RONALD REAGAN AND IMMIGRATION

A few years after my father died, I moved into a new rental house and my mother wanted to come see it.  I was still fixing it up, and there was a painter there who had been born in Mexico. When I told him my mother would be coming by, he looked at me with tears starting to well up in his eyes.

 “It would mean so much to me to meet her,” he said. “Your father is the reason I’m here. My family got amnesty because of him and we became Americans.”

 When my mother arrived he said the same thing to her, his eyes again filling with tears. Governor Ron DeSantis’ children, Governor Greg Abbot’s children, will never experience a moment like that – the deep rush of gratitude from someone not born in this country but eternally grateful to be here and be accepted as an American. I feel sorry for them because it was a stunning moment – a moment that transcended whatever ideological disagreements I might have had with my father and left me infused with pride at his humanity. I grew up listening to him talk about our distant relatives who came to these shores from Ireland and were not welcomed. Our ancestral name is O’Reagan. They changed it to Reagan to appear less Irish, although I doubt that made any difference. There were signs on businesses that said, ‘No dogs or Irish allowed.’ I remember the darkening of my father’s eyes as he told stories of relatives desperate to become Americans and blocked from achieving their dreams. 

  In 1984, in a televised debate with Walter Mondale, he said, “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back then they may have entered illegally.” 

 In 1986 he signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, making it possible for over two million people who had been living in this country and paying taxes, to become legal citizens. Contrast that with a president who called people from Mexico rapists. Contrast that with the appalling stunt of busing and flying people to different areas of the country after lying to them and taking no steps to prepare anyone for their arrival. The inhumanity is breathtaking, even more so because Ron DeSantis seems to find the whole thing amusing.

  It’s not the first time that non-white people have been lied to, shuttled around, and dumped in other locations as if they don’t deserve the dignity of being treated as human beings. In 1962 it was called “Reverse Freedom Rides.” Black people were put on buses, sent to places like Hyannis Port and told that the Kennedys would be meeting them when they arrived. The fact that such cruelty has now been resurrected makes my father’s words in his last speech as president particularly sad:

 “Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier. If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”

 We are, in the end, remembered for how we treat other human beings. That’s true both for individuals and for countries. History looks back with a clear lens – on the dark times as well as the bright moments when we got it right.

 America’s lamp has dimmed now. There are too many people who have been treated inhumanely, as tools in a political stunt, who will never be able to envision the Statue of Liberty lifting her lamp to welcome them. History will dutifully record what we have done to them, and what we have lost.

One Response to RONALD REAGAN AND IMMIGRATION

  1. We don’t agree w all of Ronald Reagan’s policies, but bottom line is he was an honorable person. After he “left” politics, in the 90s California became very xenophobic and anti-immigrant. Of course never as bad as Florida and Texas are now. I cringe at how Abbott and deSantis bullied and conned the migrants for a political stunt, just to score points and draw hurrays from Trumpians. Another famous actor Henry Fonda hated bullies w a passion & I definitely ascribe to that.

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