“America is an idea,” said Senator Lindsey Graham earlier this month.
At the age 14, living in South Africa, I understood this idea of America. I yearned to live in America as did most of my peers in South Africa, and frankly, people in many countries all over the world.
Almost 40 years ago my dad gave permission to my mother and step-father to immigrate with his three young sons to the United States. I have three children. I couldn’t imagine not living in the same house as them while they were growing up, let alone having them move 8,000 miles away to another continent. My father understood the power of the American Dream. By allowing my mother to take his boys away, he was making an unfathomable sacrifice so that we would have a better life, an opportunity to thrive in America. My dad, Colin, will be 83 in two weeks and still lives in Cape Town. No-one is prouder of me than he is. The fact that I am running for Congress in the United States of America is an embodiment of my having realized the promise of the American idea, the American Dream.
Welcoming immigrants to our country’s shores is a core value, a central tenet of what it means to be American. This ideal is inscribed in our culture, demonstrated most notably in the immortal words of Emma Lazarus etched on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, …
Even more notably, this ethos of welcoming the stranger is evoked over and again in the scriptures of our country’s Judeo-Christian heritage.
For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which
regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow,
and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were
strangers in the land of Egypt.
– Deuteronomy 10:17-19
America welcomed my family, strangers that we were. My step-father started his own accounting practice and grew a thriving business in Dallas. My brother has started not one but two businesses, contributing in a significant way to his community. Together with my wife, Cindy, I started a business and created good paying jobs with medical benefits for a significant number of people in Alpharetta over a 23 year span. Some of those employees have gone on to start their own businesses, inspired, as they have told me, by my example. Our children, the next generation of Americans, will go on to be screen writers and physical therapists and neurobiologists and engineers and singers and songwriters. Or maybe they’ll pursue other vocations as their hearts and talents dictate. Wherever their paths lead them, I know they’ll be inspired to do well and to do good.
I work closely with an organization that resettles refugees in Clarkston, Georgia. 93% of those refugee families are self-sufficient, contributing members of our community within 180 days after their plane lands in America. The fertile soil that is America nurtures the children of these new Americans who then go on to give so much back to our communities and our society as a whole. Dr. Heval Kelli is a wonderful example of how much richer we are in Atlanta because our country allowed his mother and father to settle here with their children 17 years ago.
To be sure, we have many issues related to immigration that need to be resolved. Undocumented immigrants, DACA, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), vetting of immigrants from certain countries, lottery, and border security. Clearly any immigrant who poses a threat to a community by violence or serious criminality should be deported. And anyone involved in a gang must be dealt with seriously. But these issues should not be used as cudgels in a political melee. When we denigrate those who do not look like us or sound like us or pray like us in the name of political expediency we denigrate who we are as Americans.
Senator Graham said it well when he said that America is an “idea”. While we are a country of laws undergirded by our Constitution, we are also a country of ideals, an unwritten but no less fundamental constitution of moral and ethical imperatives that is the glue that binds us as a proud nation.
As Americans, we should take a step back and reflect on our values, our history, our ethical and moral core, and then calmly and pragmatically iron out resolutions to the key immigration policy issues. We are American in the truest sense of the term only when we remain true to the idea of America.