Apollo 11 and immigration

Making the impossible happen

America recently celebrated with pride the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It was an opportunity to step back and recognize the incredible achievements made possible by NASA’s team of men and women who exhibited ingenuity, determination and cooperation.

Landing and walking on the moon inspired a generation of children to make their own “giant leap for mankind” by falling in love with science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which today we refer to as STEM education.

On July 19, St. Mary Catholic Schools’ STEM Club in Neenah held a “Fly In” event for youth to mark the Apollo 11 anniversary. While attending the event, one sensed that space and aeronautics are still as appealing to youth as they were in the late 1960s and ’70s.

In describing the impact of the Apollo 11 flight, Greg Cheslock, St. Mary STEM Club coordinator, who was entering his freshman year at St. Mary’s 50 years ago, said that it not only captured the attention of Americans, but the entire world.

“Every country, every government official pretty much threw their differences aside that one day when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon,” said Cheslock. “It was a big event. Not just for our country, but the entire world. It’s too bad that feeling didn’t keep.”

That feeling of unity and pride in America, which everyone rallied around during and after Apollo 11, seems as distant today as the moon. Instead, political divisions have fractured our sense of solidarity. But shouldn’t this nation be able to overcome its differences and point our energies into one direction that seeks to find the common good? We did it 50 years ago.

For example, immigration has long been a divisive political issue. Lawmakers have never been able to agree on a reasonable solution. Instead, a questionable response has been to curtail illegal immigration by building a wall along our southern border, followed by separating families seeking amnesty.

While a barrier preventing entry sounds practical, it does not address the root causes of people crossing borders. This is where a different kind of American ingenuity needs to happen. If scientists can find a way to launch a rocket carrying astronauts 238,000 miles to the moon and back, can’t lawmakers find a way to craft a foreign policy that eases the border crisis by making life in our neighboring countries economically sound?

A life without fear of death or starvation is all most immigrants want. It is a human tragedy and a sin against God that the best response our leaders can offer is to figuratively shoo them away. Just as people around the world threw their differences aside to cheer on our Apollo 11 astronauts, our nation and its leaders should shed their political differences and find ways to work with countries like Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to address their economic problems which force people to flee.

A recent U.S. leader once argued that it was time for the U.S. and its neighbors, “particularly our neighbor to the south, (to) have a better relationship than we’ve ever had.”

“Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems,” offered the former U.S. president. His name? Ronald Reagan.

Buzz Aldrin wrote on July 23 that 50 years ago, the Apollo 11 astronauts “were ready to come home. … What we did not know was that unity on Earth from the landing was probably the big event.”

Would that this unity could again become “the big event,” bringing us together to resolve the inhumane treatment of immigrants and promote the common good that our God desires for all his people.