The Legend of Wooley Swamp

What ever happened to nuance? Jabberwocky is being spewed up by the left and right as they try to drag us into their Wonderlands. This blog charts a path out of this swamp of simple truths and false certainties. And from time to time, it'll be a place for more light-hearted musings.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Swedish American Senator Misses the Point

Update: Senator Isakson's statement is now cited verbatim.

Today, as debate on immigration reform has begun in the Senate, I offer a little tale inspired by the words of a Swedish American.

It’s Thursday morning and Senators are rising to speak on the Senate floor – and they all do so as descendants of immigrants. And as Senator David Vitter of Louisiana just said, all Senators begin their speeches by detailing their own family’s history. So, here is one Senator‘s story and how it seems to have taught him nothing.

Johnny Isakson, the junior Senator from Georgia, rose to speak:

Mr. President, in 1903, Andrew Bengsten boarded a ship and left Sweden, the son of Isak Bengsten. He landed on Ellis Island and took the last name Isakson, which is the Scandinavian tradition, to take the father's first name and add ``son'' to it. In 1916, he had a son named Ed, and in 1926 he became a naturalized citizen.

He went to West Texas as a laborer, and later on to Atlanta, GA as a carpenter. In 1944, his son Ed and Ed's wife Julia had a son, who by the grace of God is me. No one in this body has any greater respect or admiration for this great country and our process of legal immigration than I.

As we approach the most important debate this Senate will encounter in this session, it is important that it be a debate of dignity and a debate of substance and a debate where we learned the lessons of the past and make sure that immigration in the future holds the same promise it held for my grandfather 103 years ago." (continue reading the Senator's statement)

Välkommen! Swedish for Welcome. This bridge in Lindsborg, Kansas conveys the spirit that greeted Grandpa Isak when he immigrated to the U.S. His grandson should embrace this heritage.
(c) All the Pages

The Senator went on to talk about how no one supports legal immigration – without which he would not be an American, even less a Senator – like he does. What is seemingly forever lost on him is that when Grandpa Isak arrived from Sweden, he was no different than the Mexican that crossed the border yesterday. Both came empty-handed without much education, both had a dream, both were attracted by work prospects, both left friends, family and their lives behind. And both used the available channel to enter the U.S.

For the fact is that today there is no Ellis Island and thus the Grandpa Isaksons of 2006 are automatically declared persona non gratas and become part of the undocumented, the irregular, the illegal class. If you recognize that fundamental fact – then you realize that the first thing the broken immigration system needs is another Ellis Island. And the last thing it needs is a fence.

As the debate continues on the Senate floor, I sign off with a few links with varying perspectives:
  • First, the anti-immigration/restrictionist/border fanatics’ main spokesman, Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado was on C-Span this morning (click here to listen).

  • Then, the conservative movement’s top pundit George Will offers sobering “non zero-sum” advice (thanks JH) to the shrill in his party. Yes, you can have your border cake and eat it too. But you can also embrace the historical legacy of this country.

  • Finally, the great immigrant city of Chicago has taken a stance against the Tancredos of this world. In the spirit of times gone by, the City Council has announced plans not to enforce any federal crackdowns on immigrants.

Chicago knows and understands immigration. In the Andersonville neighborhood, the Swedes of yesterday have been followed by new communities of Americans, Middle Eastern and Hispanic among others. It is still home to two Swedish landmarks, Erickson’s Delicatessen and the Swedish American Museum Center. May I be so bold as to suggest Senator Isakson pay Andersonville (and Lindsborg) a visit. There is much to learn about the circumstances that led to their becoming part of the American fabric. Maybe the Senator will see a connection to the present....


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