Letter: If you're trying to sneak into the country, you don't come with 5,000 other people

I’m writing in response to the Gary Smith letter, "If you support the caravan, invite the immigrants to live in your home," published Nov. 30:

First of all, it’s important to correct the factual error of characterizing people in the migrant caravan from Central America as “illegal.” These people are coming to seek asylum, a rigorous process which, if they’re successful, would allow them to enter the country legally. If you are trying to sneak into the country illegally, you don’t come with 5,000 other people.

More important, I want to respond to the attitude of fear and loathing that Smith expresses. It seems that to his mind, people either experience “negative effects” from immigrants or they have no direct contact with them whatsoever. That has not been my experience at all. I have known a number of new Americans as colleagues, students, neighbors and associates. They have come to this country by different paths and have brought a variety of gifts that have enriched my life and the life of our community.

It has struck me rather that it is the people who have little or no direct contact with immigrants who are most likely to share Smith’s attitude, and that should come as no surprise. I think back to the days when African Americans were segregated and gays were closeted. It was easy then to hang onto stereotypical attitudes. Then those walls started to come down, and it was meaningful human contact with others that began to change hearts and minds.

You don’t have to invite immigrants to live in your home in order to have positive interactions with them. There are lots of other ways, and I encourage everyone to reach out.