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Adam Hanft

Adam Hanft

Posted: December 22, 2010 06:00 PM

The irony of the death of Richard Holbrooke preceding the death of the DREAM Act by just a short time is too substantial to remain unnoted.

Holbrooke was the child of immigrants; his mother's family made it out of Hamburg in 1933, his father was born in Warsaw and came here in the 1930s While it's easy to play armchair Freudian, sometimes the dots cry out for connection. Here's someone who was the product of the blackest period of the 20th century, who proceeded to dedicate his life to the reduction of conflict. Someone whose work in Bosnia -- leading to the Dayton Accord -- saved thousands of lives, preserved thousands of families, and prevented thousands of forced immigrations.

It's a special kind of magical and generous American recipe that compels the child of immigrants -- growing up with parents struggling to make sense of a new culture, steeped in the pain of dislocation and deracination -- to make the world right through diplomacy. Would Holbrooke, Kissinger, and Madeline Albright (who was born in Europe), have chosen careers in statecraft were they not personal witnesses to its failures? (And I include Dr. Kissinger in full recognition of the latest unflattering transcriptions.)

The now disenfranchised population of children who would have benefited from the DREAM Act -- the children of immigrants -- might very well contain the next Richard Holbrooke, a young man or woman driven to transform the circumstances of others with a fierce and stubborn belief in the possibility of change. Not everyone in the next generation feels the urgency of this debt. But those who do, those who charge into meetings in paneled rooms refusing to take no for an answer, those who reject the improbable and stare dictators in the eye, are the ones who can wrestle a new world out of the old.

The fact that only 55 senators could be rounded up to vote for a bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for the next generation of American diplomats -- not citizenship mind you, but a path to citizenship -- is a shameful chapter. Consider the process that the DREAM Act requires: these students would have to graduate high school, and then serve two years in the military, or two-to-four years in college -- and this leading to just temporary residency.

If there's anyone who believes that the quality and character of American life wouldn't be enriched by this infusion of passion and vitality, I have nothing better to add than what Eric Hoffer said on the subject: "America needs new immigrants to love and cherish it." But for that to happen, we have to love and cherish who we are first. The vote last week doesn't suggest we do. It would have been a fitting tribute to Ambassador Holbrooke, a man of America, and of someplace else. Perhaps some time in the future, when we come to our national senses, it will be.

 

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