Walled Off | Opinion | Salt Lake City Weekly

Walled Off 

Taking a Gander: Crossing the border is easy compared to economic barriers that keep the American dream at bay.

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Politicians keep pointing fingers, trying to assign blame for the ongoing mess on our southern border. And no one can deny it; the situation seems out of control.

While there were plenty of immigration problems during the Trump administration, the worst was his heartless, bull-in-the-china-shop approach to dealing with immigrant families and children; it failed miserably and stirred public anger. His belief that better walls would solve the problem wasn't validated, nor did he demonstrate that the rough handling of children and minors discouraged others from coming.

Now a gentler, kinder president—an actual human being—is in the White House. However, the perception of Biden's "softness" may be encouraging a flood of would-be residents. Regardless of one's political alignment, this is a pressing problem; the reality is that there's simply no way for the U.S. to accept everyone who desires to be here.

Yet we do open our doors for a certain number of immigrants, especially those who work in the U.S. agriculture industries, where they fill the jobs that most Americans don't want. But figuring out how to balance the inflow of immigrants is no easy task.

It doesn't matter that there's a wall—or whether it's made of concrete, barbed wire or steel. New designs, despite claiming to be impenetrable, are almost immediately breached, so wall construction is not the answer. The disenfranchised who live in Mexico and Central America are frustrated and unhappy, and there's no sure way to discourage their attempts to cross our border. Some are truly endangered—those who live in fear every day of their lives—but many are here for economic opportunity. The "wall" has become the symbolic line between misery and unfulfillment, and the mythical American dream.

Unfortunately, it is not only our neighbors to the south who struggle to reach their dreams. A significant number of American citizens also strive to reach their goals. Though not due to walls of steel or concrete, real barriers stand in their way. The American dream is, despite the glowing fables, a world of walls. We have a nation of people who wake up every morning to the looming shadows of walls. The reality is that only the rich and the privileged seem to get where they want to go.

As we look at the perpetual problems of our communities, our nation and the world around us, there is a single thing that stands out as the "mother" of the world's worst ills. That mother is best described as one of the "haves" and the "have-nots"—and the sad realization that life is fundamentally unfair. (Obviously, I believe that there is some reason to hope, or I would not be addressing such a grim subject.)

But, when we look at history, from its first recorded episodes, the problem is clear. World dissonance and strife—including virtually every armed conflict—centers around the inequality and inequity that exist in every part of our planet. The notion that the U.S. has somehow risen above such inequality is simply untrue. That's not to say we haven't made strides in the right direction, but the problem is far from solved.

So, what is it that makes a man or a woman, alien or citizen, flee their circumstances to reach the border of what they view as a better place? When we look at our fellow Americans, we see many who are simply frustrated and disenfranchised by barriers in their paths. The allocation of wealth has never been as off-balance as it is now; women have goose-eggs on their heads from trying to break through the ever-present glass ceiling in the business world; racial minorities struggle to be treated as equals to the ruling rich; the LBGTQ community scrapes, with mostly meager progress, for acceptance and for the even application of their inalienable rights; religion continues as both a perpetrator and protector of enduring misery—assuring believers that, no matter what they missed out on in this life, the next one will be better; and the American worker—despite the insanity of executive and corporate earnings—can't even get a so-called living wage.

Each of these conditions represents a "wall" between a perpetual state of frustration and the realization of fulfillment. The concept of building bigger or better walls on our southern border is directed at outsiders, but our biggest problem is how to share America's wealth with all her people. That means finding a way to fix the gross inequities of the haves and have-nots.

Unfortunately, it's easy to fixate on keeping aliens out while allowing walls of a different sort to permanently divide Americans within. As the U.S. works to stanch the influx of illegal immigrants, our country remains full of bona fide citizens who are, in their own right, striving to reach better lives.

Sadly, the concept of haves and have-nots is universal. Mexico and Central America do not have a monopoly on misery. If we don't deal with the legitimate, perpetual frustrations of our own population, the strength of our country is very much in jeopardy.

The author is a retired businessman, novelist, columnist and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.

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