Today at 2 pm, the House of Representatives will take up the historic vote to revamp our health care system. At the same moment, more than 100,000 Americans and future Americans will march on the National Mall to demand that President Obama and Congress fix our broken immigration system now.
This serendipitous confluence of events provides powerful evidence of the thirst for change in this country, and of the willingness of the American people to support elected officials with the courage to do something about it.
The health care reform debate has left many progressives dissatisfied, to put it mildly. Indeed, many of us marching today either will be denied coverage ourselves or have family members and close friends who will be. The health care system will continue to prohibit legal immigrants from Medicaid for their first five years in the country, and undocumented immigrants will be denied the ability to purchase coverage in the Exchange at full cost and with their own money. The people denied coverage are the parents of your child's classmates, your nanny, your parent's home health care aid, or the workers who have picked and prepared your next meal.
The decision to leave millions of immigrants out of the health care reform bill makes little sense from a public policy or fiscal perspective. Excluding immigrants was merely a poorly-conceived political calculation meant to appease extremist anti-immigrant voices in Congress.
Despite its deficiencies, this historic bill will go a long way toward cutting costs and increasing coverage for millions of uninsured men, women, and children. It is also a defining moment in which we are affirming that the government should ensure that all Americans have access to quality and affordable health care.
Immigrant marchers today know that Congress had deemed them a necessary sacrifice in order to get the votes needed to pass health care reform. Despite this, we march for immigration reform because we believe that together, we can form a stronger country. We march for our families to be reunited, for students to access higher education, for all workers to benefit from vigorous enforcement of civil rights and labor laws, and for comprehensive reform of an arcane immigration system that is out of touch with global realities.
Like health care reform, immigration reform will incite powerful emotions from people on both sides of the issue. However, anyone -- from the halls of Congress to the street corners in Bakersfield, California -- can see that both systems fail to meet this country's most pressing societal and economic needs.
We are faced with the formidable challenge of confronting two badly broken systems at once, particularly at a time when the economy is still recovering from a severe recession. Congress has the opportunity to do the right thing on health care today. Tomorrow, it must heed the cries of those of us marching outside their halls, and get to work on creating an immigration system that meets American needs.
President Obama has shown us his courage to lead for health care reform because "it is the right thing to do." He has recently reiterated his unwavering support for immigration reform. Now it's time for the President and Congressional leaders to deliver substantive changes on health care and immigration. We have waited long enough.