Coast Guard Cadet Confronts Immigration

By Quinn Boyes
Boston University News Service

James Diddell (Photo courtesy of James Diddell)

BOSTON — Cadet 2nd Class James Diddell, an officer-in-training and student of the United States Coast Guard, is well aware of the personal and political issues surrounding immigrants in America today.

“The Coast Guard works hand-in-hand with the INS,” Diddell explains over the phone from the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. “We do our best to ensure that everybody has an even playing ground and that those who come into this country illegally don’t have an advantage over those who come here legally, seeking a better life.”

Diddell, a shade under 6 feet tall with light blue eyes and short brown hair, has family history deeply rooted in American soil. His father works as a professional engineer, and his mother is a supplier of orthopedic limbs and braces to the physically disabled. The 21-year-old cadet, born and raised in Westfield, N.J., traces his lineage all the way back to the earliest European settlers.

“My dad’s side of the family came over on the Mayflower,” he says. “There were two of them. One of our relatives was an indentured servant, and the other one was fleeing religious persecution.”

His mother’s side of the family — half-Lebanese, half-Irish — immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s.

The issue of immigration in America is much more complex than it once was, with roughly 10.8 million unauthorized immigrants living and working in the U.S., according to a study published last year by the Department of Homeland Security.

Immigration is a hot-button topic for legislators at the state and federal levels. In recent years, it has become a subject that is discussed and debated during presidential elections, with both President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain pledging to take a hard line against illegal immigration during their campaigns for office in 2008.

Diddell supports the rights of those seeking a better life for themselves or their families, but he also stresses the importance of following the proper channels. When it comes to people trying to circumvent the law and enter the country illegally, he is matter-of-fact: “I don’t think we should be making their lives easier.”

In 2010, Arizona passed a statute that allowed police officers to detain suspected illegal immigrants if they were unable to produce valid forms of identification to prove their citizenship status. Critics of the decree claimed that it encouraged racial profiling and discriminatory tactics against minorities living in Arizona. In July of that year, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that blocked the provisions of the law.

Diddell generally supports any state government’s right to enforce immigration policy as it sees fit. With regards to the Arizona law, he is not as concerned with its constitutionality as others. “There’s a fine line between having someone carrying their driver’s license and putting a gold star on their shoulders,” he argues, making a comparison to the policies enacted by Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.

Diddell understands the important contribution that immigrants have made to the country whose borders he is now pledged to protect.

“We’re a nation built upon immigration,” he says. “The statue of liberty has inscribed on it: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…’ and I agree with that. If people do it the right way — seeking political asylum, a better life — then I completely support that.”

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