Immigrant Day was acknowledged at the California State Capitol last month, and though our agenda aimed to protect and help integrate immigrants into California, the word on my mind was "Arizona."
The now-infamous Arizona law, which many feel institutionalizes discrimination, passed just weeks earlier. It has sparked many protests and counter-protests, and seems to have only further polarized an already contentious arena of debate that now lands everyone in one of two camps: pro-immigrant or anti-immigrant.
At least that's the picture of the country we are shown on TV news, with dueling rallies, angry flag-waving crowds and people shouting. It's the high drama of what we are told is a divisive issue, a possibly irreconcilable controversy. But as always, reality is more nuanced.
I believe it is this: While the immigration debate rages on TV screens and via public opinion polls, a strong majority agrees on the fundamentals of a solution -- and perhaps not surprisingly, that solution is practical and moderate, having nothing to do with either amnesty or mass deportation.
A recent New York Times poll bears this out. On the question of whether recent immigrants to the United States contribute to the country or harm it, the public is fairly evenly split -- with 49 percent responding "contribute" and 31 percent "harm." But on the question of how to solve the immigration puzzle, a resounding two-thirds of the country agrees on the basic premise that illegal immigrants already working in the country should be allowed to seek legal status and stay working.
These results suggest that the country may not need to agree on a definition of a problem in order to agree on the solution.
As strong advocates for immigrants in California, we have long argued that immigrants contribute to our state in ways that are substantial and far reaching. In fact, some of us argue that our future economic viability depends on how we treat immigrants, since they make up a third of our work force, contribute some $30 billion each year in federal taxes and will soon count for a third of potential voters in California if you consider naturalized immigrants and their adult citizen children.
Entrenched prejudices against recent immigrants, especially those who have no viable way to obtain lawful status, can render these arguments ineffective as a rationale for moving forward. This state of permanent inaction is hurting California. It is getting in the way of our best thinking about the future of our state, because as we know from our past and our present, immigrants help to build what together we envision.
Our task is to consolidate our support for solutions, including a clear path to legalization for those unauthorized immigrants who are currently in the country. We must use our strength as one of the largest and most vibrant states in the country to move us all forward.
So, by Immigrant Day 2011 we must be living in a post-Arizona era, when we have achieved comprehensive reform of the immigration system and are finding ways to promote our state's workforce, encourage our population to engage actively in their communities, vote, and participate in our economy. This way and only this way will we move forward together as Californians and fully value the contributions immigrants make to our great state.
This post originally appeared at Mercury News.