On Sunday, March 21, 2010 history was made twice in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives finally had the guts to pass a convoluted but comprehensive health care reform bill, and even the President celebrated by having a glass of champagne. Outside the Capitol, more than 200,000 voices echoed the urgency for Congress to tackle our nation's tough problems such as health care and immigration reform. The President addressed the immigration reform advocates via video and reminded us that change does not always happen in the halls of Congress, but through the strength and spirit of community action. The voices from beyond roared in agreement and the President smiled.
After the political speeches and wrenching stories of family separation, racial profiling, and other instances of broken immigration law enforcement, thousands boarded more than 950 buses and rode back along miles and miles to the bustling urban centers in Chicago, Miami, New York -- even San Francisco and Los Angeles. Tens of thousands also went back to little towns and cities not necessarily celebrated for their humane and practical approach to immigrants and immigration. Although much of the nation's interest and press coverage was on the yeas and nays in the House of Representatives, immigration reform advocates were convinced their presence had been felt by the main target audience: Congress and the President.
The presence of thousands and thousands of immigrant American families and their supporters waving American flags, and carrying hand-made signs that read "justice now" and "Reform Immigration for America," among other messages, was felt far and wide -- in spite of the limited coverage of the march by mainstream media. The sacrifice many of the travelers had to make in order to get to DC was worth a story in and of itself; but more importantly, America was witness to how anyone in America can own and cherish democracy, especially as those governed actually engage and participate in the making of history and legislation.
No immigration reform advocate is under any illusion that the road less traveled will be chosen by Democrats and Republicans willingly. Just after the smoke cleared in the halls of Congress, Members who voted in favor of the health care bill became the target of threats, slurs, and even spitting incidents. It is enough to scare the wits out of anyone. Sadly, the Republican leadership has failed miserably to demand that such vitriol and violence cease, and has not exercised the wisdom to admonish its own members when they engage in such destructive behavior on the floor of the Senate or the House. Who would want to risk their political standing--or at least their glass windows--by voting in favor of immigration reform? We think every Senator and House Member should.
Given the dangerous position we place ourselves in if we fail to establish a system that tells us who is in the country and how much they contribute to our nation's strength, we stand in direct contradiction to our interests and values if we delay immigration reform. By not acting humanely and taking millions out of the shadows who contribute on a daily basis and love this country as their own, we stand to look like hypocrites in the eyes of men and our creator if we skip immigration reform one more day. And given the thousands of examples we have seen of how our nation's broken immigration system impacts us all, we are fools not to try to seriously tackle the growing problem of illegal immigration with fair and practical legislation.
Members of Congress have an obligation to the American people to do what is right, fair and just, not what is easy and politically advantageous. The voices from beyond that gathered on the National Mall on Sunday, March 21 are the voices of every day Americans and they have gone home for now. But they have not fallen asleep.
In Los Angeles and San Francisco this March 27, America will be witness once again to the urgent call of millions that change takes courage and that we are counting on President Obama and Congress to have enough of it to fix the nation's immigration laws. The law many of us are so proud of defending cannot be fully enforced or respected because they are dangerously broken. When a law is inhumane and impractical, no human being can be expected to follow it or enforce it fairly or humanely.
For many Americans, the issue of immigration reform may be a relatively obscure one. For millions, however, each day we fail to fix our laws hurts us, our families, our economy, and our nation. The time to help America during a critical time in our history is now.
Congress must listen to the voices from beyond, because they represent millions upon millions of Americans who are living a nightmare in the land of opportunity. Congress must act now, because immigration reform is an issue both parties can agree on, and because doing so may send everyone home with a smile for a job well done.