Viewing the Statue of Liberty

Two women viewing the Statue of Liberty from a tour boat in New York City.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

First of all, Merry Christmas Eve, and I truly hope you find what you want under the tree tomorrow, or wherever else your life takes you. It’s good to be here, in the United States, isn’t it? I started off my 25-plus year Air Force career as an ICBM launch officer — the guys (then all male) with their “finger on the button” in nuclear weapons. I spent my crew time, as it is called, at F.E. Warren AFB, just up the road in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The actual missile “field” of then-200 ICBMs covered some 19,000 square miles, including several sites in northern Colorado. With my fellow launch officers, I’d stop in Nunn, to pick up (if there were any left) a few of the world’s greatest, and perhaps largest, cinnamon rolls on the way to our launch control center (LCC), deep under the Colorado prairie. 

Like all my fellow missileers, I spent my fair share of holidays inside the cement shell that made up the LCC. We’d always do our regular super-secret work, but on holidays there was usually a slightly nicer meal sent down from the topside cook, and we’d hear the president’s holiday thank-you note to those sitting alert worldwide. I recall thinking that I was, at that very minute, protecting the country that I deeply love, as I looked at the missile status display before me. But holidays on alert were mostly like any other day, staring across the globe at our adversaries.

Which, of course, brings me to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

recent story in Colorado Politics noted that the mayor had signed onto a letter, signed by dozens of mayors across the nation, to ask the Trump administration to roll back the dramatic increase in the fees charged to would-be immigrants trying to (legally) enter the United States. Apparently, the Trump folks feel it’s just too darn inexpensive to petition for citizenship, and so they plan to raise those fees from $640 (already a big chunk of change for folks who often arrive at our borders with little more than the clothes on their backs and their, you know, yearning to be free) all the way up to $1,170, an increase of 83%. They also want to increase what it costs kids to come here under DACA, from a fee of $495 to one of $765, plus a bonus fee of another $50 in some cases.

Hancock and the other mayors are upset. In a statement, Hancock said, “Denver joins our fellow diverse and welcoming communities across the nation in demanding that access to citizenship and other immigration benefits not be cut off for low-income and working-class immigrants,” 

Now, I can almost hear the voices of my good friends from the right, arguing that we are basically full, as a nation, and that it isn’t unreasonable to charge whatever we want for those who want to move here. Ok, fine. But I’d gently ask my friends what type of nation we want to be? Do we want to be Ronald Reagan’s shining city on a hill, or Donald Trump’s American carnage?

It was my good fortune to be born in the US. Growing up the son of a university professor and dean, I had to overcome, well, not much. I didn’t have to walk to school in a neighborhood consumed by gang violence. I didn’t have to worry about my right to free speech and to worship, or not worship, as I choose. Now, I understand that for many Americans, many of those challenges still exist in various forms. The difference is, I posit, that our nation has a goal of being the shining city on a hill for all the world to see, and desire.

I’m not sure how much it should cost to try to become an American. Perhaps there could be some sort of “sliding scale,” where those who are well off pay a higher fee than those who walked in bare feet toward freedom. Perhaps there should be no fee at all, or perhaps it should be higher. All I know is that this action by the Trump administration, coupled with the many other anti-immigrant actions and comments made therein, doesn’t paint a portrait of an open and welcoming America. 

When I sat alert, back in the early 1980s, I was always filled with a sense of pride in what I was doing. Sure, the constant testing (on which, not surprisingly, the minimum passing score was 100%) got old, and the long drives out to western Nebraska were not entirely fun. But when sitting at the console, in touch with U.S. military forces around the world, I had a sense that I was doing something very important — protecting a way of life that the Founders would applaud. And never once, while waiting for the order I hoped would never come, did I think “this country should make it harder to get in.” 

Merry Christmas, my dear readers. I hope the holiday is wonderful for you and yours. I’d only ask that you offer a kind thought to those who protect you from deep under our Colorado soil, and also a kind thought to those who dream of one day, being here with us. Happy Holidays.

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

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