If you passed Max Acuna on the street or on your way to work, or any one of those hundreds of places where people cross paths every day, you wouldn’t give the smartly dressed 30-year-old a second look.
The married father of three - two boys and a girl - lives in the college town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He goes to work in the morning. He comes home to his family at night. And he pursues the American Dream with the same ardor of any of his neighbors.
But to hear Trump tell it, I’m supposed to be deathly afraid of Acuna or anyone who looks even remotely like him. He’s a native Mexican who was brought to the United States as a toddler, and lived, along with most of his family, undocumented, until he got his citizenship last summer.
During a primetime address Tuesday, Trump used the backdrop of the Oval Office to recapitulate the same tiresome talking points on the dangers of illegal immigration he’s been peddling since 2015. He used it to spin a grisly, fact-challenged argument that those who enter to country illegally are brutal killers and rapists just lying in wait to take American jobs and lives.
“Day after day, precious lives are cut short by those who have violated our borders. In California, an Air Force veteran was raped, murdered and beaten to death with a hammer by an illegal alien with a long criminal history. In Georgia, an illegal alien was recently charged with murder for killing, beheading and dismembering his neighbor,” Trump said as he spun out his grim fairy tale.
And while any murder is a tragedy no matter who commits it, the data pretty conclusively shows that those in the country illegally and who constitute only a small portion of the overall population commit crimes at a much lower rate than those who are native-born. The worst offense Acuna has ever committed, meanwhile, is a speeding ticket.
Nonetheless, it’s where we find ourselves as a nation, as a pointless and unnecessary government shutdown, inspired by one man’s seemingly compulsive need for an equally pointless and unnecessary wall at America’s southern border, grinds well past its third week.
Trump’s detour into the macabre glossed right over the story of Acuna and thousands of others, whose story is far more typical and, in its own way, more fundamentally reflective - save for the legal niceties - of the American immigrant experience.
Acuna, his mother, Rosaria, and his brother, Daniel, illegally entered the United States from Mexico in 1990. He could not say when his father, Jaime, entered the country. The family initially settled in Los Angeles before making their way to Pennsylvania.
He hasn’t been back to Mexico since. And, no, he hasn’t committed any crimes. And his English is probably better that yours.
Relief came with the Obama administration’s 2012 “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program, or DACA, which granted temporary legal status and work authorization to aliens who had been brought to the United States illegally as children and who met other criteria. He got his green card through marriage, and began the long journey to citizenship.
Max Acuna’s path to citizenship, which took more than five years and cost more than $20,000, ended with his taking the oath in June 2018. His parents and his brother are still working on obtaining theirs, he said.
Overshadowed by the light and the heat over the border wall is any sensible discussion of structural immigration reform, including what to do about the fate 1.7 million so-called “Dreamers” who are looking for a path to legal citizenship.
On Thursday, with negotiations at a standstill and Trump moving seemingly inexorably toward declaring a national emergency to get the wall built, Acuna said he wished the president could get a much-needed dose of perspective.
“When it comes to stuff about immigrants coming from the south,” [Trump] “just doesn’t know,” Acuna said. “He doesn’t talk with people like myself; why we’re here and what we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “He thinks we’re rapists and murderers, and taking jobs from Americans. It’s just not the case ... My parents came here because they wanted a better life.”
It’s a great sentiment - and one that rings true with any one of us who lays claim to an immigrant heritage. And it’s not one that Trump, his mind set on the political victory he thinks the wall will bring him, would ever heed.