Immigration and the Sense of Déjà vu

The sense of déjà vu in the current immigration issue flooding the country, with the Arizona law opening the floodgates, is something that is not only palpable but also disturbing.

Somewhere in this long narrative of immigrant life in this country, some people have not read enough of the travails of those who have decided to come and take part in that pursuit of a grand metaphor—a phrase of an extravagant dream as it appears now in these days of recession—the American Dream.

The narrative evokes a past whose truths, simple and yet difficult, are not easy for the comprehending.

This past suggests to us of Ellis Island, of the quarantine practices for the newcomers, the impoverishments and deprivations of those who could hardly make both ends meet as they began their new life in the new ‘homeland’, the raids of suspected illegal immigrants, and the wrenching social drama involved in deportation proceedings that, sometimes, breaks families apart.

With the crackdown anew, as is the case of what is required in Arizona, and with the method of the crackdown based on mere ‘suspicion’ of being an illegal immigrant, we do not know where all these things will lead us.

We have forgotten one thing: That the United States of America has always been, since time of our founding as a product of a political imaginary, a nation of ‘nations’, and a nation of immigrants.

That sums up our being America, our being the United States, in so many ways.

We have forgotten that we were once visitors, and now that we have become ‘natives’ ourselves by virtue of the long process of ‘nativization’, we are now going to use the iron hand and declare to all and sundry that this America is only for the one who has a legitimate reason to be around here.

No, we are not for the wanton disrespect for the immigration law.

No, we are not here to take side with those who violate the immigration law willfully.

We are here to defend the right of everyone in this country to be safe here and not to be afraid.

We are here to defend the right of everyone to be spared of the fear that is rooted in the idea that when someone suspects you of being an illegal person, you can be questioned ad random, asked for your identification, asked for a proof that you have the right to stay in this country of ‘the brave’ and ‘the free’.

We must remind ourselves that the greatness of America is its practice of democracy, its fundamental respect for human beings, its recognition of diversity.

We must remind ourselves that the greatness of America is that it welcomes our ‘many-ness’, our ‘difference’, our ‘plurality’.

The text of the seal of America sums it all: E pluribus unum: Out of the many, one.

FAO, May 2010

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