By Rich Stolz
New America Media
The May Day Mobilizations of 2008 aren’t about reliving the past, as some media outlets might suggest. The events that grassroots immigrant leaders planned for May 1, 2008 in more than 100 cities across the United States were specific to the moment, and represent growing power, unity and hope.
For the immigrant rights movement, the heart of the matter is about values that all Americans, including immigrants, hold dear. On May 1st, immigrants and their allies asked the nation what kind of country will the United States become, and how can immigrants contribute to the potential of our nation?
In the community called America, everyone is included. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Immigrants in the United States, regardless of how they came here and whether they arrived a century ago or yesterday, sought America as a refuge from intolerance or poverty, and saw in America the possibility that tomorrow might be a better day. This living hope for this American Dream may be the most powerful promise in the world.
But bit-by-bit the current Administration is tearing this dream apart. Two events last week illustrated how we’re failing to live up to the nation we should be.
On April 22, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, the agency responsible for assisting eligible immigrants to naturalize, again announced expected delays in the naturalization process for hundreds of thousands of immigrants in naturalization limbo. This sterile announcement obscured the fact that more than one million citizens-to-be could be denied the ability to vote in the upcoming general elections. What had been a six-month wait in most places has become a wait of up to 14 months. These citizens-to-be are a perfect example of how immigrants are seeking to be fully contributing and responsible members of our society. Now they face disenfranchisement in perhaps the most important election this nation has faced in years.
Furthermore, last week, 114 US citizens and legal permanent residents filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security for that agency’s actions during a major worksite raid at Micro Solutions Enterprises in February. The suit alleges that these citizens were illegally detained and harassed in that so-called immigration enforcement operation.
At a major televised presidential debate just before the Texas primaries, these are the same federal raids that Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama agreed they would end until Congress passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill if they were president. Senator Clinton, in response to a question from the moderator said, “… when we see what’s been happening, with literally babies being left with no one to take care of them, children coming home from school, no responsible adult left; that is not the America that I know. That is against American values.”
In that same debate, Senator Clinton joined Senator Obama in a public commitment to make comprehensive immigration reform a priority in the first 100 days of her presidency. This same question has not yet been posed to Senator John McCain, the presumed Republican presidential candidate, but on May 1, Americans of all backgrounds and faith traditions who are frustrated with Washington’s failure to deliver immigration solutions that live up to our nation’s values will look to the author of the McCain-Kennedy bill for an affirmation of his commitment to immigration reform. And they’ll be ready to respond should he back away from the moral commitment and leadership that have gotten him to where he is today.
Don’t believe the talking heads in the news, who insist the immigrant rights movement is fading. The truth is our movement, like our nation’s hope, is being reborn. We hope that together, immigrants and non-immigrants alike, we can build an America for tomorrow that achieves the dreams we’ve all deferred today. But the next president must solve the problems her or his predecessors have created taking bold leadership to help immigrants and all Americans. And we must make democracy work for everyone, clearing the citizenship backlogs so that millions of new Americans hungry to vote can be part of the process and help usher in the change we all want and need.
Rich Stolz is immigration director for the Center for Community Change, a national social justice non-profit that coordinates the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM). For more information on the Building America Together project check out www.buildingamericatogether.org.