Jim Elliott

We celebrate America on this Fourth of July because we are a great nation with great dreams, great ability and great heart.

None should feel this more than Montanans, who cherish the notions that “all men is common folk,” (as an old poem has it), that a person’s word is their bond, and that it doesn’t matter who you are as long as you pull your own weight.

A place where, when your house burns down, people you don’t even know show up to help you out. We are big hearted, tough, and kind. And we don’t need to be turned into mean-spirited people by out-of-state politicians who are looking for votes by pitting us against each other.

On this day that should unite us all, politicians are beginning their campaigns by scapegoating the very people who have made America great, the immigrants. Please remember that the United States of America is the first nation created by immigrants, so when you’re running down the immigrant, my friend, you’re running down America.

The 14th Amendment to our Constitution grants “birthright” citizenship to all persons born in the United States. Passed by the Republican Senate in 1866 and ratified by the states in 1868, one of its purposes was to facilitate citizenship for the newly freed slaves (Native Americans were not granted the same privilege until 1924!)

Now, Florida governor Ron DeSantis—the great-grandson of immigrants—claims that birthright citizenship is the biggest driver of illegal immigration and has vowed to end the practice if he is elected President.

He is wrong. The biggest driver of immigration to America is hope, and always has been.

Except for the Native Americans who have called America home for thousands of years, we are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants.

It is the hope of a better life they seek. A life that we, America’s immigrant and native-born citizens, have created and nurtured for over two centuries. That better life has been sought by people desiring to escape tyranny, crime, hunger, political suppression enforced by threats of torture; all the inescapable aspects of human misery forced on human beings by people who wield absolute power. We are a free people because we have always been lucky enough to have been populated by people who have not always been free.

There is a strange trait among many Americans to disparage those people who have sought the same freedom and opportunity our ancestors did; for having the identical hope. The reasons to disparage them never change; they are lazy, dirty, criminals, and immoral. They want something for nothing.

Lazy people who want a free ride do not risk their lives for months on end by walking through the deadly Darien Gap jungle of Panama, being prey for human hyenas in whatever nation they walk through on their way to our border, or being detained for months on end before and after they reach American soil. Would any of us who are the descendants of immigrants be willing to suffer those same hardships if we had to do it to keep our citizenship?

I love America, not always for what it is, but always for what it stands for. I love our diversity of cultures. I love the patriotism of our immigrants.  We have built a nation that is the envy of the world and we have built it by being a nation of immigrants.

In my youth in Pennsylvania, during haying season, we would haul our hay from one farm to another along the Swamp Pike. Midway between farms we would stop for a soda or a hoagie at “Pop” Talarico’s sandwich shop. Pop had emigrated from Italy to America just after WW II. On the back wall of the shop Pop had a huge painting with crossed American and Italian flags and the words, “Pop says ‘God Bless America!’” Pop’s son, Ralphie, who was born in America, took over the shop from his dad. After Pop died, Ralphie put up a big picture of Pop on the back wall of the shop and under it these words; “Pop Talarico always said, AND MEANT, ‘God Bless America’.”

Let’s all say it together, one nation, united.

Montana Viewpoint has appeared in weekly and online newspapers across Montana for over 25 years. Jim Elliott served sixteen years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.