I’ve been writing about immigration issues and reform in Asian American Press for awhile now and, in the next few weeks, we’ll see if Congress has the resolve to make sorely needed changes in our immigration system. It’s a tall order and one for which the American public appears ready, recognizing very well the dysfunctional system currently in place.
The full Senate seems likely to vote on its immigration bill before the Fourth of July recess. At least Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), one of the “Gang of Eight” members responsible for crafting the legislation approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May and now before the full Senate, thinks so. He commends the bipartisan nature of the bill and is confident that it will handily pass with a majority vote. And then, he suggests, the pressure will be on the Republican-led House of Representatives to deliver its own immigration bill. The House has a bit different perspective on immigration reform and priorities but Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has insisted that he wants a vote before the summer recess commences in August. That’s where things stand at the time of this writing.
With all of this legislative activity so close to our impending Fourth of July holiday, one gives pause to contemplate this still so very young country with still so much promise. On Independence Day, July 4, 1776, the United States of America was born with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. That document proclaimed:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
The members knew full well that by signing this historic document, they brought a death sentence upon themselves should this great experiment fail.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
The imagery and conceptions linked to this holiday flow freely from one’s imagination and the American psyche: Independence Day, Declaration of Independence, 1776, liberty, freedom, Statue of Liberty, immigrants, Ellis Island, Golden Gate Bridge, “we’re a nation of immigrants”, equality, Constitution, “back in the old country…”, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Lexington and Concord, and even the words of Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
Some would say that this is all fine and good and it’s great to know a bit about our country and its history but what does it all really mean? Why is this important and how can it possibly be relevant to the issues facing us today?
Many years ago, Garrison Keillor wrote an essay, “Laying on Our Backs Looking up at the Stars”, in an issue of Newsweek magazine where he ruminated on the United States, its Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and immigrants in this great land. I often think about this essay while celebrating Fourth of July festivities every year because it affirms so much of what’s good about the United States.
Keillor insightfully observed that:
“To give up your country is the hardest thing a person can do: to leave the old familiar places and ship out over the edge of the world to America and learn everything over again different than you learned as a child, learn the new language that you will never be so smart or funny in as in your true language. And yet people still come – from Russia, Vietnam, and Cambodia and Laos, Ethiopia, Iran, Haiti, Korea, Cuba, Chile, and they come on behalf of their children, and they come for freedom. Not for our land (Russia is as beautiful), not for our culture (they have their own, thank you), not for our standard of living (it frankly ain’t that great), not for our system of government (they don’t know about it, may not even agree with it), but for freedom. They are heroes who make an adventure on our behalf, showing us by their struggle how precious beyond words freedom is, and if we knew their stories, we could not keep back the tears.”
Immigrants remind us of our past and our forebears, our connection to the old country and its ways, who we were and who we came from, and why we are what we are today. But, at the same time, immigrants remind us of the future and what we as a people can achieve while celebrating our unity and at the same time embracing our diversity. The promise of America lies with its immigrants and passage of comprehensive immigration reform will help repair our current dysfunctional immigration system. Happy Independence Day!
(R. Mark Frey is a St. Paul, Minnesota attorney who has been practicing immigration law exclusively for almost 25 years with an emphasis on political asylum, family immigration, naturalization, and removal.)