Readers of The Southern have been treated to a series of stories concerning the predicament and distress of the undocumented West Frankfort immigrant, Mr. Hernandez. It’s a moving story made even more so because it now involves a family.
As such, allow me to compare the Hernandez saga to what other immigrants have endured.
I, too, am an immigrant. Like tens of millions of others caught up in World War II, my just-past-her-teens mom, my infant brother and I were forced to leave our ancestral home in Eastern Europe. The Red Army was on the move. We were strafed by fighter aircraft and repeatedly carpet-bombed. The refugee camps were horrific. We were infested with lice and internal parasites, subjected to freezing conditions and starvation diets. Diseases such as diphtheria were common. Medicine was nonexistent.
Then, we were herded into a hellhole. East Germany. The regime was indescribably brutal, yet somehow, my mom provided for us. I attended political-indoctrination classes disguised as grammar school. Christmas was celebrated with a candle and one apple. We saw and experienced things that can never be unseen or unexperienced.
Then came our second escape. This one was a midnight crossing of patrolled no-man’s land, with darkness our only cover. After what seemed an eternity of walking through woodlands, we were “free at last.” I was 7, and my brother was 4 years old.
My dad, having seen combat in three different armies, had finally been released from a Russian prison and had also escaped to the West. Miraculously, we were all reunited.
Dad, an educated man, had read a document called the Constitution and how America was a land where the rule of law was omnipotent. We applied to immigrate to America. Because of dad’s military experiences and my East German political indoctrination, our vetting process was long. After four years and many interrogation sessions, we were granted permission to immigrate. And yes, we paid for our passage on an American troop ship, the USS General C.C. Ballou.
We hit America’s sacred shores running. A visit to the A&P grocery store was akin to seeing the Pearly Gates. We all worked hard and in two years we owned the roof over our heads and we never looked back.
When someone decides to come to our country illegally, that person’s first act in America is one of lawlessness. My father, an honorable man and engineer, whose first job in America was sweeping floors, dreamed of his kids growing up in America. He legally and patiently waited his turn into the Promised Land.
Such begs the question: Were my dad’s dreams somehow less worthy because he was law abiding, versus those who decide that America’s laws don’t apply to them — and jump in front of honorable applicants?
Sadly, we will we never know the name of the person who had his place-in-line snatched by Mr. Hernandez. We will never know the hardships endured by that person, nor will we know of the dreams, aspirations and contributions to America of that individual.