The man handed us several crumpled $20 bills. "I would like to donate $200 to help a household worker or a day laborer go to Washington and speak for us," he said, turning to walk away. He was referring to the rally planned for March 21 in Washington, DC, for the purpose of raising awareness about the need to fix our nation's broken immigration system. We asked to get his name and nationality but he chose to remain anonymous: "Like many of us, without a name or country of origin, but ever present," was his response.
Men like the not-so-anonymous donor represent the voices and dreams of millions of hard-working, family-loving immigrants in America who face on a daily basis the horror of living in the shadows because they have come to this country without our government's authorization. Some may say the immigrant has brought it upon himself to have his family torn apart or live in hiding afraid to be apprehended and deported because he is here illegally. But even those who may wish these immigrants would go back to wherever it is they come from, I am sure we have all met at least one of them today and asked for their help in mowing our lawn, babysitting our children and our boss's children, taking care of Grandma's medication at the nursery home, or picking up one of the grocery bags. So why does America seem tone-deaf to the plight of human beings who are just like the rest of us? After all, if we really think about it, modern-day immigrants are just like the immigrants of long ago: honest folk seeking a better life for themselves and their families, culturally diverse and proud of their heritage, courageous and resolved.
As similar as recent immigrants may be to the rest of America, we have fabricated a vast gulf between "us" and "them" keeping us from banging on the doors of Congress and demand they do something right away about the illegal immigration problem. Instead, we blame the immigrant for the criminally high unemployment rate. We do not blame Wall Street or the world's recession with such intense fervor. I guess it's easier to blame the man in the street pushing the ice cream cart. We are angered by the child of immigrant parents seeking an education at a public school and blame him for the state's worst fiscal crisis. We forget or choose to ignore the ingrained and dysfunctional system that keeps politicians flippant and unaccountable to those they serve. And, instead of requiring Congress to approve a practical, fair, and humane option that requires immigrants to register, learn English, and pay taxes like everyone else, we obsess over walls, massive deportations, and tamper-proof national identification cards.
All of which brings me back to the anonymous donor and to Washington, D.C. A year and several weeks after the election of the first black president, the immigrant residents of the United States, and the majority of Americans for that matter, ask for action linked to a key campaign promise by then-Senator Obama. Immigration reform, stated the candidate, is a national priority. The system is broken and we will fix it during year one, he promised. Latino and immigrant voters alike believed in Mr. Obama and supported him with their vote. More than 10 million Latinos voted in 2008. We still believe in Obama's good intentions but now we ask that he make due on his promise.
We are gathering by the thousands on the National Mall on Sunday, March 21, not because we believe the economy, jobs, health care, the environment, Toyota acceleration systems, or credit card regulations are less important. On the contrary, as every other American we desperately need solutions to these problems too. We are gathering by the thousands in front of the Lincoln Memorial because, simply put, it is time for America to demand that our government not rebuild our nation's economic foundation on top of a broken and unjust immigration system. We are requesting prompt action by the President and Congress because a practical and fair solution is already on the table and can receive the necessary bipartisan support to make it into law. And, we are meeting as Americans in Washington because we believe passing immigration reform is the responsible, right, and American thing to do.
The anonymous donor will not get to march on the Mall because he is afraid to travel by airplane without his proper documentation. His surrogate will be an immigrant household worker who is considered one more member of an American family in Brentwood. She will march for immigration reform. She will also march to bridge the fabricated gulf that separates her from the rest of America. In addition to a warm coat, she will bring along her dreams and aspirations, just like the immigrants of long ago before her brought along their dreams and marched to make of America their home.