Sunday, April 11, 2010

Day 101- Immigration reform

Dear Mr. President,

Yesterday, in Seattle, more than five thousand people rallied for immigration reform. I was just getting off of work, when I passed through a crowd in Pioneer Square. Congressman Jim McDermott was among those in attendance, and, at first impression, the crowd seemed more like a jovial gathering than a political protest- I saw people of all ages and races, some angrily chanting, some silently holding up signs, more than a few children running around laughing and waving flags. I think it was uplifting to see so many Seattlites come together and stand up for the rights of illegal immigrants across the country.

Once, while sitting on a plane from Boise to Seattle, I was telling the woman next to me that I studied Arabic in school, and wanted to travel to the Middle East. She warned me not to expect "people over there" to accommodate me, the way we accommodate people over here. She went on to explain that, in America, we make it so easy that people don't even have to speak English, while the rest of the world insists on making people speak the native language. I've heard this mind-boggling rhetoric many times since; from old acquaintances on facebook who post things like "Welcome to America, press 1 for English, press 2 to hang up and learn English," as well as from coworkers who grow frustrated at customers who don't communicate easily in English. In DC one morning, I watched as an old woman yelled at a Hispanic McDonald's employee for denying a homeless white man free coffee, insisting that the employee, as a "non-American" was the reason the man was homeless in the first place. I try to imagine the logic behind a worldview that affords basic dignity and respect only on the basis of a shared language and place of birth, but I just can't do it. It's an ugly sense of entitlement that I just can't empathize with.

Unfortunately, I don't have to understand this kind of racism to be complicit in it. Things like this rally give me hope, even as they deepen my disappointment in myself for not being more actively involved. Just the other day, an old woman on my bus stormed off in protest after the driver angrily berated an elderly Chinese couple for not following his request to make more room quickly enough. I kept my seat; I was late for work, and I didn't want to walk in the rain, but the shame of staying silent while the woman stood up for two strangers, alone, stayed with me all day. It's up to all of us to stand up against discrimination, whenever we can, and I am too often content to look the other way if it is inconvenient for me to act.

Our government needs to do its part, as well. Immigration reform that offers a clear path to citizenship for those living in this country illegally cannot wait another year. We must make a clear demonstration that we value and respect the contributions immigrants make to our society, how essential they are to the character of America. We do not gain anything by forcing millions of people to live outside of the law; they suffer because of it, and our country suffers because of it. While comprehensive immigration reform will likely be even more difficult to pass than health care reform, it is long past time and well worth the fight. I hope that your administration begins an aggressive campaign to see that this becomes a reality.

Respectfully yours,


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