Comprehensive immigration reform legislation doesn't just sit in the Congress these days. It jumps through hoops. It contorts itself. It is being made fun of, the plaything of those who don't like such toys.
It is being bent backwards, burdened with impossibles, chaffed with amendments that mean it no good, all of which those who pray for reform are willing to bend their knees to.
The signs here stink.
To earn a path to legal status, the 11,000,000 "undocumented' are being asked to (1) wait 13 years, maybe 15 (2) not to even begin waiting until the "border" is proved (how ?) to be "90 percent secure" (3) to have to pass a test demonstrating proficiency in English (4) to pay all back taxes.
And this list represents only the Senate bill amendments that I have made note of. More await, and in the House others still.
This isn't reform at all. This is a legalistic way of saying "no" very cruelly.
How did this happen ? The goal is a simple one: eleven million "undocumented" people living in America should be allowed a path at least to legal residence if not full citizenship -- although denying them full citizenship seems pure pique.
What possible reason or moral failing is there that should shut the doors of America to them ? There isn't one. With two categories of exception -- more on these below -- the 11,000,000 should be recognized and welcomed as our fellow future Americans.
These folks live among us. Most of them work with us and for us. Many pay taxes, assuming they can somehow acquire a Social Security number. They differ from every other immigrant not at all -- and all of us, besides Native Americans, are immigrants (including the involuntary, America's slaves) or the descendants of such -- except in having broken our immigration laws.
So let's talk laws for a bit, OK ? But if we are to talk immigration law, we need go to the root : the long lasting era in which America welcomed, invited, even advertised for immigrants to come.
On the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty is written the welcoming words :
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
This welcome doesn't say "give me just some" or "give me only the Ph.D.'s." It doesn't say "send only the blue-eyed, or the Caucasian." The statue of Liberty welcomes all, indeed it beckons to them; invites them to come, all of them, all who would join our American experiment.
It is not an invitation unique in the history of human civilization, but it is uncommon enough.
It expresses the optimism that blossoms the American dream. Immigrants aren't just us; immigrants are what we as a nation are about. Immigrants are why we exist, why we prosper, why we change history and invent the future. And why other nations don't.
Immigrants from all over, and of all economic situations, add almost limitless diversity to our culture and to what we dream of. Limitlessness is as essential as immigration to what America is about and why our society of innovation has been the envy of all.
Somehow the national conversation about immigration has veered off course and away from the essentials.
So how did this happen ? Why do we need immigration laws at all (but for the two exceptions that I mentioned) ? With those exceptions we probably shouldn't have them. The only immigration law I support is to require newcomers to take the citizenship courses that we have long required. To learn what we are about as a nation of laws seems a worthy objective; and most newcomers are proud to learn it. Other than these courses, however, I say we should rely simply on our statue of Liberty verses.
But we haven't. Beginning just before World War I, significant segments of America recoiled at seeing hordes of immigrants coming to us from Southeast Europe and China. These folks were "not like us," it was said. And so quotas were legislated, so as -- it was asserted -- to preserve the Anglo-Saxon basics of American society and law.
Every immigration legislation since then has had some similar, culturally exclusionary objective. The immigration legislation now being debated by Congress proposes to shut the border with dark-skinned, Spanish-speaking Mexico. Not so the even longer border with clean, European, prosperous Canada !
To the cultural exclusion that informs our immigration laws, two more criteria have been added over time : an economic, class criterion -- "we don't need 19th Century laborers," says one correspondent of mine -- that favors Ph.D.'s and highly skilled technologists and doctors.
Nobody denies that technology experts are good. Or that doctors are good. But why don't we still believe that all manner of immigrants are good too ?
America was founded on optimism, on hope, on dreams of what could be built by people free to gave shape to their dreams. as long as our nation remained optimistic, we welcomed -- invited -- people to join with us and become part of us. After all, "all men are created equal," said one of our founding documents.
Now that optimism has shattered. many of us still share it, thank goodness; but many don't. many are afraid that the future will be worse than today; that people "not like us'; will somehow degrade us; that cultures not familiar to us must of necessity be inferior to us and that people who risk life and death to come here must become a burden to us, an incubus, because how could they not ? life is so difficult even for those of us who were born or grew up here. How can not be almost impossible for those who comer here penniless and without a green card ?
So many of us assume so -- pessimists we are -- and reject those who have risked the most and come to us with the least, except for their fortitude, courage, dreams, and aspirations.
Personally, I would place these people at the head of the list. I would make them heroes of immigration, heroes of Americanism. Who knows ? Among them may be -- probably is -- the next A. P. Giannini, Andrew Carnegie, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Madeline Albright, Albert Einstein, Johann von Neumann, Hakim Olajuwon, DJ Dubfire (Ali Shirazinia, from Iran), Cesar Chavez, Sam Yoon.
It really is that simple. And if the moral thing to do is not enough, remember: every immigrant is a consumer; consumers spend. Indeed, consumer spending comprises two-thirds of the entire American economy. Grow immigration, and you grow the economy. That simple.
And finally, the two exceptions that I mentioned. We do have a right to refuse those who have been convicted of crimes, assuming these would be crimes under our laws. And of course we must always bar entry to potential terrorists.
Protect our borders against those who would harm us. Welcome and invite everyone else.
Yes. THAT simple.