With immigration emerging as a pivotal issue in the 2016 presidential election, everyone from Donald Trump to Pope Francis is embracing rhetoric that advances their positions. So, whether you are a brick in the wall or a wrecking ball, it seems you either want to build a wall to keep people out, or build policies to let people in.
The latter argument comes to life when following U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) on her recent tour of the Brentwood Home's Mattress manufacturing complex in Southeastern Los Angeles County, part of her California's 38th Congressional District. Rep. Sanchez described the political landscape very cogently:
Well, this concept has been around for the last couple of cycles now. The GOP has made the [border] wall their focus in order to deflect from actually working toward a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Reasonable people on either side of the aisle shouldn't see this as a serious policy idea. While it makes for a good soundbite and imagery, it ultimately ignores the reality of the situation.
The reality of the mattress plant tour was to survey an immigration success story. The congresswoman gets very passionate about the issue; this should surprise no one. For one thing, there is her personal background:
I am the daughter of immigrant parents who arrived in this country from Mexico without knowing English, without a lot of money in their pockets, and with no job waiting for them. Because of their courage, my siblings and I have opportunities they never dreamed of growing up. My story is the story shared by millions of immigrants.
Such stories illustrate ongoing challenges, including legal reform. When asked about her position on Judicial Detention Centers and Border Kids, Rep. Sanchez was clear: She supports the closure of family detention centers that have come under fire by a variety of immigration support groups.
"It [closing the shelters] certainly should happen. It is unconscionable that we continue to imprison children and mothers. Several courts have already opined the current system as inhumane and illegal. I believe they will close but it can't happen quickly enough," she explained, adding that her position on birthright citizenship is that it is "settled law."
"Birthright citizenship is settled constitutional law. Frankly, a lot of the discourse out there has been offensive and shameful," she said.
The Democrat also makes the case that President Obama has been "very receptive" on immigration issues and has made genuine efforts to expand DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents).
"Of course, the executive actions are currently stalled in the courts," laments Sanchez, "but if you look at the president's larger stance on immigration reform it's sound policy; dealing with our broken Immigration system in a lasting and substantive matter requires congressional action."
If Congresswoman Sanchez stands as an immigration success story, that theme resonates within the Brentwood Home manufacturing facility.
Le Duc Nguyen and his family fled Vietnam during its civil war and found opportunity in America. He started out as a salesman, received a promotion to management, and then started his own mattress company. Fast forward a generation and his son, Vy Nguyen, has built that company into a $50 million a year global business using "handcrafted and renewable" components.
Rep. Sanchez says that the company "... is an example of the tenacity and can-do spirit of an immigrant run business. Mr Nguyen weathered the recession not by cutting employees or salaries but through ingenuity and perseverance. I am proud to have Brentwood Home located in my district."
Touring the factory with the congresswoman, I was surprised to discover multiple generations of immigrants working there. I spoke to Edgar Merida who told me that, "Brentwood Home is like a family. We come from different countries and that is a good thing. My boss, Vy Nguyen, is a very fair, honest man. I have been with him for 20 years and will work for him for the rest of my life God willing."
His son, Eric Medina, started out in the factory assembly line and was recently promoted to a position in transportation logistics. He offers the quick version of his story: "My family left Guatemala in the middle of a bloody civil war. I feel so lucky to be working at Brentwood Home. Mr. Nguyen promotes a lot from within the company."
For anyone making the case that immigration is not a macro weight on our economy but a wellspring of entrepreneurship, job creation and wealth generation, they might want to look around the Brentwood Home operation, with hundreds of jobs and creation of a global brand. That seems a world away from sensational headlines, thousand-mile fences, removing Jorge Ramos from a press event, denying children legal representation upon detention, challenging birthright citizenship and so forth -- it's a long list.
It also makes the case that we continue to honor our framers' wishes, for they were onto a great idea, an idea that would make America different from the many other homogeneous nations. It is diversity that keeps our nation balanced and nourishes our entrepreneurial spirit. There is something about American soil that creates swathes of entrepreneurial, arable opportunity that can't be replicated anywhere else in the world. It may take a generation or two to have its value fully recognized but it does and will continue to do so for generations.
Anyone looking for tangible proof need look no further than the Brentwood Home factory just east and a little south of Los Angeles.
Sara Warner is publisher of the National Courts Monitor and the California Courts Monitor. This post includes reporting from Courts Monitor producers.