(TFC) – In the early 1960s my grandfather Antonio De Vellis left his bride, Adriana and his countryside home in Strangolagalli*, Italy on a mission to give his new family a better life than his father had been able to give him. He traveled to Argentina, Brazil, Germany and, finally, Canada, to help build the urban skylines of the New World and rebuild the war-torn ones of the Old. He decided to apply to stay in Canada and bring his family here. Although he would never quite master the English language, he was successful and the entire De Vellis clan emigrated. In Canada, father’s family was never scraping-by, but they weren’t exactly middle class and comfortable either. What was for certain was that the life they had in Canada was better than what they could have hoped for in the rebuilding, post-war Italian Republic.
This story will sound familiar to Latino immigrants in the US. Poor fathers in South America often seek work in other countries, including the US. This is the most promising opportunity for those traveling workmen who can overcome the cultural barrier and cost of distance. Some of them decide they’d like to bring their families to America for the same reasons my grandfather wanted to bring his family to Canada. Not all these otherwise honest, hardworking people do so legally.
At the risk of sounding like an open-borders idealist; it is important to note that this is not the only group of illegal immigrants to the US, but it is the largest one, by far: families whose only crime is illegal entry. Gangsters and other undesirables take advantage of this situation for their own less-than-noble gain. Some are smuggling weapons, drugs, sex-slaves and violent criminals. There’s plenty to be said about that underworld on this site. These problems must be dealt with appropriately, and we’ll get back to just what that word “appropriately” means.
First, but least important: this is a losing battle. The reason so many people are talking about this isn’t “media bias,” the reason is that it’s wrong, and people know it’s wrong, and parents across the country will sympathize with the immigrants and oppose you, and, if democracy works, they will vote against you too (as long as the Democrats don’t get too extreme!).
The more pernicious problem with the border situation in my estimation is that the relaxing of border enforcement incentivizes more illicit border crossing and exacerbates any other problems that stem from a porous border, including the one we are presently facing in the form of the Donald and this ‘debate’ about child separation. Conservatives seem to understand this well-enough, and instinctively, but what they have a harder time understanding is that this does not justify treating border-crossers like Pavlovian dogs! You don’t ‘train’ aspiring immigrants to ‘fear’ the border by separating them from their children. That is not punishment; it is a call to heroism for parents and a reason for revenge (or at the least resentment) for children.
Lastly, and most importantly, it is fundamentally unconservative to sentence someone to a punishment far more severe than their crime. The crime of illegal entry certainly does not, especially from a conservative view, justify punishment which breaches the sovereignty of the family and leaves thousands of children at the mercy of a state bureaucracy. To justify this would be to betray the conservative justification for borders in the first place: to define the jurisdiction of the social contract; or to define the boundaries of the national inheritance –whichever you prefer. And what social contract; what legacy is worth defending if it allows for innocent, vulnerable children to be stolen from the arms of their mothers and fathers?
Never forget the ordinary people. If you’re reading this, chances are you spend an excessive amount of time reading and writing about politics and debating with other political people. Chances are most of your friends are political too. Most people do not think like this.
Human beings cannot be reduced to political actors. My grandfather was never a political man. He was a farmer before a construction worker. His only mission in life had been to build a future for his family. Immigrants, illegal or not do not have any political motivation and most of them have quite noble and even conservative ones centered on their families.
Illegal immigrants themselves are subjects in the immigration debate. Do not allow yourself or your elected representatives to turn them into antagonists in a narrative.
*Strangolagalli literally translates to “strangle chickens,” but a more generous translation renders as “chicken-stranglers.”
Prepared by Anthony De Vellis