07/04/2013 08:47 pm ET

The Meaning of July Fourth for the Mexican American

"At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance and makes it utterly worthless to a world lying in wickedness...."
--Frederick Douglass

In Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) 10-minute immigration speech, I could not help but to listen closely when he said, "Hispanics do not typically vote for the Republican primary." Indeed, I encourage my fellow Latin voting man to support Graham, because he was the senator who has the most to lose in his upcoming reelection. It should be remembered that he led on an issue when it was unpopular to do so within the GOP, and that Graham is from South Carolina, a state notorious for seceding after the Civil War began, and for the fact that it was a North Carolina senator who delivered the longest spoken filibuster during the civil rights debate.

James "Strom" Thurmond was a United States senator from South Carolina who ran for president in 1948 as the States Rights Democratic Party ("Dixiecrat") candidate. Thurmond was a Democrat for 10 years and later became a Republican after 1964. He switched because of his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, when he began to distance himself from liberalism and support conservatism and the Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.). It was around that time that the Republican Party began to crack its doors open to the old Confederate South, shortly after President Lyndon Johnson predicted that the civil rights legislation would cost the Democrats the South for a generation. (Little did the Republican Party know that it was Ronald Reagan who would buy them some time when he signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which drew more Latinos to the party for a short time.)

One of Arizona's low moments in history was when Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act. However, in an Abraham Lincoln-like manner, Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen (R-Ill.) was instrumental in shaping the civil rights compromise. When the Senate passed the bill in spite of Goldwater's nay vote, it earned him a scolding from the Illinois Republican. Goldwater believed the civil rights measure was "unconstitutional," but it was Sen. Dirksen who recalled a Republican conference of the Senate held on June 5, 1963, that urged the administration to produce a program to guarantee the rights and privileges of all citizens. According to The New York Times, Dirksen then addressed himself to Mr. Goldwater's argument that the sections of the bill were an unwarranted extension of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. In 1964, it was the Democrats who were more divided than the Republicans during the debate on the civil rights issue. Today, however, it is the Republican Party that seems to be more divided on the immigrant rights issue.

Many parallels can be drawn between the abolishment of slavery, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the current immigrant rights issue, but the one issue to hone in on this July 4 has to do with human dignity. Without the Civil Rights Act, demeaning and dehumanizing behavior toward all people of color and women would unashamedly exist today; essentially, this measure restored human dignity and put our nation on the right course. The same holds true of the 2013 Immigration Modernization Act as it directly addresses the approximately 11 million undocumented human beings who have been living in the shadows of society.

But human dignity is not important to those who are against basic human inalienable rights. The core of human dignity has been chiseled away when lawmakers dehumanize and refer to immigrant people as pigs, roaches, cows, rats, or meat for alligators in moats, among other things.

Sen. Goldwater of Arizona and Sen. Thurmond of South Carolina will always be remembered for voting against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But today, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham are attempting to undo those stains by voting to fix the broken immigration system by replacing it with legal immigration.

It was McCain who reminded us of the immigrant green card soldiers who paid the final price defending our great nation before getting the opportunity to finally become United States citizens. I was moved when he remembered those four pairs of combat boots neatly placed next to chairs symbolizing the four fallen comrades when he attended a ceremony overseas as soldiers bravely reenlisted in our armed forces during wartime. His story reminded me of when the Union army legally enlisted blacks after July 17, 1862, and when many blacks fled to the North to achieve freedom and fight against their Southern oppressors.

On the other hand, in his speech, Graham gave us a compelling and bold economic truth that Americans will soon face: He began by reminding his fellow colleagues of their historically low approval rating in Congress. He urged for bipartisanship, because Americans are tired of Congress not being able to solve simple and hard problems alike. He underscored the 80 million more Baby Boomers who are set to retire within the next 40 years and wondered how they are going to be cared for. In 1955, there were 16 workers for every Social Security retiree, but today there are only three workers for every Social Security retiree. In an upbeat tone, Graham cited the CBO immigration report, which states that our national deficit would be reduced by $890 billion over the next 20 years, and how the GDP can grow by 3.5 percent over time. Graham emphasized the need to create order out of chaos and getting people working and paying more into the tax system, rather than getting paid under the table, but also that those who are taxed need to have representation.

If Graham does not get reelected in South Carolina, this Mexican-American woman will remember his brave acts of leadership in an era when anti-immigrant sentiment reached a fever pitch within the GOP. American history will forever record the courageous act of this South Carolina senator, and his legacy will be remembered, unlike those who showed no human compassion with their votes.

It would behoove the Republican Party to recognize the foundation set by Abraham Lincoln when their party was created and cease the bigotry and isolationism that has hijacked the party and prevented it from embracing diversity within its ranks. They cannot point fingers at tyrants abroad while not embracing freedom for immigrants in our own backyard.

May the Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), and the Republicans of the House of Representatives capture the full spirit of our Declaration of Independence, which holds that all men are indeed created equal, after they return from recess to address immigration, at the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty.