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A fundamental truth of American history

As Congress and the President continue to debate the future of children who came to America with their parents (the Dreamers), I would like to suggest that we keep one fundamental truth of American history in mind: The nation to which we pledge allegiance and promise to support was founded on illegal immigration. The only true “legal” citizens of the United States are the ones who were here when the pilgrims arrived in 1620 — Native Americans.

The pilgrims that came over on the Mayflower were undocumented immigrants. They didn’t have papers authorizing them to enter North America. They had not asked permission of the Native Americans to migrate here or cooperated in a vetting process. And then they certainly didn’t ask the permission of the Native Americans when they started butchering them and taking their land.

The current debate about which immigrants are legal and illegal possibly says more about who we are as a people than about the people who wish to immigrate to this country.

Jennifer Mendelsohn, a Baltimore-based freelance journalist, started a project called #resistancegenealogy that confronts anti-immigration public figures on Twitter with their own family histories. One of her targets was White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino Jr., who called for an end to “chain migration.” Mendelsohn looked up Scavino’s family history.

“So Dan. Let’s say Victor Scavino arrives from Canelli, Italy in 1904, then brother Hector in 1905, brother Gildo in 1912, sister Esther in 1913, & sister Clotilde and their father Giuseppe in 1916, and they live together in NY. Do you think that would count as chain migration? If you are not Native American or [your ancestors] did not arrive here in chains, then you or your ancestors immigrated to the U.S.”

As Americans, we are all in this ethnic melting pot together. It is incumbent on us, therefore, to create a fair immigration policy that works for everyone, even if that requires compromises on both sides of the political aisle.

As a start, a fair and equitable system, it seems to me, would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who are productive members of society — the millions of undocumented citizens who are living, working and paying taxes in America.

It would then be incumbent upon us to admit that not all immigrants are “rapists and drug dealers.” In fact, the data show that crime is not correlated with immigration. With a good vetting system, we can identify the undocumented undesirables, the real criminals. Treating every immigrant as a criminal is wrong

Every U.S. citizen who is not a Native American or a descendant of slaves had ancestors who immigrated to America. We are all immigrants. What we need is a system of immigration that honors that truth and provides creative solutions that the majority of American people can accept and support.

Polk Culpepper is a retired Episcopal priest, former lawyer and a Washington resident.