Viewpoint: Native Americans recognized on Columbus Day

Karen Rubin
Karen Rubin, Columnist

Each year Columbus Day reminds us that everyone who isn’t an indigenous American is an immigrant or a descendant from one.

This year President Joe Biden became the first to officially proclaim Indigenous Peoples’ Day, coinciding with the celebration of Columbus Day, declaring, “For generations, federal policies systematically sought to assimilate and displace Native people and eradicate Native cultures. Today, we recognize Indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society. We also recommit to supporting a new, brighter future of promise and equity for tribal nations — a future grounded in tribal sovereignty and respect for the human rights of Indigenous people in the Americas and around the world.”

And even in his proclamation of Columbus Day celebrating the pride Italian Americans have in the explorer and the “lasting contributions to our nation,” including as “educators, health care workers, scientists, first responders, military service members, and public servants, among so many other vital roles,” he acknowledged “the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on tribal nations and indigenous communities.”

Biden, ever the cheerleader for America despite brutal evidence we are hardly “exceptional” or even good and not just merely entitled, declared, “It is a measure of our greatness as a nation that we do not seek to bury these shameful episodes of our past — that we face them honestly, we bring them to the light, and we do all we can to address them. For Native Americans, Western exploration ushered in a wave of devastation: violence perpetrated against Native communities, displacement and theft of tribal homelands, the introduction and spread of disease, and more. On this day, we recognize this painful past and recommit ourselves to investing in Native communities, upholding our solemn and sacred commitments to tribal sovereignty, and pursuing a brighter future centered on dignity, respect, justice, and opportunity for all people.”

Significantly, Biden is working to correct both injustices done to indigenous peoples and to immigrants.

On Friday, when he became the first president to proclaim Indigenous Peoples’ Day, he signed proclamations restoring Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante to their size before Trump decimated them, opening the lands to rapacious pillage by extraction industries.

These places are sacred to indigenous peoples and hold important archaeological sites, and Biden demonstrated respect for their culture and heritage. It is significant that Biden appointed the first Native American to a cabinet position. Indeed, Secretary Deb Haaland became the first Native American to lead the Interior Department, the agency which has always regulated and oppressed indigenous people.

Biden is also working to correct the injustice of a dysfunctional immigration system that has resulted in 11.4 million undocumented immigrants (who Trump and his xenophobic ilk brand “illegal aliens”) and calls finally for rational comprehensive immigration reform.

Significantly, codifying Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) would address one-fourth of the undocumented immigrant problem, providing legal status for as many as 3.6 million people, brought here as children, who have grown up in the United States and only know the U.S. as their home.

But in July, Federal Judge Andrew Hanen in Southern Texas ordered the Biden administration to immediately stop granting new applications under DACA, declaring former President Obama’s 2012 executive order was “created in violation of the law and whose existence violates the law.” Biden vowed to appeal the decision, but pushed Congress to finally codify legalization for Dreamers with a path to citizenship and comprehensive immigration reform.

As for the tired argument of “amnesty” for illegal behavior – former President Reagan gave amnesty to to 2.7 million undocumented immigrants.

As for the argument that granting legal status to these people will only encourage more illegal immigration (as the U.S. faces a crisis overflow of people escaping poverty, disease, climate disasters, violence), we have better tools to address this – from drones to surveil to monitoring ankle bracelets.

What is necessary – and always was – is investing in more immigration judges and social workers rather than a Dark Ages border wall.

Another reminder: 30 percent of the undocumented immigrants came in through airports from Europe and Asia, not the southern border, and overstay tourist or student visas.

Biden is getting it from all sides over the southern border crisis, where tens of thousands of Haitians have flowed up not from Haiti, but from South America where they have lived for some years after the last disasters in their island country, the poorest in the Americas. Biden is being criticized for sending the majority back to Haiti, based on the fact they haven’t lived there recently, the island just had another earthquake and is in political chaos after the assassination of their president.

What liberals aren’t processing, though, is that the Biden administration has kept several thousand, but can’t broadcast it unless it be taken as an invitation. And despite the fact that thousands are being immediately deported, Trump is lying that Biden has released 17,000 who are free to roam. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

But here’s the thing: While Republicans are salivating at having the southern border as a weapon against Biden, in this as in everything else, they not only have no solution, but obstruct the solution that Biden is proposing. They actually don’t want to solve anything; they only want to be able to attack Biden and the Democrats for failures to accomplish anything – and it works every time.

And here’s the irony: Republicans are bristling at the “help wanted” signs that have restricted employers’ ability to increase business (and profits), while howling that in this job market, people aren’t willing to work for sub-living wages and conditions, with no health benefits.

Immigration has in the past and would again solve that problem, but Republicans prefer to go the route of forcing women to bear babies for cheap labor as if they were merely brood mares.

Biden (who laid out his immigration policy in detail during the 2020 campaign, has another idea and is making an economic argument for legalizing the status of “unauthorized” immigrants:

“Immigrants have made innumerable contributions to American business and society. However, current law confines millions of them to a life in the shadows, without the rights to be fully economically engaged or have access to foundational social protections. Such treatment inflicts harms on unauthorized immigrants themselves and their families—many of which include U.S. citizens and non-citizen legal residents—as well as to the broader economy.

“Though some argue that increased take-up of social programs would generate a substantial fiscal cost to the government, the productivity of the newly legalized would likely increase, which would benefit all in the United States by expanding economic output. Further, the ensuing increase in wages and compliance with tax requirements would increase their contributions to public sector finances, and their children would benefit as well. Allowing currently unauthorized workers to engage fully in the labor force would not only benefit the immigrants and their families, but society as a whole.” (

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