Weekly Immigration Update: Fourth of July - Why Immigration Reform Is Our Patriotic Duty, Now

This Fourth of July weekend the Statue of Liberty – the most recognizable symbol of the “American Dream” – was once again made fully available to visitors.  It is now as before, "From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome," as Emma Lazarus once wrote in a poem now engraved inside the monument.  Sadly, this is not the reality faced by most immigrants today (regardless of whether they are “legal” or “illegal”) – particularly Mexican and Hispanic immigrants.  We can only hope that the spirit of the founding fathers and the spirit that led us to erect a “Statue of Liberty” prevail in Washington, D.C. in the coming months, and an entire overhaul of the U.S. immigration system is enacted.

In the same patriotic spirit, this weekend, 237 soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen were sworn in to become American citizens in Iraq. They are from 59 countries, mostly Mexico, the Philippines and Iraq. As he gave the keynote remarks of the ceremony, Vice President Biden noted that caring for troops abroad and at home is the “sacred obligation” of this nation. Yet many of the soldiers dying for our country today, many of those who were sworn in this weekend, come from “mixed status” families and – in addition to the stress caused by their professional responsibility – have to worry about adjusting their own immigration status or the possible deportation of a loved one.  This added stress will continue until the passage of immigration reform legislation.  

According to the military, with this ceremony, roughly 3000 service members will have become naturalized citizens. But what of the service members who are legal residents but not yet citizens? They remain in waiting.  U.S. legal residents who are not yet citizens and happen to be of Mexican origin can take a bullet – as Americans – because of, and to defend, the American ideals that they believe in but ironically they cannot take a seat at a desk in an agency of the federal government to fight for those same freedoms in a different capacity.  I think our founding fathers would be appalled if they witnessed such a double-standard.

And what of soldiers' families? It is a sad irony that in addition to the fight these soldiers endure on the field, they must also suffer the lack of due process often afforded to their families by the country they serve; or have family that cannot come out of the shadows; and if they have family that is “doing things right” and “waiting in line” to be joined with them legally in the U.S., they must endure years of being processed through an unfairly costly and unfairly broken immigration system.   

In his speech, Vice President Biden invoked the Statue of Liberty’s famous inscription:

 “Give me your tired your poor,” very accurately adding, “to be honest I’m not so sure that its legendary inscription is applicable to this group here today, because when I look at the men and women sitting out in front of me here, I’m having a hard time because I don’t see them in terms of tired, poor or huddled.” If I had to write an inscription, he added, "I would say give me your best, your brightest and your bravest. Give me your warriors your heroes who will enhance our great nation and strive to keep her free."

The key to understanding the immigration issue is the last point - immigrants are of all colors, from all creeds and all regions, and they are everything from agricultural workers, to service employees, to some of the most talented lawyers, scientists, and entrepreneurs in the world.  To America’s great fortune, many would like to be here.  Additionally, all the polling data demonstrates that a resounding majority of American voters side with immigrants on the need to fix the broken immigration system.  Only 3% of voters polled in swing states blamed immigrants for the problems caused by the broken immigration system – while over 2/3 blamed the U.S. Congress and federal government (presumably for its inaction on this front).

At a time when our economy has shrunk over 5%, we need the best and the brightest here; we need them to create jobs here to help us through this economic crisis. 

Biden went on: “There’s always room for more Americans, always room for more Americans. It’s the lifeblood of our country.  You know, over 50 countries represented here today, men and women, black and Asian, Hispanics.”

Per the press pool:
Biden went on to recount a story from when he was in Kosovo. Milosevic had just capitulated, he said, and he had a Kosovar driver who was “very proud to drive a United States Senator around.”  They headed out over a rutted and muddy road, and they saw a lot of construction. “America, America” the driver said, pointing to all the construction activity.  Then at a checkpoint they came upon a female colonel, a black captain, a white sergeant and a Hispanic private, Biden said. “And I pointed and I said, no – there’s America, that’s America and until you understand it here, you’ll never be free.”

Unfortunately there are many in our country today and in the halls of Congress who still do not understand Vice President Biden’s point.  Just last week, 50 Democratic members of Congress voted for an amendment for greater enforcement of the overwhelmingly discredited E-verify program in appropriations legislation.  If their interest is rule of law, then we hope they recognize the need to step up and fix the broken immigration system.

As President Obama stated on July 4, the spirit of our founding fathers is one that, “we are called to show once more. We are facing an array of challenges on a scale unseen in our time.”  He went on to say that, “Meeting these extraordinary challenges will require an extraordinary effort on the part of every American. And that is an effort we cannot defer any longer.”  Unfortunately, of all the challenges he mentioned – health care, climate change, the economy, even dependence on oil – not once did he mention the broken immigration system that affects so many millions of Americans today.

I have no doubt of the President’s genuine desire and commitment to passing immigration reform, but I do hope that his calls to action and his call for an “extraordinary effort on the part of every American,” will ring again for immigration reform.  Because unlike the other reforms mentioned, immigration reform will serve as an immediate net gain to the U.S. economically, culturally, and to a great extent, the moral authority of America depends on it.  

Make no mistake – immigration reform is urgent.  The broken immigration system affects all Americans.  If there is any doubt on anyone’s mind as to the urgency of reform, I would only highlight the fact that hate crimes against Hispanics (the group the media has associated the most with “illegal immigration”) have risen 40% over the past four years.  The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that that the number of hate groups targeting Latinos and immigrants has increased by 54% since 2000.

These are not just statistics:
- Luis Ramirez, a 25-year-old immigrant, was brutally beaten to death in July of last year by a group of teenagers in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania (several with a criminal record) who got off with a ridiculous 6 month sentence.  Friends of Ramirez have been told to get out of Shenandoah, "or you're gonna to be laying effin next to him." Ramirez was married to a native-born American and left a 1 year old daughter. 

- November 8, 2008, in Suffolk County, New York, 37-year-old Marcelo Lucero was going to visit a friend to watch a movie when he was brutally attacked and beaten to death for no apparent reason.  Originally from Ecuador, he had lived in this country for 16 years. 

- Less than a month later, two Ecuadorean brothers were assaulted by three men yelling anti-Latino slurs in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. One of the brothers, a business man who had lived in the U.S. for ten years, died as a result of his injuries. 

- Most recently, a Hispanic 9 year old girl and her father were brutally gunned down in front of their wife and mother by Minutemen followers who broke into their home in the middle of the night and claimed the family was part of a “Mexican gang.”

This is not a side of America that can be tolerated, much less encouraged by mainstream media and our own community.  And inaction on our part enables this kind of intolerance.  Hate has always been present. But passage of comprehensive immigration reform will undoubtedly take much of the air out of the growing balloon of hate and some of the most shocking displays of racism that we have seen in a generation.

It is not an option; it is a necessity for all Americans - for our soldiers, for our teachers, for our families, for our scientists, for our friends.  Make no mistake about it; fixing the broken immigration system is an urgent national challenge.  And to the naysayers, I repeat the words of President Obama on Independence Day: 

These naysayers have short memories. They forget that we, as a people, did not get here by standing pat in a time of change. We did not get here by doing what was easy. That is not how a cluster of 13 colonies became the United States of America.

We got here by doing the right thing, by fighting for a legacy greater than ourselves.