SAN DIEGO — This Independence Day weekend, memory takes me back to something my father said during a Fourth of July celebration many years ago.
Days earlier, authorities had made a gruesome discovery. Coldblooded smugglers had left dozens of migrants to die in a railroad car. My dad and I were at a public event and, at the end of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” he pointed at Old Glory and said: “See that flag. That’s why those people died, trying to get here — because of freedom and the kind of country we are.”
It’s a good time to ask once again, what kind of country are we? In between parades and barbeques, Americans can show their patriotism by being on their best behavior.
This didn’t happen the other day in Murrieta, Calif. In that city about 90 miles north of San Diego, an angry mob holding placards and shaking fists terrorized a busload of about 140 children and mothers, while chanting “USA, USA.”
The sickening images remind us of the stakes involved with the “border kids” — the estimated 52,000 young castaways from Central America who entered the United States uninvited in the last year and the tens of thousands of others likely to follow.
This debate isn’t just about what will become of often-unaccompanied minors. It’s about something more important: What kind of country we’ve become.
This group of immigrants was flown by the federal government from Texas to California, and put on a bus for an hour and a half, to be processed at a Border Patrol facility in Murrieta. After a brief standoff with about 50 protesters near the facility, the Border Patrol retreated and drove two more hours to another substation near the U.S.-Mexico border.
The truth is, it’s the protesters who should have been rounded up. Blame my upbringing as the son of a cop, but where I come from, if you block a federal law enforcement vehicle and use mob rule to interfere with law enforcement officers, they handcuff you and toss you in a cell.
So why is the Border Patrol more concerned about its public image? During an appearance this week on “The LaDona Harvey Show,” a San Diego radio talk show, Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, talked about the spectacle in Murrieta and addressed the public outrage.
“I hope people don’t blame the Border Patrol,” Moran said, “Because we’re stuck in the middle.”
What a wimpy thing to say. Let me get this straight. A mob interferes with one of your operations and intimidates your agents on the job to the point where they turn tail. And you grovel and hope the protesters who broke the law don’t blame the Border Patrol?
How pathetic. Cops should be cops. And politicians should be politicians. Let’s not mix up the two.
In the meltdown at Murrieta, it was the chanting of “USA, USA” that was most offensive, as if mob rule is the American way and wrapping yourself in the flag gives you license to wipe your feet on some of our most sacred traditions.
The feet-wiping starts at the top. President Obama, who once taught constitutional law but apparently never studied it, wants to speed up deportations of the border kids and skip the nuisance of due process.
Americans are deciding the fate of a great nation that has not always lived up to its billing in terms of welcoming the stranger, a place where people sometimes miss that the world pays us a huge compliment by seeing our country as a safe haven for the downtrodden and the oppressed.
It’s a special calling to which we haven’t always lived up. The United States still hasn’t lived down its shame — nor should it — for turning away, in June 1939, the SS St. Louis, with more than 900 Jewish refugees aboard, and sending them back to Europe and their likely demise.
Now, we’re planning to send these kids back to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — Central American countries that have shown the world, through rapes and murders and drug trafficking, that they are no place for young children.
After what happened in Murrieta, and the mass deportations that Obama has planned, some people around the world might say the same about us.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.