According to the Pew Research Center's Hispanic Trends Project, Latino voters gave President Barack Obama 71 percent of their 2012 election votes. The margin was so thorough that it seemed like a no-brainer that the U.S. Congress would rapidly move an immigration reform package through both houses of Congress. There is general agreement that immigration reform will be helpful to the American economy. While the Senate has moved, it appears unlikely that the House will pass immigration reform this year, notwithstanding the fact, that mid-term elections are just around the corner. Critical to immigration reform is, of course, the pathway to citizenship. This process will continue to be debated and no one expects an immigration bill that will not construct a lengthy roadway and contain defaults to ensure that only those who abide by the rules ultimately qualify for citizenship.
American citizenship is undisputedly something of great value. Citizenship comes with responsibility. In a changing world, with challenges to the economy, rapid advances in technology, competitive educational developments, environmental concerns and access to resources; it is the job of America's citizens to insure our nation's well-being. It was refreshing in this respect to hear the President of the United States in his State of the Union address urging us to cloak ourselves in "the spirit of citizenship." When we think of ourselves as citizens, it is much harder to ignore the neighbor who is part of the almost 2 million Americans who have lost their extended unemployment insurance benefits and have not been able to get any relief due to government's failure to pass a bill to address their situation. When we think of ourselves as citizens, it is much harder to ignore the millions who are still unemployed all together and it is difficult as a business owner or CEO of a corporation to not consider how to make jobs available for our fellow citizens. Likewise, as a legislator, if we think of ourselves as citizens, the notion of allowing a neighbor to not have access to a livable wage because the minimum wage no longer provides sufficient income would certainly compel us to act.
There is something egalitarian in citizenship. The spirit of citizenship evokes a desire to do well by those around you and to not leave anyone out. When we think of ourselves as citizens, we can transform ourselves and move ourselves forward with strength and determination. It sometimes brings to mind the Frank Capra character of Longfellow Deeds, who in sharing his millions wanted to "help the fellas who can't make the hill on high." In the spirit of citizenship and acting where he has the authority to act, President Obama signed an executive order to increase the minimum wage of employees of federal contractors to $10.10/hour. Several States have likewise acted to increase their State's minimum wage and some private employers see the value of ensuring that their employees are earning a livable wage. CVS Caremark, one of this nation's largest drugstores, announced that it would stop selling tobacco products in its stores, sacrificing billions in revenues in order to be, in effect, better citizens.
While some House Republicans and others who see only sarcasm in the president's actions, attacked him as if he were Robespierre commencing the French Revolution's reign of terror, others viewed his executive actions as necessary to ignite the spirit of citizenship that will ultimately help us move forward as a nation. Leadership takes courage and the willingness to be vilified. There is something very powerful in the vision of the citizen president. Washington certainly can't go wrong if those who walked the hallways of Congress truly thought of themselves as citizens. Citizens automatically look both ways to ensure no one is in harm's way. Good Day, Citizen Obama, Mr. President!
Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation's highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network's crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City's House of Justice.