Hopelessly fixated on toughness, the immigration debate has lost its balance, overlooking the humanity of the immigrant. There is a starkly diminished understanding that hospitality for the stranger is part of the American ethos, and that as much as we claim to be a nation of immigrants, we have thwarted them at every turn. We must do better.
The new year began with renewed optimism for the chances of sensible immigration reform in Washington. The hope is justified, but time is short and real change will still require boldness and courage. Citizenship must be the key to reform. The idea of an earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants was missing from President Bush’s State of the Union address this year, though he has continued to say his usual favorable words about reform. The new Democratic Congress and moderate Republicans cannot be afraid to stand up to the anti-amnesty demagogues and lead Mr. Bush to a solution.
Enforcement of laws cannot be ignored. Punish immigrants who enter illegally, make them pay back taxes and fines, restrict their ability to get work through deceit and false identities. But open a path to their full inclusion in the life of this country.
The alternative — the path of immigrant exploitation, of harassment without hope — will only repeat the ways the country has shamed itself at countless points in its history.
Immigrants: They are America
They Are America is the title of an editorial in the February 18, 2007 edition of the NYTimes. It's about how in the last year the overwhelming impulse has been to subdue and terrorize immigrant workers instead of working to fix the broken immigration process. The following is the editorial's conclusion.
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