In our national body politic, we look to the Constitution as our brain, but the Declaration of Independence is our soul.
Among those ephemeral ideals that define who we are, Thomas Jefferson proclaimed it self-evident that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This proclamation does not end at the border. For centuries, we have shouted these truths from the rooftops, striving to be a beacon unto the world. So we should not be surprised when people in dire straits follow that beacon to our doorstep.
Whether pilgrims seeking escape from religious persecution or refugees from civil wars halfway around the globe, our American soul has always instructed us to welcome these newcomers.
In fact, King George III's obstruction of immigration laws and refusal to encourage immigration to the colonies was one of Jefferson's stated indictments against the crown.
This is a problem that feels all too familiar, with our broken immigration system resulting in chaos along the border while Congress refuses to act.
It may be easy to blame the Central American refugees for believing mistruths about legal permits for children, but desperate people often cling to dreams.
After all, not so long ago a generation of immigrants came to our nation on the promise that the streets were paved with gold. Now we see streets filled with protesters trying to block buses full of women and children looking for the American Dream.
There's nothing new in that, either. For as long as we've welcomed immigrants, skeptics and nativists have warned about newcomers bringing disease, stealing jobs and sullying our nation with foreign values.
Even Benjamin Franklin worried that German immigrants would be unable to assimilate and would "Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them."
So while some may look at the children on our borders and call them an illegal invasion, it is hard not to see in their hopeful eyes a reflection of those ancestors who once sailed the ocean in search of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Copyright Houston Chronicle. Distributed by the Associated Press.