WILL WINTER ’18
As the president sets the stage to begin the process of implementing his executive orders designed to curtail the number of deportations for some three million undocumented people, the Republican Party is gearing up for a showdown. Their anger and series of warnings to the administration is, in many ways, an expression of outrage over the imperial presidency. The Mitch McConnell’s and John Boehner’s within the Beltway feel as though Congress needs to be the one to act on such pivotal matters as reforming what all can concede is a broken immigration system.
The truth of the matter is that Congress is not acting on immigration reform. It’s being held hostage of any chance of meaningful change by a band of opportunists intent on politicizing what could be one of the great accomplishments of this decade. And sadly, it is not the politicians who are suffering by preventing a vote on this defining issue of the day, but an estimated 11.7 million people in this country who, for all intents and purposes, are as American as you and me.
Would the status quo of political stalemate over immigration in Washington still be true if the great majority of these undocumented citizens were from Europe and not Mexico and parts of Central America? I really doubt it. There is a tinge of racism that unfortunately creeps along with this debate over who has the right to live in this country and who does not. However, America’s controversial history with immigration is not rooted in the context of today’s debate, but the migration of the Irish in the 1840s and, subsequently, the Italians at the turn of the century. These were the first ethnic groups who willingly traveled to this country and experienced the cruelness and inhumane treatment by those who felt they were more American simply because they had lived here longer.
Yet, the Brahmins and Yankee elites who castigated the Irish were themselves descendants of immigrants. However, as they rose to positions of power and success, they had lost touch with that sentiment, only to try to close the door on those who wanted to discover that same success for themselves and their families.
As someone who is a descendent of Irish Catholic immigrants, I have heard many stories from my own grandfather over the moral intrusion of treating immigrants as less than any other American. I hope that the leaflets that bared the acronym “NINA” in store windows in the latter part of the nineteenth century, which prevented my grandfather’s grandparents from obtaining well-paying jobs and marginalized them from the rest of society, does not become the backdrop to the new emotional norm over immigration in this country.
This brings us to today’s debate. It is clear the GOP and some on the fringes of the Democratic Party lack a certain perception on this matter and appear devoid of compassion for those trying to make it in this country, but cannot seem to find the proper mechanism to gain legitimate status. In its truest form, this is a debate over freedom and enslavement, and right and wrong. The Republican Party, which is the party of Lincoln, needs to see and ultimately harness the moral imperative for passing substantive immigration reform, as those who champion freedom in this country will ultimately with its passage.
As a country, we have an opportunity to get immigration right. We cannot afford to have fringe groups on both sides of the political spectrum ignite a xenophobic crusade against immigrants, which has long been the case when new people arrive in this county.
This should not be a matter of political calculation or grandstanding, but as a question of being on the right or wrong side of history. The GOP, although much different today and less attuned to the problems minorities face, was the party that led the fight against slavery and played a key role in desegregating the South during the civil rights era. Surely, this is a party that can see the moral necessity to correcting a failed system that lacks the inclusiveness and fairness that runs against the fibers of American values.
This is not to say that all people living here undocumented should have an automatic right to stay. Those with substantial criminal records and those with violent pasts should not be included in this argument. However, creating a system for those who have worked hard and have raised children in this country to learn English, pay their back-taxes, and be sent to the back of the line to gain citizenship is not only the right thing to do, but the best thing to do for this country.
In summary, we are ultimately a country of immigrants. We neither have the right nor the moral authority to tell anyone who wants to work hard and be a productive citizen that they cannot live in this country. More importantly, it is the wave of immigrants throughout this country’s history who have contributed to its economic, social, and military success and, in turn, fueled that beacon of light, which makes us a unique nation and the stalwart of democratic values. The question is will that beacon of light endure as this debate intensifies?