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My Grandparents were Illegal Immigrants

I feel it’s time to say this again: my grandparents were illegal immigrants. Three of them, anyway. And although I never discussed this particular aspect of their story, judging from when they came and where they came from, I’m sure they had the experience of being described by politicians as animals, refuse, criminals and scum. As a class, of course, not as individuals, which I’m sure was quite a comfort to them.

There were also Americans who welcomed them and helped them. America may never have been the goldene medina, but it was better than the Old Country. I am here because of the Americans who helped my grandparents, and my parents (the anchor babies) in their new lives.

I can’t really imagine what it is like for immigrants to our country from Algeria or Morocco, Lebanon or Jordan, Tajikistan or Azerbaijan, to hear Donald Trump talk the way he did yesterday. That’s just countries he didn’t name—he specifically targeted people from Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan (or "Afghan" as he actually said) and Somalia. While the group that included my grandparents were blamed for disease, depression and moral collapse, they were not blamed for mass murder. Oh, there were the occasional incidents, the occasional high-profile horribleness that led to fear and blame. But not like this.

And of course I feel worst of all for people who came to America for a chance to wriggle loose from orthodoxy, who felt that here in this country was a chance to choose for oneself what traditions to keep and what to discard. From the Old Country, America must seem like a land without limits, a land of continual reinvention. And so it is, sometimes and for some people. But then for such a prominent politician, supported by millions, to point at those people and say: Danger! That is what you should be scared of! It’s so predictable and it makes me so sad.

I don’t have a way to turn that sadness into anything useful at the moment. And of course it is mixed up with the other sadness, about the people killed and wounded in the Pulse nightclub, another group of Americans who Trump has blamed for his (mostly imaginary) wrongs. I can’t imagine, really, what it is like to be a Latino in this country today and hear Donald Trump urging everyone to live in fear of immigrants.

I have nothing profound to say about it. I am not afraid of immigrants, legal or illegal. My people were illegals; my people were feared and hated. I wish it would stop.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,