An immigrant crisis and a crisis in leadership

The family story goes like this: at 9 years of age, my great-grandfather left Russia, walked across Europe and made his way to a boat that took him to America. He raised his family in Baltimore, over his candy store. His fine family became contributors to our great American story: a doctor, an engineer, a nurse and my grandmother, all of whom raised their own families who went on to contribute to our nation of opportunity.

Who knows what terrors sent this boy to a new world? Russian Cossacks burning his village? The loss of a family?

It is the most American of stories. Pilgrims escaped to the New World to practice their religion as they wished. Waves of Europeans, Asians, Africans and more have followed, many escaping horrors in their home nations. Our nation of brave innovators, creative thinkers and hard-working families was built by those who knew the work was worth it, because it was here that a good new life could begin.

And now, more than two dozen governors — including our own — race to close their states’ borders to the most recent wave of immigration. After the latest round of attacks in Paris, Beirut and against a Russian airliner, Syrians and others fleeing from the Middle East are now suspected to be the very terrorists that created the need to flee.

The Republican presidential campaigns are also awash in the rhetoric of the weak, from Rand Paul offering legislation to halt the resettlement of refugees to Ben Carson’s call for immediately defunding resettlement programs.

Following the contrast of Parisians out on a beautiful evening being blown away, it is not surprising to see many good people responding in this way. But our leaders show their strength when they know that it is not the knee-jerk reactions that best guide a people during crises, but rather, the well-reasoned and informed approach that presents a greater truth. In times of turmoil, strong leaders reach for the greater human story within the event, and shine a light on the bigger truth within.

There is no one alive today who doesn’t stand on the shoulders of an ancestor who fled and survived, in search of peace, safety, prosperity. We have always looked for places where our families could flourish. It is a story as old as human history.

We can show our strength by finding a way to include the refugee who has been well screened and found to be without harm. We can prevent further terrorism by providing exactly what President Obama has included in his plans for resettlement: the tools of assimilation that allow immigrants to be included in our society. Good leaders take the long view, knowing that we may just save billions in military spending by preventing a refugee disaster.

As we begin preparations for our Thanksgiving feasts, let us not forget that this current wave of immigration can best be greeted the way our Pilgrim forefathers were greeted by the Native Americans who showed them how to survive in this New World. Anything less is a path to a much weaker nation. Anything less would surely disappoint our ancestors. It would certainly disappoint my great-grandfather.

Bonnie Bricker, the author of “Zoom Out Parenting: The Big Picture Approach to Raising Children” lives in Columbia. She can be reached at bonbricker@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun

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