The tipping point is here. The time has come. In all political and social movements there comes a moment when the confluence of events is so powerful they just can’t be ignored or dismissed. The long-running effort for comprehensive immigration reform is one such movement and its moment of truth is at hand.
Our immigration system is badly broken and a majority of Americans support reform. The White House supports it. Most Democrats and some Republicans are prepared to vote for it. Only a vocal minority oppose it. Yet the question remains whether President Obama will make a forceful and public push for reform legislation, and whether Congress has the guts to pass it.
If they needed any indication that the time to act is upon us, they will get it on Sunday when tens of thousands of people from across the country – citizens and immigrants alike – descend on the National Mall in Washington in a show of support for immigration reform aptly named the March for America.
Americans of every hue and political stripe will be demanding action on yet another item that has languished for too long at a time when it is in the interest of every American to pass immigration reform. The participants strongly believe that our immigration system is horribly out of step with our interests and our values. They want legislation that addresses the myriad problems in the current immigration laws. Mostly, they want immigrants here without papers to get them and families that are separated by a heartless bureaucracy to be united. They are so frustrated with the lack of action that they are doing that most American of traditions: they are assembling to petition their government.
Those of us who have been in the trenches of the battles for immigration reform, who have listened and taken part in the endless debates, fought against the mischaracterizations of the issues and the demonization of immigrants, are wondering just what more will it take for Congress to move.
We have built public support across the political spectrum and with groups as varied as Evangelical Christians to leaders in law enforcement. We have worked with members of Congress to craft legislation and with the White House to make reform more politically palatable. The solution is comprehensive, elegant and fair to all: it ends illegal immigration as we know it and does so through a combination of border security, cracking down on bad actor employers, and requiring undocumented immigrants to get legal, pay taxes, and study English. We’ve done everything that needed to be done; said and heard everything that needed to be said. And yet we, along with millions of Americans who desperately want their leaders to solve problems rather than score points, are still waiting.
How can this be? Why are we still stuck in this political gridlock? This is an issue that benefits virtually every American: it will create millions of taxpayers generating billions of dollars in new revenue while making our nation safer and enforcing the rule of law. Immigration has the potential to be a legislative and political win for the Obama administration and the Democratic-led Congress at a time when they could really use a win. Latinos who care very much about immigration issues are the new swing voters and are in the position to make or break key battleground House and Senate races by either showing up at the polls or staying home during the midterm elections this fall. This is a no brainer – although apparently not in Washington.
Republicans have a huge amount to gain by supporting reform, too. Rather than grow their party and bring in new Latino voters, Republicans have steadily lost ground with the fastest growing group of new voters in the nation. Latinos, like most immigrants, represent core American values of hard work, family and the pursuit of the American dream. Unlike many around the world, these fine people love America – and want to be Americans. Why Republicans are playing politics now with this issue is as puzzling as the Democrats’ reluctance to tackle this issue head-on.
Courage and a sense of history are in short supply in Washington right now. President Obama, follow your heart and do what you truly want to do on immigration reform – and in the process fulfill a campaign promise. Republicans, stop the gamesmanship, work with Democrats to solve a tough problem and stand with immigrants who embody and expand American exceptionalism by virtue of their love for this country.
The people who will be in Washington on Sunday will be marching behind a banner that reads “Change Takes Courage.” By their faith in democracy they are showing that they have the courage. Let’s hope our elected leaders in Washington muster up some of their own.