In a few days, the President of the United States will perform the silly annual ritual of pardoning a single turkey as part of our nation’s celebration of Thanksgiving. But last week, he issued a pardon of sorts that will a real impact on millions of people living in our country: undocumented aliens, aka “illegal immigrants”.
I suppose White House advisers considered, and then discarded, the idea of announcing the President’s action on Thanksgiving itself. But the timing seemed to me hard to miss, just one week before our national celebration of the harvest.
After all, a large percentage of the people who work every day to produce the food grown in the U.S. are undocumented immigrants. They perform specialized and difficult tasks in a challenging workplace, requiring skills and knowledge that most Americans do not possess. And they are rarely celebrated. But their work is critical to our nation’s health and security.
It is one thing for a society to consider farm labor to be unskilled and worthy of low pay, as is so sadly true in much of the world. It is another thing completely to reward the people who feed you by jailing them and sending them away, against their will. That borders on self-destructive behavior.
Every politician in the U.S. knows that our food supply depends on workers who are not legal citizens. I have spoken privately with elected officials who agree in private that the most recent push to expel them borders on insanity. But they won’t say it in public. Our leaders are terrified of the immigration issue.
The problem with democracy is that most politicians need to be re-elected every few years. And a sizable majority of U.S. voters appear to care more about punishing “illegal immigrants” than they do about eating.
Presidents in their second term, ineligible for re-election, are in a unique position to protect us from biting off the hands that feed us. President Obama’s actions last week mirror those of Presidents Reagan and George Bush, but the precedent goes back even further.
In recent years, law abiding but undocumented people in the U.S. have driven to work every day wondering if they would see their kids that night, or if a misdemeanor traffic ticket would lead to their deportation. I for one am thrilled that so many productive and valuable people will be brought out into the light of day to participate in our society without fear.
And I can’t think of a better time of year for it to happen than Thanksgiving.
Have a great holiday,