Last updated: July 28. 2014 11:59AM - 202 Views
Whitney Westerfield State Senator



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The recent news coverage about immigrants, and the predictable political remarks, has inspired me to write this column. As a state senator I certainly don’t have any influence on the federal-level issue. I don’t have a vote on border security legislation.


But as a citizen and constituent of Congress, my opinion matters. First, a disclaimer. I haven’t studied the whole immigration landscape completely. My prosecutorial experience paints my perspective, regarding criminal offenders who are here illegally. I’m learning along with everyone else as we watch events unfold in the nightly news. I simply wanted to share what was on my mind. Obviously, national security is paramount. We must ensure we keep out those who would do us harm or help others who might.


We must also hasten the deportation process. I have no patience for those who desire to come here only to leech off the rest of us who are hard at work providing for our own and keeping the economy running. We have no home for those here.


Likewise, I have no time or sympathy for those who arrive only to break our laws. In these two scenarios the process for extradition must be much quicker. I recall being told by an employee of the nearest ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) office back when I was a prosecutor that there was a huge delay in deportations. The guys (in the case I’m thinking of) would have sooner served the entirety of their sentence in our prison system — at a huge cost to taxpayers — than they would have been deported. This is nonsense.


Security and deportations aside, at the heart of my position is a singular truth that I can’t shake: I’m a descendant of immigrants. If you’re reading this you likely are as well. Our ancestors far enough back did little more than sign their name to a ledger book to begin living their new American Dream. Shouldn’t we make the processfaster for those who still prefer risking their lives to come here? As long as we maintain our security, and the people who come here desire to contribute in some way to the culture and economy of America, why would we inhibit that? We aren’t running out of space (yet).


Obviously, the border situation requires nuance. We must find a way to properly balance our need for security with our foundational goal of freedom. Are we permitting terrorists (from any nation) unguarded entry? Are we removing any such terrorists swiftly once found? Are we doing what’s best for immigrant children by “detaining” them or sending them back? If the children stay, where do they live? (A recent news story reports Kentucky is taking 237 of these children.) Who feeds them? For how long? Who teaches them English (or any other base subject) so they can function minimally in our society? If they’re sent home will they actually get to go home? Are there parents there? As terrible as we may feel it is for a parent to send a small child or teenager alone on an illegal trip across the border, can we be certain it wasn’t for the best? Perhaps those kids are facing a much harsher reality at home. Weren’t our ancestors often fleeing horrid conditions in the hope of finding greener pastures? Assuming we’ve satisfied our legitimate security concerns, how can turn anyone away from the nation that welcomes all comers, especially those in search of hope:


Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.


From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


“New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus (emphasis added)


That sonnet, containing that famous phrase, appears on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty. However we as nation respond to immigration policy I believe we would do well to remember these words, bearing in mind where we came from and what makes our nation so great.


Whitney Westerfield is a state senator serving Logan, Todd and Christian counties.


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