By Thomas Armbruster:
The first priority of any Embassy or Consulate is the welfare of fellow citizens in the consular district. For American consular officers, the responsibilities range from repatriating destitute Americans to providing relief during a disaster to visiting Americans in prison. It is the same for every other country. Mexico has 50 consulates in the United States and they have a big job. This week, all 50 consulates received instructions from Mexico City to increase assistance to Mexicans living in the United States. It’s timely, with talk of mass deportations. The clear message to Mexicans from their government is “we are with you.” According to The Los Angeles Times, the Mexican Foreign Office is urging Mexicans to “stay calm and avoid putting themselves in situations in the U.S. that could lead to an arrest and deportation.” That type of situation could range from a bar fight to a speeding violation.
Deportations can be heart wrenching. Sometimes those involved grew up in America and never experienced their home culture. I’ve seen that happen to Marshallese citizens who can live and work in the U.S. under the Compact of Free Association. The Compact is not protection against deportation, and a serious enough infraction can land someone who has only known life in Arkansas, a hub of Marshallese in America, in the middle of the Pacific on a tropical island with few opportunities, few friends, and few transferable skills. The “Dream Act” legislation is designed to phase in citizenship for undocumented young people who have grown up in the United States to live out the American dream legally. This helps ensure that one small infraction doesn’t lead to life changing deportation. Instead, it could help someone already versed in the U.S. become fully vested in America’s success.
I know from experience how dedicated consular officers are and have seen them respond immediately to midnight calls and difficult situations. While stationed in Nuevo Laredo, I often worked with the Mexican Consul General on border issues. My Consular District extended from Nuevo Laredo to Ciudad Acuna, my counterpart’s from Laredo, Texas to Del Rio. State, local and federal officials from both countries meet regularly for border liaison meetings to coordinate when international bridges will open and close, understand what is happening with migration and drug trafficking, as well as human trafficking and other cross border problems. On the margins, officials trade stories about consular challenges. I had Americans in prisons, kidnappings, and murders, and my Mexican colleague had migrants in legal trouble, deaths in the desert and drownings in the Rio Bravo or Rio Grande. We both had plenty of work to do.
Overseas, the hyphen for Americans goes away. If there is an American in trouble the Consular Officer doesn’t care if he’s Mexican-American, African-Americans, Cuban-American or any other prefix. If an American holds a blue passport, she’s in the club. The standard for citizenship at home should be the same as it is abroad. If you are an American citizen, you have all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that go along with it. Talk of registering Muslim-Americans is not acceptable for our great democracy. The internment of Japanese-Americans isn’t a precedent, it’s a historic mistake that should never be repeated. One only has to look at the exploits of the highly-decorated Fighting 442nd Infantry Regiment in WWII to know that Japanese-Americans were loyal and ready to fight and die for the U.S. Their “Go for Broke” slogan was lived every day and the 21 Medals of Honor accorded to the regiment is just a glimpse into their valor. Senator Daniel Inouye’s contributions to America are another reminder of the 442nd’s legacy.
People are certainly free to self-identify and create any hyphenated identity they like. Personally, I’m a Scotch-German American with practically no understanding of that heritage except that I don’t think I’d like haggis and Germany seems to lack beaches. Chances are most Black Americans can trace their family history farther back in the annals of America than most whites, whose ancestors arrived in the great migration waves from Europe well after colonial times. That’s as strong an American heritage as any group other than Native Americans, the real Americans. Just as certainly anyone who wants to drop their prefix or hyphen and say “I’m an American” should have that right. Tracing one’s lineage, no matter how far back, does not a ‘truer’ American make.
We are a diverse America. Thank God for that. Diversity improves cuisine if nothing else. Writing legislation on how we are going to maintain that diversity and at what pace is up to Congress, but no group should feel marginalized or excluded. And you should let Congress know how you feel about it. The Pence-Hamilton controversy is no more than theatre and seems more appropriate for a campaign diversion than a transition. It’s not unusual for a new administration to send up trial balloons to see what flies. I hope the trial balloon of registering Muslims has been sufficiently shot down. Muslim-Americans contribute to America every day, with some estimates that ten percent of our physicians are Muslim. But that’s not really the point. The point is, once you are an American, no matter where you were born (think Alexander Hamilton), no matter what your religion, no matter what your color, you are in the club. You get a blue passport. You’re a Blue American and you deserve full membership.
Thomas Armbruster is an OpsLens Contributor and former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Marshall Islands. In his long career as an American diplomat, Thomas Armbruster served as the Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Vladivostok, Russia, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan, Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Political Affairs Officer and Nuclear Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia; and Vice Consul at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, he was a reporter for the CBS affiliate KGMB-TV in Hawaii. Mr. Armbruster holds a B.A. from McDaniel College, an M.A. from St. Mary’s University, and an M.S. from the Naval War College.