|March 28, 2006|
A Nation of Immigrants, Once Again
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Wow. As the United States Senate is being dragged, kicking and screaming during this election year into the national debate over immigration, two remarkable events occurred.
First, the unexpected, enormous turnout at pro-immigrant demonstrations across the country this past weekend -- half a million in Los Angeles, and thousands more in Houston, Detroit, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Washington and many other American cities.
Second, and certainly not coincidentally, Monday night's 12-6, bipartisan vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee sending a comprehensive, compassionate and, yes, moral plan for immigration policy reform to the Senate floor. Makes you proud to be, well, an American.
The proposed legislation offers a hand to the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants and the possibility of granting them citizenship without forfeiting national security. It creates a guest worker program, includes additional visas for agricultural workers and nurses, and protects from prosecution churches and other humanitarian groups providing food and shelter to illegals. But it also doubles the size of the Border Patrol and calls for the creation of a "virtual" wall of high tech cameras, sensors and unmanned drones to patrol the boundary between the United States and Mexico.
This is just the beginning of what promises to be the continuation of a long, contentious and sometimes xenophobic debate. As South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham remarked after the committee vote, "The only thing that's off the table is inaction." (He's one of the four Republican committee members who voted yes.)
Amendments and counter-amendments will attempt to remove the more liberal aspects and stiffen regulation and enforcement. Other legislation will be proposed. There will be arguments, both shrill and reasonable, about illegals taking jobs and straining the welfare state. Some will continue to suggest deportation of all illegals, although it's estimated that, beyond the logistical and civil liberties nightmare, removal would cost $41.2 billion every year for five years, more than the entire budget of the Department of Homeland Security.
Whatever comes out of the Senate will have to be reconciled with the far more draconian legislation passed by the House of Representatives in December. It makes illegal immigrants felons rather than putting them, as they are now, in violation of civil law, and has no guest worker provision.
Nonetheless, the judiciary committee's action is a fine start. It proves that an appreciation of freedom and the many different nationalities and ethnicities that built this fractious republic isn't dead. Yet.
Most of the committee bill's language comes from legislation jointly proposed by Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy. Key within it is a plan that would offer current illegal immigrants a difficult but fair, eleven-year path to citizenship. As described by Michelle Mittelstadt in the Dallas Morning News, "Illegal immigrants who pay a $1,000 fine and pass a criminal background check could apply for a visa, good for six years, allowing them to work here legally and travel out of the country. They later could apply for legal permanent residence, and ultimately citizenship, if they pay an additional $1,000, show English and civics proficiency, and make good on all back taxes... Illegal immigrants couldn't cut in front of the more than 3 million 'green card' applicants who have obeyed the law, remaining overseas while their paperwork is processed."
All of this brings to mind "A Nation of Immigrants," a book by Ted Kennedy's older brother that first came out in the late fifties. It was reissued shortly after Jack Kennedy's death. "Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible," Kennedy (or his speechwriters) wrote. "With such a policy, we can turn to the world and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience... The immigrants we welcome today and tomorrow will carry on this tradition and help us to retain, reinvigorate, and strengthen the American spirit."
I think of two friends, one Polish, the other Canadian, each of whom recently became United States citizens, each of them proud of their accomplishment and looking ahead to the future, to what this nation can give them and vice versa, etc.
I think of the place I live, Manhattan, and the energy and passion that built and drives it, fueled by the spirit of so many diverse cultures; and even my small upstate New York hometown, originally a Native American village, which over the years has been enhanced by the Irish, Germans, Italians and many others who came to build and work and stayed. Hey, there's even a Mexican restaurant there now -- a real one. None of this "yo quiero Taco Bell" mierda.
And I think of a man named Alberto Mora, former general counsel to the United States Navy. As recently reported in The New Yorker magazine, he left the Pentagon in the wake of a battle lost against the Bush administration and "what he saw as a disastrous and unlawful policy of authorizing cruelty toward terror suspects" at Guantanamo. "I was appalled by the whole thing," he said. "It was clearly abusive, and it was clearly contrary to everything we were ever taught about American values."
A conservative, Mora is the son of immigrants, a Cuban father and Hungarian mother, each an exile from Communist regimes. He learned his values from them. In The New Yorker, Jane Mayer wrote, "Mora's first memory, as a young child, is of playing on the floor in his mother's bedroom, and watching her crying as she listened to a report on the radio declaring that the 1956 anti-Communist uprising in Hungary had been crushed. 'People who went through things like this tend to have very strong views about the rule of law, totalitarianism, and America,' Mora said."
We need those views, those truths that, lately, have been somewhat less than self-evident. In "A Nation of Immigrants," John F. Kennedy wrote. "Immigration reminds every American, old and new, that... American society is a process, not a conclusion."
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Copyright 2006 Messenger Post Newspapers
Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes a weekly column for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York.
Interested in contributing an article to BuzzFlash? Click here for more info.
Articles in the BuzzFlash Contributor section are posted as-is. Given the timeliness of some Contributor articles, BuzzFlash cannot verify or guarantee the accuracy of every word. We strive to correct inaccuracies when they are brought to our attention.