Making Peace With Our Land of Immigrants
The biracial daughter of immigrant parents stood before a bilingual Latina Supreme Court justice and swore allegiance to the nation.
If that’s not what you saw at the inauguration, then your perspective is likely shaped from experiences different from mine.
Sonia Sotomayor administering the oath of office to Vice President Kamala Harris was breath-taking, tear-inducing and the highlight of the ceremonies to a significant and irreversibly growing proportion of the United States.
No offense to President Joe Biden, the 45th white man to hold his new job. But the nation’s future is multicultural, infused with races and ethnicities often still seen as not the norm, as less worthy, acceptable only in a few splashes of token positioning.
What Biden did later spoke volumes and has the potential to help set the nation on that much wished for course toward “healing.”
The president signed more than a dozen executive orders, a good chunk of them immigration-related, with the intention of unraveling the craven approach of his predecessor.
Biden called for a fair and feasible route to U.S. citizenship for millions currently living here, legal status for farmworkers, restoration of refugee resettlement programs, a halt to barriers at the border erected primarily for show, help for English language learning and other routes to assimilation; and recognition that immigrants with advanced science and technology degrees are essential to growing the economy, as well as a renewed commitment to a nimbleness for some visas to address shifting economic needs at macro levels, so as not to negatively affect jobs for native-born citizens.
For decades, the terms “comprehensive” and “sweeping” have characterized such reforms. That’s true of Biden’s orders and the accompanying legislation, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.
Few issues could set America solidly striding along the path toward reconciliation of the toxicity and political divisiveness of the past four years quite like immigration reform.
Immigration is central. We are a nation of immigrants, save for Indigenous peoples. It is among our defining truths and the backbone to what the nation claims to aspire to — welcoming and offering opportunity regardless of race, ethnicity and the class level of one’s birth.
And yet, few things have been so defiled and denied when politically convenient as immigration. That’s not a new phenomenon. The tropes are ingrained in the DNA of our forefathers.
Biden hadn’t even been sworn in, much less picked up a pen to sign anything, before the usual nativist taunts revved up. Amnesty. The nonsensical idea of an open border. Sanctuary cities. Each term is tied up in the myths, misconceptions and outright lies that have kept such reforms from passage for more than two decades.
So put truth in there too.
No issue could be better used to keep Congressional negotiations and public commentary on track, with an insistence on facts. Virtually every argument leveraged against passage of wide reform of immigration relies at some level on a falsehood, or outright lie.
Start with the nation’s demographics.
Latinos and Asians will increasingly be a larger portion of the population, now mostly through U.S. births, not migration. Respect for that fact, acceptance of the reality is long overdue.
This nation would not exist without immigration. Yet we’ve never gotten this most fundamental aspect about our own founding right. Never fully addressed how to manage its realities.
That’s a moral failing, one that we saw reassert itself in the bodies of a dead toddler, lying prone with her deceased father after they drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande.
The viral image was recent. But the attitudes that helped spawn the policies that fostered their deaths were driven by the same attitudes that put U.S. citizens of Japanese descent into camps and generations before that, caused Midwestern state education officials to decry German immigrants with their German-only schools as undesirables who would never learn English.
It’s disrespect, not seeing the stranger as deserving.
Biden answered that call too. He ordered replacing the offensive term “alien” in immigration law, with the more accurate “noncitizen.”
The character of any country can be told by looking at its immigration history. Who arrived, when and why. Who was welcomed, along with who was turned away, and why.
It’s time for the United States to claim not only the lofty phrases we inscribe on monuments to immigrants, but to truly set ourselves on a more honest and higher moral ground.
©2021 Mary Sanchez. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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