On the Whole Truth: Radio Essay for May 14, 2011

You have heard this oath stated so many times that you can recite it in your sleep: I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” So why is it that so many politicians engage in half-truths? Do two half-truths make a whole? And by politician, I am referring to our own President Obama who visited the Mexican border in El Paso, TX, this week to lecture the nation on something that we already know: we are a nation of immigrants. He reminded us of the inspiration, invention and innovation that have sprung into our national heritage from immigrant stock. Right he is on this point. My family is a product of the immigrant journey. Both sets of my Grandparents came through Ellis Island and established a home in New York City. My parents were raised there and established their life together. Were it not for immigration, I would not be here. I get that.

So, what half of what the President said on the border this week was less than wholly true? The mighty presumption is that all immigrants who arrive here are entitled to equal protection under the law regardless of whether or not they came here legally. Somehow, legal behavior is optional. And, if you have a romantic story to tell about how you broke the law and achieved, so much the better.

The President told the story of Jose Hernandez, a child of migrant Mexican parents, who aspired to become an astronaut, and became one. (Astronaut Hernandez was actually born in this country so he is entitled to US citizenship.) The implication is that every illegal is a diamond in the rough. Here is the other half of the truth: for every success story such as Mr. Hernandez, there are hundreds more who are members of drug cartels and Mexican gangs such as MS-13. They are responsible for driving a dagger even deeper into the heart of our cities and towns in America. Also missing from the untruthful half is the fact that if we cannot secure our borders from Mexicans, neither can we secure them from Saudis or Yemenis or Iranians who wish to do us harm. It is romantic, indeed, to believe that everyone who crosses the border to America shares the Emma Lazarus notion that every immigrant is tired or poor or yearning to breathe free. Too many wish us harm and all who disobey our laws must be stopped, not rewarded.
The President wants to crack down on those who take advantage of the shadowy existence of illegals. Amen to that, I say. Shed a light upon the massive underground economy that preys upon illegals and withholds its wages from honest US citizens.

The President is right to want reform of the US immigration system. But let us first start by demonstrating that we can fix the urgent portion of the problem, the one that prohibits us from taking full advantage of the best and brightest that the world has already sent to our shores legally: those in college; those at work in our industries. Don’t send those back. Encourage them to work here and innovate here and inspire here.

Mr. Obama also spoke about a path to citizenship for those who have broken the law. He suggested that illegals could make good if they simply paid back taxes, paid a fine, got to the back of the line and waited their turn. We’ve seen those proposals in writing and they are ridiculous. He is merely pandering to those who would vote for his party if fully enfranchised to do so.

If you truly wish to fix the immigration problem, Mr. President, do not tie it to the DREAM Act or other citizenship compromises. Fix the part that is easy. Fix the quotas, the waiting, and the arcane laws. Fix the porous border that you claim is now airtight. Last November, this issue was front and center in our collective consciousness. The State of Arizona passed their own law to defend their border because the Federal government refused to protect them. Nothing has significantly changed along the border since then to inhibit border crossings save an anemic economy to the north.

The President spoke with two tongues to tell two truths this week. With one he spun the rhetoric of the American Dream of unbridled opportunity for those who bring inspiration and imagination to America through moral and legal means. As for the other half, the story of good or bad intentions must take a back seat to the realities of the situation: illegal means illegal. Those who break the law must suffer the consequences. And the consequence of breaking the law cannot be American citizenship. The President received a lot of applause at his speech. Listen for mine: it’s the sound of one-hand clapping.

And that’s the whole truth.
Press on.

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