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S.C., immigration and ‘Us vs. Them’

Posted: July 22, 2014 7:33 p.m.
Updated: July 23, 2014 5:00 a.m.

First things first: every nation must secure and control its borders. This is not political rhetoric or an ideological judgment but a simple geo-political fact.

Whether it’s the Ukraine and invading Russians, Japan defending obscure costal islands, or ancient Rome resisting Hannibal and his elephants coming over the Alps from Carthage, it is exactly the same. A nation’s borders must be secure.

We in the U.S. need to do this with our southern border with Mexico. We can argue over the need for a fence, or electronic monitoring, or the National Guard holding hands on the banks of the Rio Grande -- but whatever it takes, we must be able to control and secure our borders.

That said, one of the great tragedies of the current “children’s crisis” is how it is being used to whip up unfounded fears, prejudices and outright hatred.

Our daily newspapers, TV news reports and the Internet are full of stories of the current crisis of children coming over the border. Yes, the crisis is real and though the numbers seem to be declining in the last couple of weeks, clearly we can’t control our borders and this is a serious problem.

But what is equally troubling is that this children’s crisis has sparked a wave of knee-jerk, ideologically-driven protests that have no basis in fact, as well as an even more troubling wave of sleazy politicians who are pandering to the worst instincts and fears of the anti-immigrant protesters.

First, the facts. A whole slew of national and state officials have repeatedly stated that there is no indication that the undocumented children are either being flown or transported by bus to our state. Repeat: no evidence, none, zero. Yet, there have been numerous protests across South Carolina -- and others are planned -- with the predictable demagogic politicians and wannabes claiming otherwise.

Second, the reaction of too many politicians has been to “blame the children,” when in reality, it is we in the U.S. who must accept a good portion of the blame. Clearly the general poverty south of the border is an ever-present motivation for many to cross into the United States, even if they have to do so illegally. This is why people have come to America -- legally and illegally -- since the birth of our nation.

But what politicians won’t talk about is that what seems to have sparked this latest children’s crisis is the takeover of whole neighborhoods and cites throughout Central America by drug gangs. These gangs demand that kids join their criminal enterprises -- and their wars with other drug gangs -- or in many cases be killed outright. Thus, many of these frightened children flee north. Increasingly, responsible national media are documenting this as one of the root causes of the current crisis.

The hard truth that no one talks about is that these drug wars are fought over filling the insatiable demand for illegal drugs by us in the U.S. If there were no demand for drugs, there would be no drug wars. When was the last time you heard a politician talk about this? It’s easier to blame the children.

What’s lacking are politicians of either party who will stand up and tell the truth about the current crisis and it causes -- and not simply indulge in pandering.

This is not new in our state and national history and it’s not just about brown or black or others with different skin color. It’s about “us vs. them” -- us (who have been here for a while) vs. them (who just arrived).

My family is Scots-Irish; they came to the Upcountry of our state in the 1750s. If you had asked, they’d have told you that they were farmers by tradition, South Carolinians by choice, hard-working and self-reliant by temperament, and Presbyterian by the grace of God. And so they were. But the fine upstanding people of Charleston who had been in South Carolina for a while did not see it that way. One newspaper went so far as to call these newly-arriving Scots-Irish “the scum of two nations.” Us vs. them.

And throughout our country’s history, each new immigrant group has had to fight their way through this prejudice and bias of the “us” who were already here. The Russians, Italians, Poles, Germans, Africans, Greeks and Chinese have all experienced the same fate.

Somehow, we seem to have lost sight of our single and most basic shared history as Americans -- we are all us. President Franklin Roosevelt said it best when he began a 1939 speech to the Daughters of the American Revolution with the words, “My fellow immigrants…”

So much for political pandering.

For too many, it is a slippery slope from denigrating “them” to their somehow becoming less than human. The denigration of “them” is just one step away from discrimination, then to abuse, and on to hate crimes … and worse.

Hyperbole you say? Well, there are people in our state today who personally witnessed the lynching of our fellow South Carolinians.

Yes, we can solve this crisis and yes we can control our borders.

But when you see the news reports, remember: these are children and this is America. Let’s not forget who we are as a nation, and who made us the great nation we are today.

It was us -- all of us -- however and whenever we got here.

(Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley. His column is provided by the S.C. News Exchange.)


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