For some, the term "freedom rider" feels ominous. It sounds like dark-clad horsemen galloping through sleepy hamlets in the middle of the night.
The Freedom Riders visiting Salt Lake City last Thursday, however, were more about cheers and tears than about fears. They had come to town in a caravan to throw the plight of American immigrants into high relief. In a rally reminiscent of the Worker Party gatherings of the 1960s, speakers spoke about human dignity, fairness and opportunity.
One point seemed especially cogent. Many American citizens would like to see the government crack down hard on illegal immigrants and send them packing. The point the Freedom Riders drove home was this: It is now too late to turn back the clock. There are not enough funds, not enough agents and not enough willpower to export or even detain the millions of undocumented workers. At this juncture, all we can control is our attitude toward them and our own future.
Driving them out is not an option.
Driving them to the periphery of society will make things worse. So many undocumented do minimum wage jobs and do them conscientiously that marginalizing them would create a tremendous drag on America's economic recovery.
The chant of the Freedom Riders annoyed many purists, but it did ring true: We're here to stay.
Those who feel politics is about ideals will never give that notion the nod.
Those who see politics as the "art of the possible" realize the way to handle the situation is to get out in front of things and manage them. Giving a driver's license to an undocumented worker seems patently unfair. But it is also a form of registration that allows officials to monitor foreign nationals who have slipped into the country.
Offering education to the children of illegal aliens appears to be a monumental miscarriage of justice.
But education is the one way those children will be able to hoist themselves above the poverty level and our of the streets.
When it comes to immigration, idealogues want those who haven't properly qualified to be punished.
Common sense says that isn't going to happen.
The goal must to be make the best of a sticky situation. Those who care to point fingers have the right. And there is enough blame in the current debacle to go around: employers who don't check for citizenship, the lack of money to screen people coming in, the lack of will on the part of the American people to "defend their borders," wily coyotes on the borders, ruthless foreign leaders, the cost of tea in China, the man in the moon.
Indeed, it's a bad situation all around.
But now must be the time to make the best of it.