Fifty years later and we are still waiting. Aug. 28 marks the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s rising "I Have a Dream" speech.
The issues America faced then are both similar and worlds away from the challenges we face now. No doubt the nation has seen major advances since 1963 in the struggle for freedom and justice for all. Yet in 2013, the face of civil rights and justice is changing just as swiftly as America is changing.
Fifty years ago, one in 20 Americans were immigrants. Today, one in eight. The countries represented are just as different; large migration from Europe has been replaced with immigrants from Asia and Latin America. America's increasingly immigrant and diverse population -- the number of foreign-born is at an all-time high -- carry the same hopes, dreams and aspirations generations of Americans always have.
Yet the rallying cries of young DREAMers who want only to serve their home country, the Asian American families who are starting small businesses and waiting decades to reunite with their siblings and hard-working immigrant women wondering how they will be able to afford basic health care for their children are falling on deaf ears in Congress as the dreams of 11 million languish without immigration reform.
Despite poll after poll showing that the majority of Americans, including Republicans, want immigration reform and persistent pushing from champions in the Senate and House, the House has dragged its feet and here we are, knee-deep in August recess with no real solution in sight.
Politics are again standing in the way of progress. Immigration opponents have put obstacle after obstacle in the way of real immigration reform. Access to health care and affordable health insurance -- a basic necessity and need to keep in good health -- has been singled out and used as a political football.
As it stands, the newly legalized will be locked out of some of the most important parts of health reform for at least a decade. While they would be able to purchase insurance in the new marketplaces under the Senate bill, they will not be eligible for financial assistance that can help them actually afford coverage. Despite paying into the nation's tax base and supporting safety net programs like Medicaid and SNAP, legal immigrants will be locked out of these programs for 15 years or more.
The March on Washington was a rallying cry for civil and social justice -- justice from the institutional and legal discrimination that burdened racial and ethnic minorities, justice from rampant civil rights violations by both public and private entities and freedom to achieve the American dream.
The American dream should be available to everyone. One's future shouldn't be limited by their ability to afford health insurance or see a doctor. A young woman shouldn't have to suffer needlessly because she can't afford a simple pap test to screen for treatable cancer. A child shouldn't have to have their educational opportunities limited because they didn't get basic preventive care in their youth.
If we as a nation are to truly honor the legacy of the March on Washington, Dr. King and the hopes and dreams of Americans, we must pass comprehensive immigration reform that truly works for all Americans. On Aug. 26, leaders from 10 pivotal racial and ethnic justice organizations are convening in Washington to commemorate and continue Dr. King's call to action. They are united by their differences and shared experiences and understand that true justice is not possible without justice for all.
Fifty years from now, will we look back on the dreams of 11 million aspiring Americans only to see them never realized?
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