Obama's opponents have been sharpening their knives ever since elements of the plan announced tonight have started to appear. Of all the areas where they have fought him, the anger and invective directed at this specific initiative have been among the hardest for me to fathom. The previous president turned our national treasury from surplus to deficit, started two ruinous wars, weakened constitutional protections against invasions of privacy, and supported torture, with barely a peep from the same politicians who are now denouncing Obama's effort to address the USA's dysfunctional approach to immigration. Those same politicians could have supported bipartisan congressional action but abandoned the field from fear of the latest wave of xenophobes. (See this fascinating Politico.com account with its summary of the effect of Eric Cantor's primary election defeat.)
Tonight, Obama presented a very simple message: we cannot offer unlimited mass amnesty, nor are we realistically able to deport everyone who doesn't have the right papers. Neither approach is compatible with the rule of law or the nation's values. The present situation isn't defensible, either: millions of people are simply trapped in the shadows, subject to exploitation and the constant threat of families being ripped apart. In this climate of political intransigence on the part of those who have the legislative power to make things better, and (what Obama didn't say directly) the increasingly effective advocacy of immigration reformers, he had no choice but to offer a pragmatic way forward.
Above and beyond all the policy issues is the plain command of God, paraphrased by Obama from Exodus 23:9. "Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger -- we were strangers once, too. My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too." What really moved me was Obama's paraphrase of Exodus: "we" instead of "you." This is the element that has been disastrously missing from the toxic debate over immigration reform. As an immigrant to the USA, I had always assumed that "we Americans" included me, despite my foreign birth and my quota number. As a school child, even before I actually became a naturalized citizen, every school day I put my hand on my heart and with childish naivete recited the Pledge of Allegiance to "one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
I know that the road to complete immigration reform will be long and hard. Sometimes the claims of justice and security will be hard to reconcile. But if everyone who cherishes the Bible would take Exodus seriously and look at the "stranger" as one of "us," and those complications as a challenge that "we" tackle together, refusing to give in to that old American tradition of nativist scare tactics, wouldn't we be a lot closer to the goal?
Or would we honestly prefer another five, ten, twenty years of limbo for the men, women, and children we refuse to include in that Exodus standard? Is that who we think we are?
Seems like just yesterday ... Reedwood Friends Church's minute on immigration enforcement.
"Religion in Latin America: Widespread Change in a Historically Catholic Region." I was glad that this study referenced David Stoll's fascinating book from 24 years ago, Is Latin America Turning Protestant?
KKK vs Anonymous--ZDNet's summary of the recent clash.
I must lead a sheltered life. Oxford Dictionary's word of the year is a verb I'd never run into.
I had been a U.S. citizen for all of three years when I fell in love with the blues. This musician, J.B. Hutto, was one of the reasons.