There’s a sane and sensible way to make America great again. Tear down walls and bring in immigrants. There’s a way to make the Scranton/Wilkes Barre area strong and vibrant again. Welcome immigrants and minorities and foster their success.

Choosing to be anti-immigrant, or prejudiced against minorities, is a community- destroying option. The future of NEPA depends on our communicating what a great place this is to live, work and raise a family. And the families that will want to move here will be made up more and more by people of color and/or recent immigrants.

In the United States, the Greatest Generation and baby boomers grew up and lived in a world that was more than 70 percent white. Gen Xers and millennials live in a world that is already 40 percent minority. Only 53 percent of children in the United States are white (they constituted 70 percent in 1990), and 23 percent of children are Latino. White children will no longer be the majority of kids well before 2020, and by about 2040, the country will be a “minority majority” country.

‘Rough place for us’
When I moved north from Philadelphia in 2010, I was surprised at how many in my circles did not know that the University of Scranton was a Jesuit school. But I was even more shocked at the comments of my Latino and African-American friends: “Father, that’s a rough place for us up there. I’d be afraid to visit.” Another said, “Do you think my little girl would be safe in Scranton?” These folks see the area around Temple University in North Philadelphia as a safer place for their children than the lush green lands of the Lackawanna Valley. That’s a big problem.

We need to realize that immigrants built this valley. Around 1900, this was one of the most diverse and immigrant-friendly places in the nation. It included German, Irish, Polish, Italian and Slavic peoples who poured in and pulled coal from the ground and powered the industrial growth of our country in the 20th century. No smart or sane people built walls to keep them out. In Scranton, the “Know-Nothings” NINA (No Irish Need Apply) signs of the 1840s and 1850s disappeared faster than beer on St. Patrick’s Day. The “Know-Nothings” also hated Catholics and other minorities of their day. But we’re still here and they’re long gone.

Those who came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s fail to realize our country has often had a percentage of immigrants. From 1900 to 1935, more than 10 percent were foreign-born. In 1970, that had dipped to 5 percent. At 11 or 12 percent today, we are well below the peak 15 percent of 1910. The idea that immigrants are “taking over” our country is just plain wrong, if not an outright lie. The oft-trumpeted assertion that the U.S. is being overrun by Mexicans is ridiculous. Asians migrate here at a higher rate.

The Pew Foundation reports the past decade was one of “net zero” migration from Mexico. Many in Mexico want to keep their families together and are finding more job opportunities at home. Fewer job opportunities in the United States and harsher enforcement of immigration laws have virtually eliminated the need for discussion about a wall on the border.

Karthnick Ramakrishnan, in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, warns, “While some may cheer the net outflow of Mexican migrants, they should be careful what they wish for. We have long known that a growing U.S. economy depends on immigrant workers in various sectors. Mexican immigrants contribute heavily to our state and local economies, especially in construction, agriculture and various service sector jobs. With the wave of baby boom retirements growing each year, demand for immigrant workers will only increase.”

I was at an Epiphany celebration in Scranton on Jan. 6. I met a young Mexican American woman in her early 20s. She’s bright, vivacious and filled with a winning personality that would benefit any organization looking for a good employee. But she’s a “dreamer” and her parents brought her to Scranton when she was 2 years old. The possibilities of her getting a college education are slim to none. In Pennsylvania, the dreamers, including illegal immigrants who came into the country before the age of 16, have been here continuously for five years and are under age 35, cannot get in-state tuition. Twenty other states, among them New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware, help dreamers get college educations. The area could use more dreamers. But why would she stay here if we fail to provide her opportunity? And where will she raise her future children?

Threatening messages
The messages we send to the Latino peoples of this hemisphere do not bode well for the future. Recent actions of the Obama administration are particularly offensive.

The Jesuit Conference of the United States calls for us to stand up for those being harshly deported. We deplore the recent upsurge in raids that crush Central Americans seeking safety from horrific strife in their countries. “These raids are being implemented despite the fact that the northern triangle of Central America is undergoing a human rights crisis that has resulted in the forced migration of hundreds of thousands of Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran citizens” (Jesuit Conference, 2016).

Central America is unraveling, due in large part to the insatiable desire for illegal drugs American citizens demand. Instead of helping those fleeing danger and violence, we send them back. Draconian raids divide and destroy families. Women and children suffer disproportionately.

Please let Washington know you disapprove of these actions.

Remember, the one many of us worship as Our Lord started off his life as an immigrant. Do you really want to keep Jesus, Maria and Jose out of our town?