Calls for immigration reform are growing stronger by the day.
President Barack Obama, speaking in the Texas border town of El Paso, has just made an appeal for Congress to put politics aside and act on reform, “to catch up to a train that’s leaving the station…to come together around reform that reflects our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants; that demands everyone take responsibility.”
Almost simultaneously, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a daughter of New York, at a naturalization ceremony in Washington, told new citizens that they should be active in American civic and political life. At the ceremony, 102 people from 42 countries took the oath of citizenship.
She advised them to celebrate their backgrounds and cultures “and teach these to your children.”
Justice Sotomayor, the first Latina appointed to the high court, in a gentle tone, told the new citizens that, when they are called for jury duty, “don’t make excuses.”
Sotomayor and Obama, who appointed her to the Supreme Court, are on the same page. Even as the President is strongly backing immigration reform, the justice is advising new Americans to work for a better country.
New York is a city of immigrants that exemplifies a country of immigrants. In this city, a rich, talented young woman, Emma Lazarus, was inspired in 1883 to write a poem enshrined in our great national symbol, the Statue of Liberty. Ms. Lazarus, of Portuguese-Jewish descent, wrote: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
So we can identify strongly with the President’s words in El Paso about America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. He said the government has a basic responsibility to secure the borders and enforce the law. He called for businesses that exploit undocumented workers to be held accountable. But, lastly, he said that those who’ve come here illegally have a responsibility.
“They have to admit that they broke the law, pay their taxes, pay a fine and learn English,” the President declared. “And they have to undergo background checks and a lengthy process before they can get in line for legalization.”
I think many of us can agree with the President’s plea that we should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents. “Kids who grew up in this country, love this country and know no other place as home. The idea that we should punish them is cruel and it makes no sense. We are a better nation than that.”
It may be inevitable that politics will get in the way of meaningful immigration reform. Though he didn’t use the word, Obama came close to seemingly urging amnesty for those illegal immigrants who are willing to pay the penalty for violating the law.
We can hope that politics doesn’t get in the way. As Obama said, this nation is better than that.