Opinion
10:51 am
Wed July 16, 2014

Some think their immigrant ancestors were the last that should be allowed in the U.S.

I’ve always had a warm place in my heart for the sugar beet country of Michigan’s Thumb.

Years ago, I used to take graduate journalism students to Caro for a day where they would put out a special edition of the Tuscola County Advertiser.

The folks there were open, friendly, warm-hearted, and hard-working, but I have to say I’m ashamed of some of them today.

They are disgracing our state and reminding us of some of the ugliest chapters in American history.

Here’s why: Thousands of children and teenagers have been turning up at the United States’ southern border over the last few months. We are, if you’ve forgotten, a nation founded by refugees and which, to this very day, has remained open to those seeking political asylum.

That’s the beautiful part of our legacy.

The ugly part is that far too many of us think our ancestors were the last immigrants who should have been allowed in. That’s been reflected throughout our history in signs that said “No Irish need apply,” communities that refused to allow Jews, and the entire history of black America.

We once even had a political party – the Know-Nothing Party – founded on hatred and fear of immigrants.

Well, to our shame, some of the people of the Thumb are giving us a black eye again.

Federal officials are considering sending a few dozen of these homeless, frightened Central American kids to a facility called Wolverine Pioneer Work and Learn Center in Vassar.

For me, this kind of intolerance is a far bigger black eye than Detroit's bankruptcy.

They would not be settled there permanently. They would not be turned loose to infect local people with diseases and start gangs. If Washington sends them here, they would receive basic immunizations – vaccinations – and some education before being moved on to face further proceedings.

The local head of Wolverine said none of these kids would have any criminal affiliations, and the government is only looking to lodge them here two to four weeks.

That’s what I call basic human decency, but earlier this week, around 50 people disgraced our heritage by showing up at a protest march, carrying guns and hypocritically waving flags and posters with intolerant slogans, like “seal the border.” 

One of the organizers said she had “connections along the Mexican border” who told her these kids are drug runners for cartels” and that some are “coughing blood and have tuberculosis.”

What’s even more disgraceful is that some politicians and some in the media have helped stir up this nastiness.

State Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, has blustered that we need to know these children’s “criminal and health histories,” before letting them on our sacred soil.

Well, the truth is that the ancestors of all of us of European stock were not all perfectly healthy.

Some had criminal records, and I imagine Geronimo considered all of us illegal immigrants. We just happened to have better weapons.

For me, this kind of intolerance is a far bigger black eye than Detroit’s bankruptcy.

In fact, maybe the best thing that could happen to these kids and Detroit is to let them settle there. Settle there and rebuild their lives and the city. After all, a few illegal French immigrants started the place, once upon a time.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.