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Bob Dickson: Who is our neighbor

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: February 5, 2009 6:05 p.m.
Updated: February 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
As politics go, I have almost always been my father's son. Aside from a brief dip into liberal waters as an undergrad, I have uniformly adopted the conservative positions of the Protestant-raised, small-business-owning West Point graduate who reared me.

That paradigm shifted suddenly a few years ago. I was home for the holidays and the conversation over turkey dinner turned to politics. Specifically, to illegal immigration.

I figured I was preaching to the coverted as I unpacked the evils associated with and resulting from illegal immigration.

"Those people are killing the economy," I said. "They're gumming up our schools, bankrupting our hospitals, and putting law-abiding contractors out of business."

The response was not what I expected.

"You better talk to Dad about that," my mom said.

"Huh?

"Well, Bob ... " and it began. I sat in shock as my dad explained his position.

Those immigrants don't have it so good here, he told me. So imagine how bad it is for them back home.

He explained that regardless of how they arrived, they were here; that as members of the church we should be the ones to reach out.

The effects of that gentle scolding lingered for months. They threw me on the horns of a dilemma from which I only recently escaped.

I've always voted Republican. I've always sided Republican. I've always leaned far to the right.

But are there gray areas? Are there points at which my conservative political views and my spiritual moorings actually clash?

The issue of illegal immigration had always seemed black and white. These people are here illegally. Round them up and send them home, or at least somewhere south of San Diego. I really never understood the basis for debate.

But the issue isn't black and white, is it? There is a basis for debate. My dad nailed me with it over the Thanksgiving table and now I am putting it to you.

Like it or not, our Latino neighbors are here. They play an active role in the ebb and flow of the SCV community. More than that, they are real people.

Those facts hit me especially hard three weeks ago when, at the insistence of my conscience, I joined some men from a church in town and began spending Saturday mornings on 15th Street, passing out donuts and practicing my badly broken Spanish on the men who wait there for work.

These are men with families - some still living in Mexico or Guatemala or Nicaragua or El Salvador, some tucked away in the apartments of Newhall. They showed me pictures of their children. They talked about their reasons for coming here and their hopes for the future.

They also shared their anxieties. They have bills to pay and mouths to feed, so they stand on 15th Street and on Railroad Avenue (rain or shine), hoping to work.

Most days are fruitless. They wait for hours before returning home empty-handed. Tomorrow, they'll try again.

They are friendly and welcoming, even to a gringo like me.

In short, they are not the enemy.

Are they here illegally? Yes, at least some of them are. Does their presence strain or even overload the California budget? Possibly.

But the answer is not wholesale deportation. That kind of thinking is precisely what causes those on the left to wrongly call our party heartless.

These people are here to work. They perform services for which many in our community are happy to pay. They are family-oriented and they love the opportunities this country affords. Really, they seem a lot like the kind of people we want to add to our base.

Politically speaking, I do not favor amnesty. I also believe that for reasons stemming from both economics and national security, our borders must be secured.

However, I support a feasible and fair guest-worker program, the parameters of which go beyond the scope of this column.

Spiritually speaking, I believe those of us who constitute the conservative Christian base of the party must begin seeing these men and women from the proper perspective.

They are not the problem and they are not the enemy.

They are the mission field.

They are our neighbors.

Bob Dickson is a Santa Clarita Valley resident. "Right Here, Right Now" appears Fridays in The Signal and rotates among local Republican writers. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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