What does it mean to be American?
America is often referred to as a melting pot, as a land of immigrants, of opportunity, of refuge. At the same time it is characterized by a brutal and violent history of intolerance, murder and exploitation. While the Statue of Liberty has come to stand, both literally and figuratively, as a guardian over immigrants and the American dream of a “better life,” America could just as easily have the statue of a gun grace its money, sacred grounds and serve as a figure-head for its history.
Immigration, especially along the U.S. – Mexico border, has been an increasingly hot topic in recent decades. With millions of working people living in the United States illegally, many with families and children, the question of what to do about it has no easy answers. The Bush administration assessed the situation and decided to build a wall between Texas and Mexico- good fences make good neighbors a la Robert Frost, perhaps. Still unfinished, the wall seems to symbolize a flailing government policy to keep our borders “safe,” both from unwanted immigrants and from the vague notion of terrorism. In any case, the fence is likely to do little to keep people who want to get into the U.S. from getting here.
Legal immigration is currently difficult and takes a long, long time. When Lady Liberty was still standing her fiery guard over Ellis Island as an immigration hub, there wasn’t much to keep anybody from showing up and settling in. These days you could easily be on an international waiting list for years before anyone contacts you. Inevitably, folks who want out of where they are and into America will try anything and everything to get here without dealing with the system.
So where does Obama and the current administration stand on this?
Today the President said that he is committed to comprehensive immigration reform- including creating a way for illegal immigrants who are already in the U.S. to become citizens.
As for folks who are in Mexico and want in, Obama says no. He supports a stronger border to stop illegal immigration.
As for folks who are already here, he believes they need to pay a fine, pay taxes, learn English(!) and “go to the back of the line” of people who are attempting to enter the U.S. from their home country.
"That is the fair, practical, and promising way forward, and that's what I'm committed to passing as president of the United States. The American people believe in immigration, but they also believe that we can't tolerate a situation where people come to the United States in violation of the law, nor can we tolerate employers who exploit undocumented workers in order to drive down wages," said Obama.
According to press secretary Robert Gibbs, next week Obama will host a small group of Representatives and Senators at the White House to talk about how to move this issue forward. Obama is inviting people who disagree with his positions.
"We know the votes aren't there right now," said Gibbs. He went on to suggest legislative approaches that have not been previously attempted. Whatever that means.
Obama’s approach seems to make sense. Stop the problem and deal with folks who have already broken the rules without creating another problem. We’ll see how that works out- Lady Liberty is watching.