Freedom is hard work

America turned [Wednesday], as it does every year on July 5, from celebrating our inalienable rights to the less glamorous work of safeguarding them.

Those rights — among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — are very much threatened on America’s side of the U.S.-Mexico border today. Not by illegal immigrants, crime gangs and other boogeymen President Donald Trump and anti-immigrant factions have used to scare citizens into supporting Mr. Trump’s costly vanity wall. They’re threatened by a government that is seeking to subvert and suspend them under the guise of national security and the efficiency that comes from not having to deal with such inconveniences as the rule of law and due process.

Yes, even noncitizens entering this country, legally or illegally, have rights, a fact Mr. Trump surely must know but chooses to ignore. And in his flailing for a simple solution to the admittedly complex issue of illegal immigration, he has only made the mess worse.

First came a zero-tolerance policy on illegal border crossings, resulting in the arrests and detention of even people seeking asylum and the separation of children from their parents. Facing a national backlash, Mr. Trump backed down somewhat, ordering the separation of families stopped. But his zero-tolerance policy remains, leaving the challenge of what to do with all the people the government is arresting.

Mr. Trump, who apparently fancies himself a big-ideas executive who can’t be bothered with the complexities of governing a nation, hit upon one of his typically “simple” solutions — skip the courts, forget due process, and just send people back. And just last week, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency decided to no longer bring detained immigrants from jail to court for hearings, but handle cases by video.

The answer to this country’s illegal immigration problem is not to ignore the laws that help keep us a free nation — that not just punish criminals but restrain government from treating people the very way Mr. Trump seeks to. Nor is the answer to keep politicizing this issue with the false and incendiary claim that Democrats favor open borders and gang violence.

The solution is for Congress to do its job — to address immigration, legal and illegal, in a comprehensive way, from increasing border security to charting a path to citizenship for the many illegal immigrants who have lived honest, productive lives here to reforming visa rules and even to looking at what America can do to help stabilize the parts of the world from which people are fleeing.

The solution, too, lies in bipartisan compromise — not the false compromise House Republicans couldn’t even achieve among themselves, but one that has Republicans and Democrats solve this issue in spite of a far-right GOP wing and a president whose only interest seems to be in continuing to stoke the anti-immigrant flames for political gain.

The answer, in short, lies in living up to America’s ideals, every day of the year. That’s not simple. It’s hard work. But it’s what freedom really looks like.

The Albany Times Union