dole out the same senseless and arbitrary hatred in our "land of the free." 

Putting it in Perspective

I wonder how many of the Americans I know would fare if forced out of their comfort zone into a foreign land with different customs and language, struggling to make a life for themselves out of scratch? Have the critics ever sat with an immigrant and listened to their story? I wonder how many of us know our own personal legacy of a dream held by our own ancestors who came to America looking for a better life? I know my experience and knowledge are limited on these issues but I feel it is important to celebrate the courage, strength and diversity that our immigrants bring to the table.  After all, these are the virtues that make our country great. And, as we look to rekindle America's greatness, I feel it may be helpful to tap into those who espouse these important qualities.

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