Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Arizona"s New Immigration Law; The Tale of Two Soldiers

Yesterday CNN ran a story and video about Pfc Jose Medina, a Mexican born soldier in the United States Army about to be deployed to the Middle East. Medina was raised in Arizona- and came to the United States legally. He always told those who asked where he was from that he was a proud resident of Arizona.

That is, until now.

The new Arizona immigration law which gives law enforcement the power to ask anyone suspected of being in the country illegally to produce proof of citizenship or legal residency has Medina feeling wounded and ashamed of the state in which he grew to manhood.

His loyalty to his country remains unwavering.

In the video below he tells his story.

While watching Medina yesterday I thought about another soldier. His name was Thomas Coady; Thomas served in The Grand Army of The Republic- the union- during the Civil War. I first knew of Thomas when I went for a walk in The Cuyahoga Valley National Park, between Hudson and Peninsula, Ohio, about ten years ago. Near the welcome center was a graveyard, Mater Dolorosa Cemetery in the park itself. Walking around it I noticed all of the buried were Irish. On a later talk I had with a park ranger I was told that the Irish, who first came to dig and build the Ohio and Erie Canal in the early 19th Century, were buried here because they were Irish and they were Catholics; Hudson was a prosperous community of Congregationalists, many of whom were involved in the Underground Railroad. There was the first irony; white Protestants working to free black Southern runaway slaves, yet treating white immigrant Catholics like second class citizens.

But there was even more to the story when I got to Thomas Coady's grave, which he shared with his parents. His death occurred on April 27, 1865- weeks after Lee's surrender at Appomattox. I spent sometime finding out what happened to this man.

Digging around the internet I found that Thomas Coady was probably taken prisoner in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and was sent to hell on earth- the Confederate POW camp at Andersonville. He managed to survive, and was being shipped home along with 1,700 former prisoners on the steamship Sultana. The Sultana departed New Orleans, and made stops along the way, dropping off former prisoners along the way. She was already overloaded, with the prisoners and other Federal troops, and perhaps as many as 100 cabin passengers. By law her maximum capacity was 376, including crew. She probably held more than 2,000.

After leaving Memphis before midnight on April 26,1865 there was an explosion- the boilers that had been straining under the heavy load exploded, killing up to 1,900 people on board. No exact figure was ever determined because some bodies were never found.

And Thomas Coady, a man who fought for the Union, but was an outcast in his home state because of his ethnic background and religion, died that day as well.

I told Coady's story because its as relevant today as is that of PFC. Jose Medina- the more things change, the more they stay the same. We're told this mantra regarding the Arizona immigration law- it will not include racial profiling. To that I say...come on, get real. Who are the people who will be looked at, blond blue eyed guys who look like they could have been in ABBA?

I don't think so.

It takes a unique individual to decide to fight for one's country while feeling like an outcast in one's hometown or state. There are few like today's Jose Medina, or Thomas Coady of almost two centuries ago. How many of us would be willing to make the same sacrifice if we or are loved ones were the veiled target of a law that in reality subjects particular elements of our people to undo scrutiny?

The United States must protect its borders, and it must reform immigration policy. The Arizona law signed last week is a step back to another century.

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