Our American Land

Last year around this time on Sirius’s E Street Radio, they were counting down Bruce Springsteen’s top ten most patriotic songs based on a poll of their listeners.

Springsteen fans know that patriotism in Bruce’s world of song does not mean reflexively saluting the symbols of our country–it means celebrating our heritage and ideals and challenging us to live up to those ideals when we too often are failing to do so.

While Bruce has given us many good songs to choose from in this vein, the hands down winner in that listener poll was an inspired choice: American Land. If you haven’t listened to that song in awhile or seen the video, doing so would be a great addition to your 4th of July celebration this week.

The song reminds us that at our core we are a nation of immigrants, the foundation our United States was built upon. Yet today the “us and them” narrative being espoused by the President and his Administration, and the shortsighted and overly harsh policies that narrative is driving, could not be more antithetical to who we are as Americans.

From the time of the Pilgrims to the founding of our country up to today, people have been coming here for the same reasons: to seek a better life and pursue the American dream. The potato famine in Ireland and religious persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe are just two of many examples of events in other parts of the world that led to earlier waves of immigration to America, much like violence and danger in Central America today is driving more children and families to flee the only home they have ever known.

What has changed is that for years now we have had a dysfunctional legal immigration system that neither advances our economic and security interests effectively nor reflects the complex realities of our modern world. And we are compounding that fundamental problem with the unduly punitive and inhumane enforcement strategy our government increasingly is pursuing today.

No, we can’t just let everyone in who wants to come here or not enforce our borders, and no one credibly is suggesting that is the answer. Eric Zorn made that point well the other day.

And it is far more complicated than many critics acknowledge to process large surges of children and families coming to the border when most of them realistically will not have a legal means to stay here.

But needlessly breaking up families and demonizing people who are only trying to do what generations of immigrants before them did to build our country is not who we are as Americans. As Bruce again has reminded us, we are better than that, and this 4th of July should inspire us to do our part to live up to our nation’s true ideals when it comes to immigration.

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