A Lesson from a Tragedy

With so much nasty stuff dominating the headlines, it’s hard to find some solace in the news. But one very sad story has a sort of silver lining.

It’s this article, about the seven sailors who died Saturday when their Navy destroyer collided with a container ship off the shores of Japan. Amidst this tragedy, one salient aspect is how diverse and inspiring their backgrounds were, including “an immigrant from the Philippines whose father served in the Navy before him; a poor teenager whose Guatemalan family came north eager for opportunity; a native of Vietnam hoping to help his family; a firefighter’s son from a rural crossroads in the rolling green fields of Virginia.”

One point of the piece is the military’s diversity and how much it relies on immigrants to fill its ranks. That’s all well and good. But the larger lesson is how much immigrants bring to bear in protecting and reflecting what’s best in the American Dream.

Some Spot-on Snark

As an adept complement to that story, consider this spot-on, sarcastic op-ed by the new New York Times conservative columnist, Bret Stephens. Tongue in cheek, he calls for mass deportation…of non-immigrant Americans whose families have been here for generations.

Why? Well, compared to immigrants, these “real Americans” have higher rates of incarceration (even relative to undocumented workers), delinquency, criminality and (for the moralistic among us) out-of-wedlock births. Furthermore, immigrants surpass them in starting businesses, certain extraordinary educational achievements, presence in safer neighborhoods and (again, going moralistic) religious piety.

As demonstrated by the Navy tragedy, Stephens just scratches the surface of what immigrants contribute to this country. And as a counterpoint to those deceased sailors, consider the case of Donald Trump, a vigorous college athlete who somehow legally dodged the draft 50 years ago because of bad feet – though he later could not recall which foot was the problem.

The Hands That Built This Country

Stephens goes on to bemoan how the Trump administration seeks to bar the kinds of immigrants who have made America exceptional. Throughout our history, this ugly nativist impulse has vied with the fact that, going back far enough, we all originated elsewhere.

Or, as one popular pundit puts it, “Their hands that built the country we’re always trying to keep out.”


Based in Oakland, California, Stephen Golub writes, consults and teaches about international development, with a particular focus on justice, democracy, human rights and governance issues. Currently teaching part-time at Central European University in Budapest and previously at the University of California at Berkeley, he has worked in over 40 countries and with such organizations as Amnesty International, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Ford and Open Society Foundations, the U.K. Department for International Development, the U.N. Development Program and the World Bank

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