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February 12, 2008

They Are Coming

Roy Meachum

Sheriff Chuck Jenkins shapes up as the least likely Hitler I can imagine: I know the man. His critics are way off the mark when they say he plans to turn his department into a latter-day Gestapo. It's not in him.

His published statements deny absolutely the intention of hunting down Latinos to place them in camps waiting for deportation. The new federal training is aimed at upholding existing statutes.

If you're illegal and have the temerity to break the law, being arrested entails such details as ascertaining nationality; it's always been on the books. In these times, showing a driver's license is not enough. Trespassing against society's rules and regulations merits some punishment. That's how the system works.

Obviously present-day immigration generates fear, on both sides. Legal residents are afraid the newcomers will take over. The illegal economic or political refugees are scared to death they will be sent back into the misery they escaped.

One thing is certain: Building a towering fence across the southern border will not stop them. Hadrian's Wall failed to contain the Picts who turned into Scots. Imperial China attempted the same tactic: The Great Wall is more successful today in attracting tourists than it was protecting the emperor and his minions.

You may think the Dark Ages' Transmigration of Nations has nothing to do with modern life. You are wrong. The same basic urge that brought hordes of families into central Europe out of Asia and Scandinavia presaged today's immigration problems.

As the Franks, the Teutons, Huns and Goths wanted a better life for themselves and their children, so do Arabs, Africans, Asians and Latin Americans. Don't think we are the only country wrestling with the problem.

Last week French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with men and women who came from other nations and continents to live in his country. During my assignment in Rome, I met Yugoslavians and Russians who had been sneaked into Italy. In Malaysia, I was told of the population pressures from India, Indonesia and, most of all, China.

At a news conference, Sheriff Jenkins received verbal brickbats from the NAACP as well as Latino leaders; that's when the Hitler comparison came up. But if the latest transmigration of nations, which includes people from a number of countries, cannot be stopped and it can't, in my opinion it still must be made to conform to some kind of order.

The U.S. no longer offers wide open spaces and wilderness; it did until the eve of World War I. Our European ancestors were generally welcomed with open arms. The Chinese and other Asians were not, but only after great numbers had been imported by railroads' robber barons to lay the transcontinental rails.

Until recently, would-be citizens had little trouble drifting over from Mexico; there were families who visited back and forth across the border. Access for Canadians was even easier, which is why their country figured prominently in the story of Prohibition. And later as a refuge for young men seeking to avoid fighting in Vietnam.

September 11, 2001, caused a major shift. But the government's intent to keep potential terrorists out apparently had little effect on those who come seeking opportunity. The good side of the maniacal drive for security may have slowed the flow down. And that's a good thing. Both for this society and those who yearn to live here.

Paranoia may not be the exact word for the nation's collective mental state in recent years. But something like that fearful emotion tinges the air around here. Many Americans sincerely believe brown-skinned foreigners want to take unfair advantage of this bounteous nation, and them.

Segregation funneled the same mistrust towards blacks who suffer under the same bigoted curse still. The sometime street cry "Send them back to Africa" revealed both prejudice and ignorance. Slaves and slavery existed in this country long before a huge majority of Americans' European ancestors even thought about crossing the Atlantic.

The law demands illegal residents caught breaking the law must be detained and returned to their countries of origin. That demand has been in existence for years.

Chuck Jenkins means there must be no local stories about an arrested alien who goes free to commit other crimes. We've all read them.

Frederick's sheriff deserves cheers for his current effort, not scurrilous charges that liken him to history's monster of depravity.

Enough, already.

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