I just can’t seem to forget about the responses to Tuesday’s column. It bothered me all week.
I got about 20 phone messages and e-mails. All but one of them said I was flat-out wrong in my view of illegal immigrants.
Now simply being “wrong’’ isn’t something I normally sweat. It’s hardly a novelty anymore. Besides, being “wrong’’ on county island fire coverage or property taxes isn’t something that matters much in the big scheme of things.
But if I am wrong on the subject of illegal immigration, then God help us all.
In Tuesday’s column, I wrote that we must not forget the humanity of these desperate people who are here simply to provide for their families as best they can. We should respect those who have earned respect, I wrote.
And that is when the howling commenced.
I’ll share three perspectives, two from men who have lived in Mesa for more than 30 years, another from a guy who lived in Salinas, Calif., back in the 1930s.
“Were you living here 20 or 30 years ago?’’ Mike Stoker wrote. “Were you here when the signs along Main Street were in English? Were you here when the job applications at Burger King were in English and the person behind the counter understood the special orders? . . . Every illegal should be required to register, pay for work permits and promise to learn English.
“Now they gather and spout off about their rights. They have the right to go back where they came from and enter legally. They do not have the same rights as the American citizens.’’
Then there was the point of view of Mike Miranda:
“You struck a chord with me when you noted that ‘nobody complained about these folks when we needed them to gather crops, etc.’ which has been my belief all along,’’ he wrote.
Miranda grew up working the cotton fields in Florence. He remembers the Depression and World War II years and the role illegals played in keeping the country’s farm industry viable. He remembers the 1970s and 1980s when big companies, noting their reputation as hard workers, recruited illegals.
Suddenly, things changed.
“America went on a rampage about it wanting to build walls, jailing (illegals) and so on, not to mention separating families whose children were born here and sending their parents back to Mexico all because they were given an opportunity by U.S. citizens to work here before, when there was no backlash,’’ Miranda wrote. “I am not saying that illegal immigration is OK or that amnesty is the answer. In fact I don’t know what the answer is, but the hearts and minds of Americans are what concerns me.’’
Most of the other calls and e-mails reflected Miranda’s fears. They were simply ugly, comparing illegal immigrants to animals. Some called their presence an “invasion.’’ Many could not tolerate the notion that they were here illegally. I guess if those folks figure people who can’t get into the country legally should be content to stay there in Mexico and starve.
And this weekend Sheriff Joe’s boys are gleefully rounding up illegals and throwing them in jail while others are talking about building a wall on the border, which would be a national disgrace, if you ask me.
I am not minimizing the challenges presented by this issue. But any solution that deprives these people of their dignity, of their hopes for survival is simply immoral.
This current climate of hate reminded me of something the guy from Salinas wrote in 1939. It’s John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,’’ which chronicled the deplorable treatment of Okies who had “invaded’’ California looking for work in the fields during the Dust Bowl years:
“Whereever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. . . . I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ I’ll be the way kids laugh when they’re hungry n’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build — why, I’ll be there.’’
That aching sentiment still resonates today.
And that is why I pray that I am not wrong on this subject.