Anyone looking to see the best and worst of America all in one place should stand outside St. Francis Assisi Church in Mount Kisco on Sundays at around 1:15 p.m. It is a remarkable sight.
There you will see multi-generational families -- a couple of hundred at least -- in their Sunday best, waiting to enter 1:30 mass. It's St. Francis' weekly Spanish-language service and it is a standing-room-only event, every week.
The scene is the stuff of Norman Rockwell. From grandmothers to infants -- girls in ribbons and boys with spit-polished hair -- gathered to worship as families. It is a custom we so often lament as lost in an increasingly secularized America. But there it still is, on glorious display, each Sunday on East Main Street.
The problem, of course, is that about half the families assembled probably aren't supposed to be there. They are illegal immigrants. There, the Rockwell portrait is marred.
The scene outside St. Francis is a snapshot of the lie playing out in towns across the country seven days a week, 365 days a year. More than 10 million people live among us illegally -- that's hardly news -- and year after year we look away. This ostensible nation of laws shuts its eyes to the millions of lawbreakers among us. That doesn't just make a mockery of our legal system, it undermines the credibility of the nation. In allowing this stasis to continue, we are admitting that we can no longer control our affairs.
Say what you will about President George W. Bush; he at least tried to come to terms with the issue in a comprehensive way. President Barack Obama, who promised to address illegal immigration in his first term in the White House, is now quietly telling Hispanic leaders that he'll take it up only after he is safely re-elected -- just as he is hinting to gay leaders that he'll endorse same-sex marriage post-election, and to Russian leaders that he'll consider moving missiles in Poland (selling out the Poles in the process) as soon as he begins a second term in January 2013.
The only time the president talks about illegal immigration is to announce nominal deportations -- he has deported more illegals than President Bush did -- or to criticize for political gain states like Arizona which, in the absence of federal leadership, have taken up the issue on their own, however controversially.
If you'll pardon the expression, that is unadulterated chicken you-know-what. Ditto for members of Congress from both parties ducking the issue. Effectively ignoring illegal immigration is a relinquishment of their Constitutional oath to uphold the laws of this nation. We have heard the platitudes over and over again: seal the borders; no amnesty, punish businesses who hire illegals. But what, for God's sake, do we do with all these people living here? That is the elephant in the room.
The sentiment that rings truest to me when it comes to this debate is: What about "illegal" don't you understand? The logic of that query is inarguable. If the law is being broken, we need to enforce it. Right?
But when a law cannot be enforced, when it is logistically impossible to enforce it, then isn't the law itself broken. We cannot physically or morally deport 10 million to 12 million people with roots in this country, especially when that would involve tearing American children away from their illegal-immigrant parents. So we need to do something else, either provide a path to citizenship or a path to legal residency. But we cannot continue to do nothing.
Mount Kisco, my hometown, is approximately 35 percent Hispanic, and there isn't a better place to live in America. My Latino neighbors -- the families standing outside church on Sunday -- are integral to it. When I see the broad array of aspirational faces in my daughters' classrooms, I am filled with pride in a Yankee-Doodle-Dandy, Statue-of-Liberty sort of way.
But then there is that nagging question of legality, which brings unwelcome thoughts to mind: How am I supposed to feel about "them." Can we become friends, or is that only deepening the lie? Can I be a good American and respect the rule of law, while interacting daily with people I am pretty certain are breaking it? And what about my daughters' classmates born overseas? How can I welcome them into my home with open arms, celebrate their birthdays, joyfully watch them grow into young adults along with my children and pray alongside them, while willfully agreeing that they be denied things like college tuition assistance when they get older?That seems disingenuous at best, and mean at worst.
Illegal immigration isn't just mocking our legal system. It's making us question who we are. Not just as Americans, but as people.