(HOST) When commentator Madeleine Kunin listens to the immigration debate, she is reminded of one of America’s Founding Fathers – and of her own mother.
(KUNIN) The Senate failure to come up with a fair compromise on resolving the divisive national debate on immigration is a failure for all Americans – those who are here legally, illegally, and yes – even those who were born here and can trace their roots back for generations.
Admittedly, I bring a certain bias to this debate. I was born in Switzerland, and this country gave me and my brother and mother refuge at the start of World War II.
We were among the lucky ones.
American immigration policy towards Jews in the war years was tightly restricted. The state department advised against filling existing quotas for Jews fleeing Hitler’s Europe.
How many more could have been saved we will never know.
When America opens its doors, we all prosper.
The rich tapestry that is America has been woven by generation after generation of immigrants who wanted a better life for their children.
And they usually found it.
But there were always those who were threatened by newcomers, and who posted signs saying “Keep Out.”
We hear their angry words today on the floor of the United States Congress, demanding a felony charge for those who would aid illegal immigrants.
These words are not new.
We can go back to the days of the Founding Fathers, whom we tend to enshrine, and find one young immigrant man who suffered from charges of being an outsider, and an illigimate son of a single mother with a questionable reputation.
His name was Alexander Hamilton.
He was born in the West Indies. He was orphaned as a child and made his way to America at the age of eighteen.
Soon after he arrived, he wrote newspaper articles in defense of the United States against the unjust rule of the British. He became an instant patriot – and for all his forty-eight years, played the central role in shaping what has become the government of the United States of America. He established the United States Treasury, the customs office, the coast guard – the list of his accomplishments is monumental. During his extraordinary career he was looked down upon by the Vigirinia gentry – men like Jefferson and Madison.
Many scholars believe the United States would never have held together as a nation without the contribution of that early immigrant, Alexander Hamilton.
Many today believe that we cannot grow and prosper as a nation if we cannot find the legal means to welcome this generation of immigrants to our shores, and that may include another Alexander Hamilton, or simply people who still believe in the American dream, just as my mother once did.
Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.