Standing at Los Angeles International Airport awaiting the touchdown of that jet with its precious cargo, I felt like the king of a dream. And what a grand dream it was; two years in the making, it had involved several trips across the Pacific to meet Ivy and her family, hundreds of daily phone calls and emails, a veritable mountain of paperwork and fees and, of course, the slow and excruciatingly delicious dance of falling in love.
As I later wrote in my memoir, Nazis & Nudists, “A photograph taken in the airport lobby that night tells it all; the two of us, arm in arm, with her clutching a bouquet of roses and both of us sporting grins stretching all the way to Manila.”
Today that erstwhile fiancé is my wife of almost 13 years and the mother of two wonderful children completing a family that has brought me more joy than I ever expected or deserved. And not only that; we have been directly or indirectly instrumental in bringing a number of others to these beckoning shores, including Ivy’s parents, sister, cousin and several friends.
Which is why I feel conflicted seeing desperate would-be immigrants massing at the southern US border.
To be sure, this is part of the American story. My mother, in fact, came as a refugee from Nazi Germany following World War II. And so I literally grew up in a community of immigrants slowly—sometimes painfully—making their way in the wilderness of an unknown land.
The problem is that it has to be controlled. My wife couldn’t board that jet plane until she’d crossed a myriad of t’s and answered countless questions. And my mother’s ship couldn’t embark without full legal and moral assurances. For no nation can long keep its sovereignty and well-being with borders that are porous and open. The Philippines certainly understands that. Which is why it presented me with so many legal hurdles to clear before granting me permanent resident status. And I came with enough guaranteed retirement income not only to assure the wellbeing of myself and my family, but to pour some of it back into the country’s struggling economy. How then to respond to would-be immigrants who, like so many currently crossing the southern border, come armed only with their grit, desire, hope, and despair? Certainly, we shouldn’t turn them away; our humanity demands that we help.
And yet what to do?
The previous US administration addressed the problem by making it more difficult to cross. It erected a wall, narrowed eligibility and, perhaps most significantly, employed rhetoric strongly discouraging illegal immigration. The new administration, reacting to what it considered past extremism, immediately invoked an extremism of its own by dismantling almost everything Trump had erected. It stopped construction of the wall leaving large unguarded gaps, abandoned an agreement with Mexico to hold would-be immigrants while US officials processed their cases and, again perhaps most significantly, put up the equivalent of a huge green light at the border saying, in effect, “come on in.”
The results have been predictable and alarming: more arrivals, according to the New York Times, than the border has seen in 15 years, many of them unaccompanied minors. One Border Patrol official predicted at least a million undocumented arrivals before year’s end. And even more disturbing are the many reports of human trafficking by Mexican drug cartels, rape, robbery, assault, and the monstrously cruel treatment of helpless young children.
So what’s the solution? No one seems to know. While the current administration releases groups of indigent illegals at small-town bus stops in Texas, conservatives wring their hands and fling back the same charges of criminal negligence that were, in the not-too-distant past, hurled ruthlessly at them. And so the beat goes on.
Part of me feels tempted to advise friends in the Philippines who would immigrate to the US to simply go through Mexico. But that would contribute to the problem, wouldn’t it? And so I hold my tongue. And silently, thank God that the people I love made it aboard this enormous ship of state before the gaping hole in its stern slips tragically beneath the surface.
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David Haldane’s latest book, a short-story collection called “Jenny on the Street,” is available on Amazon. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an American journalist, author and broadcaster currently dividing his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines.
Originally Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily.