April 14, 2006




The colors of the border wars
by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

Protests over immigration reform are making my mother more infuriated by the minute. I’m guessing she’s not the only Democrat that is being upset by the images that keep playing over and over on television of immigrants — most of them illegal, she assumes — waving Mexican flags and carrying signs saying, “We were here first.”

“Now they’re telling school children in Colorado that they can’t wear red, white and blue to school. They don’t want to offend anyone,” she said in disgust last week after a school banned flags and symbols in an effort to ease tensions caused by the immigration reform debate. Worse in her mind is that Democrats want to give these people a free ride, and by these people, she doesn’t mean to single them out by the color of their skin, she means any people in this country illegally.

On one level, my own patriotism kicks in. I was there when my mother accepted our national symbol at both of the funerals for her husband and son, my father and brother, as a sign of appreciation for the sacrifices they made serving their country.

But then my reasoning takes over and I see that this argument over symbols is not getting us anywhere in solving the real problems we face.

On one side, we have citizens forming border patrols, saying if our government will not protect the American people by securing our borders, they have the right to form a militia to do it for us. At the same time, we have Michelle Malkin, the queen of right-wing political columns, showing images on her blog of Hispanic students in California flying the Mexican flag on top of an American flag — with the U.S. flag upside down — a sign of disrespect. We also have citizen bloggers posting messages about, not only drug cartels flowing over the southern borders uninhibited, but reports of the Mexican army who come over regularly, and now sightings of our new archenemy — the Chinese army on American soil!

On the other side, there are the Hispanic immigrants (whether they are here illegally or no, they’re still immigrants until they are no longer in this country) and other immigrants waving the flags of their homelands. Some Hispanics have reportedly spit at Americans or even other Hispanics who wave the American flag. Some are carrying signs only meant to incite. While others in the country, including some considered “leaders,” are further fanning the flames by resorting to calling anyone not in favor of immigration reform and securing our borders “racists.”

Somewhere in the middle are a majority of the immigrants who, for one reason or another, are here illegally, but are working at jobs, trying to make better lives for their families and are paying taxes. There’s the family I interviewed in 2004 during the Kansas 3rd District congressional campaign, which pitted Kris Kobach, a staunch supporter of the right’s answer of criminalizing and deporting all illegal immigrants, and Rep. Dennis Moore, who takes a moderate approach to immigration reform. Kobach was also the attorney suing the state of Kansas for allowing students who are in the country illegally, but have graduated from a Kansas high school they had attended for at least three years, to pay in state tuition rates at state colleges and universities.

The girl I interviewed had been in the United States since she was six. Her parents came to the country on a five-year work permit after leaving Mexico, where they lived in extreme poverty. When her father was eligible, he applied for permanent residency for his family. Her mother and father had assimilated into society, they both had good jobs and their two children were thriving in a Kansas public school. Her brother wanted to be a doctor and she wanted to be an architect, dreams they could not have had in the place of their birth. They came to this country legally; they followed the rules and paid their taxes. Confident that their residency would be approved, they purchased a small home. Five years came and went. They heard nothing about their permanent residency status. They were only told that the system was backlogged.

“Was I just to leave my job, uproot my family from this wonderful country and return to a place my children didn’t even know?” her father asked me (in English) during the interview.

The family went underground. They didn’t have to sell their home or go into hiding, but technically, by overstaying their work permits, they became illegal. More years passed, the family still didn’t hear about their status. The girl graduated from high school at the top of her class. She wanted the opportunity to go to college but her parents could only afford it (illegal immigrants are not eligible for student loans or grants) if they paid in-state tuition. And why not, her family had lived in and had paid taxes in Kansas for years.

Then, there was the man with whom I went and visited him on his job. He held up the “slow” and “stop” signs for a construction crew working nights at that time on I-35. He had come to the country legally, worked for a number of years and returned to Mexico frequently for visits with his family. On one such visit, he met a woman and they eventually fell in love and married. Her application for residency to be with her husband became lost in the sea of immigration bureaucracy for years. They took it as long as they could. He finally smuggled her and her children across the border for $5,000.

These are the stories the press should be telling. These are the images that would show the American people that our immigration policy is fundamentally flawed and broken. It needs to be fixed from the ground up.

That’s not to say that nothing should be done with our borders. Any idiot with a Texas accent, a cocky swagger and a ranch in Crawford can see it is unsafe in today’s world to allow thousands of people to stream across an unprotected border with possible weapons to use in another 9-11 type attack.

But something must be done with the over 12 million immigrants already here. Given that our system cannot even handle the requests submitted by persons wanting to enter the country legally, could we really trust that the government could handle rounding up millions of people whose names and whereabouts they do not know and return them to their countries? And what about families who have children who were born here — who are citizens of this country? The only possible solution is to allow them to continue to assimilate into our society, including paying fines and back taxes, without criminalizing them as felons.

However, the only way not to repeat the mistake of blanket amnesty made by the Republicans’ God, Ronald Reagan, is to first secure our borders and invest significant resources into fixing the broken process that is now our immigration system.

The young people who thought they were showing disrespect for the American flag by flying it upside down probably didn’t know how right they are. Flying the American flag in that fashion is a sign of distress. We are in a state of terrible distress in this country. But if battles over red, white and blue vs. green, white and red continue to divide true Democrats such as my mother, I’m afraid we will have more years of it.

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell can be contacted at


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