There are few, if any, issues that are more contentious and generate more animosity and anxiety than immigration. We are awash in stories of illegal immigration, separation of parents from children at the border, cartels, human smugglers, drug trafficking and “walls.” Both sides of the debate are dug in and nothing short of angry about the other point of view.
So it’s worth taking a moment to recall that we also have legal immigration and to appreciate a story about one individual who followed the rules to recently become a U.S. citizen.
Shirley Barreto, an Albuquerque Public Schools teacher and native of Ecuador, stood before hundreds of students last week as she raised her hand and repeated the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.
“Mrs. Barreto, you are now America’s’ newest citizen,” Jesse Mendez of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service told her. The first-grade teacher at Barcelona Elementary then led the room in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance – her first time as a U.S. citizen. Students clapped, yelled, waved U.S. flags and held signs. “We love you,” they cheered.
Barreto has been in the U.S. for 25 years and talked to the students about the process of first becoming a permanent resident and then going through a waiting period before you can apply for naturalization. She explained you must be able to speak and understand English and pass a civics exam – something that would behoove a lot of Americans to do.
“We live in a wonderful country with liberties and freedoms not often found in other countries,” she said. “What makes this country especially great is that it’s a melting pot of people, ideas and customs from all over the world. And it doesn’t matter where you came from or who you are, in the United States you can aspire to be anything you wish.”
Barreto, 45, came to the U.S. when she was 20. Her husband and daughter are U.S. citizens. She said many of the parents in the South Valley neighborhood where she teaches are fearful because of their own immigration status. “But I wanted them to see the other side of the coin and know that the immigration officials are not their enemy. If they follow the law and the process, they can also become citizens.”
This is a nation of immigrants – one that has a border and is based on the rule of law. Shirley Barreto is a teacher, and people on both sides of the immigration debate could benefit from the lesson she gives us.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.