This week, President Obama issued a controversial, three-part executive order preventing the deportation of over five-million illegal immigrants.

Presto! You are legal!

In Thursday night’s pathos-saturated speech to the American people, the president relied heavily on rhetorical questioning to appeal to our hearts and our patriotism,

“Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?”

“Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms, or are we a nation that values families and works together to keep them together? Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us, or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs here, create businesses here, create industries right here in America? That’s what this debate is all about.”

No, Mr. President; we are not. We are a nation which has famously welcomed the “tired, the poor,” the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the statue 2“wretched refuse” of other nations.  The Statue of Liberty calls, “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

But once the immigrants get through that golden door, what happens? What becomes of them? In the case of the illegals who snuck in a golden back-window in the dead of night and then lived in constant fear of deportation, they may remain here, though they don’t necessarily have a path to citizenship just yet. They are assured that their family can and will thrive in the land of milk and honey, and if they cannot, their adopted Uncle Sam will see to it that they have what they need.

Yeah. That’s exactly how it works. Just ask the people in Appalachia, many the ancestors of the Scots-Irish and Europeans who waited in long lines to trudge through that golden door to mine black gold in the hills of West Virginia, Virginia, southern Ohio, and eastern Kentucky. immigrants2

When King Coal was dethroned, our nation expanded and extended support to the poorest counties of these states, via government social programs that were intended to get people on their feet. Fifty years after LB Johnson declared his  “War on Poverty, the poverty rates in rural Appalachia average slightly over 30%. In some areas as many as 47% of the people live on government support (Gabriel).

Consider, too, how this nation has provided for  the people who had already claimed this continent when the Europeans began colonizing. Our Native-American communities, confined within awkward reservation boundaries, fit the true definition of ghetto—there  is little escape from the cycle of poverty. One in four Native Americans and Native American Eskimos survive below the poverty level, with proportionately less government assistance than other American-poor (A Quiet Crisis).

poor-native-american-indians-well-water-pump-pumping1

Yet, Obama essentially has allowed millions of people who have bypassed the golden door to stay on and get an even bigger piece of the shrinking American pie, without any regard for the generations whose ancestors we welcomed centuries ago, nor for those who were here long before the United States of America existed.

President Obama’s bold action last week further taxes this nation’s resources and even further reduces its ability to improve the lives of America’s forgotten poor.

Signing that executive action, then asking us to be compassionate is akin to the neighborhood crazy cat  letting one more sad-eyed kitten in the door, crazy cat ladythen

 

 

another, then another, even though she hasn’t the time nor the resources to properly care for the ones she is already housing.

This laughably loose analogy doesn’t account for the fact that people can and, for the most part, want to work. But it does describe how taking too many people in as a compassionate act can have unintended consequences.

While I am a staunch advocate of our duty to care for, provide for, and fight for people throughout the world, I wonder why our president is more concerned with making things easier for people who disregarded American laws instead of investing in programs and industries and businesses that could boost the economic potential of rural Appalachia. The citizens of this region are among those Obama referred to in his address, who

“…go back generations in this country, with ancestors who put in the painstaking work to become citizens.”

I wonder why our president is not instead advocating for real change for  the Native Americans and Native Alaskans who live on resource rich territories with as high as 54% poverty rates, according to the 2010 US Census? I wonder why our president is not brazenly crafting and signing legislation that would extend loans to businesses willing to set up shop in coal country, bringing more jobs to some of the nation’s poorest areas.

America already cares for these people, you say? Sure! The people in need in these areas get Food Stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, government-subsidized education yet, wonder of wonders, they are still exceedingly, excruciatingly poor. Some areas could be described as  third-world poor. Almost 15% of Native American homes and schools on American reservations have no electrical service, though they may have wiring. A staggering 20% have no plumbing, and 18% have inadequate sewage-containment systems (US Census). poor-native-american-indians-shelter-shack-dilapitaed1

 

 

There are homes in rural Appalachia without connections to a local water service. No pipes, no toilets, no sinks. I’ve seen homes there with no windows. I once met a 19-year-old woman there who had not tasted a peach or a pear until I shared with her.

Is this the America the president closed his speech stating that “we love?” Is this the American Obama spoke about the other night, the one with a

“… shared commitment to an ideal, that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will”?

As we were  reminded Thursday night, “we are and always will be a nation of immigrants.”  Ah, the romance. Then the roses stop coming…

America hasn’t made good on its promise to all of its immigrants. The country hasn’t even treated its native populace with honor and respect. It is ludicrous to  allow so many more people in, with so many more to follow, without ensuring that those that are already here can prosper.

References

“A Quiet Crisis: Federal Funding and Unmet Needs in Indian Country.” US Commission on Civil Rights.  Report. July 2003. http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/na0703/na0204.pdf

Gabriel, Trip. “50 Years Into the War on Poverty, Hardship Hits Back.” New York Times. April 20, 2014.

Krogstad, Jens Manuel. “One-in-four Native Americans and Alaska Natives are Living in Poverty.” Pew Research Center. FactTank: News in the Numbers. June 13, 2014.

Obama, Barack. Immigration Speech: Transcript. Washington Post. Nov. 20, 2014.

US Census Bureau (2000). US Census FactFinder. Washington, DC: US Census Bureau.

Images from Native American Poverty in the US., The Simpsons.com, US Immigration Archives.