The point of Independence Day is to mark the founding of the nation, a nation that is not perfect in practice, but one that is based on the loftiest of humanist ideas: that all people are created equal and that those people deserve to be free to say what they want, pray as they want and pursue happiness any way they want. In short, to be independent.
Those principles are celebrated every year on Independence Day by people who consider themselves lucky to live here. And they have also attracted people from places that don’t share those values since the nation was founded. From Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. A cornerstone of this nation’s strength has long been its ability to accept people from other places and to provide a home for them.
Struggles with accepting immigrants from around the world have long been part of this country’s history as well. From Irish to Italian to Chinese and Japanese, and now Guatemalan, Nicaraguan and Mexican – Americans have not always uniformly extended open arms to those seeking to be a part of this nation, of embracing those values and looking for a home where they too could practice independence.
This past several weeks in which the dominating news story was the forced separation of children from their parents was a significant challenge to this nation’s values. Americans have differing ideas on what the national policy on immigration should be, but most agree that taking children from parents and housing them in detention centers is counter to our national values.
The separation policy, however, is only a small piece of what has been ramped-up rhetoric by the President and his supporters who seek to paint those immigrants as a grave threat to American safety. Last week, in an effort clearly designed to rationalize the policy of children separation, the President held a news conference with family members of those killed by illegal immigrants. It is a ceaseless campaign on his part to craft an immigration policy in this country driven by fear rather than reason.
In his address to congress on Jan. 8, 1946, President Harry Truman spoke about American fear – at the time, it was economic. The depression was very fresh in American memories. The threat of another economic crisis seemed possible. But Truman warned Americans of giving into fear.
“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand,” he said.
The president would have us believe immigrants are responsible for many of our challenges. Even though we know empirically that is not the case. We can have debate, but we should not let fear make decisions for us. On a day in which we celebrate living free, we need to remember to live free of fear.