Les Marsden on Immigration Reform

Extracted from his latest campaign email:

Meaningful Immigration Reform? ¡Si se puede!

On this Fifth of May, the 1862 Mexican military victory over the invading French Army in the Battle Of Puebla is celebrated both north and south of the border. But Cinco de Mayo is also an important day to remember that we are a nation of immigrants. Technically, that even includes our native American population which followed the Bering Land Bridge from Asia in prehistoric times before there were any human residents in the New World. My own grandparents on both sides migrated to America over a century ago, coming through Ellis Island. And despite our challenging problems, we’re still the most admired nation on the planet – and we’re still seen as the great land of opportunity. We’ve always attracted those who were eager to work hard and succeed as Americans, and that’s just as true today with our tireless immigrants from many countries, many continents.

I believe in comprehensive immigration reform. Obviously, our current system incorporates laws that aren’t being followed, winks at employers who couldn’t survive without non-legal migrant workers – but far worse: human tragedy on a massive scale. From ‘coyotes’ who’ve abandoned their human cargo to die of thirst in Southwest deserts to the victims of vicious attacks by ‘enforcers,’ we have a direly broken system. Rather than continue with a hodge-podge of regulations that aren’t working and citizen ‘militia’ groups taking matters into their own hands with oft-times terrible results, we need to comprehensively re-evaluate who and what we are as a nation of immigrants. Let’s face it: we rely upon labor from south of the border. And we have been immeasurably enriched by the contributions of all cultures who have aspired to be a part of the American melting pot. That was the very premise of our nation’s founding.

You may not often hear me cite Ronald Reagan as a model, but 24 years ago, he signed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. That act legalized the legal residency status for 1.7-million people. Yes, THAT Ronald Reagan.

To qualify for temporary status, applicants had to show they entered the United States before Jan. 1, 1982 and that they had continuously resided in this country since then. If they met threshold requirements (proficiency in English, etc) they could get permanent residency within 18 months. The program took effect in 1987, with extended coverage including additional agricultural workers who did not meet the pre-1982 requirements. The program (eventually) awarded green cards to 2.7-million migrants and, perhaps best of all: put them on the track to American citizenship.

Yes, again: THAT Ronald Reagan. Well: to all our friends on the other side who continue to spew anti-Latino, anti-immigrant and to me: anti-American rhetoric, to all those wildly applauding the draconian new Arizona law that targets (virtually) anyone as a potential criminal, I actively ask them to join with me in endorsing a NEW Immigration Reform and Control Act, based upon the model of their icon, Ronald Reagan.

And to those who are convinced “illegals” are somehow accessing Social Security and other federal assistance, U.S. Code strictly prohibits any such thing. There are very limited humanitarian exceptions, which include:

Emergency medical care.
Emergency short-term disaster relief that does not include any cash payments.
Limited immunizations and testing. (A public health issue for us all.)
Treatment of symptoms of communicable diseases. (Same as above.)
Limited community programs, such as soup kitchens or crisis counseling.
Limited housing or community development assistance (to those already receiving it in 1996.)

That is it. States make their own laws of eligibility for state programs and I firmly support full prosecution in instances of fraud. But that’s it. It’s time to do the right thing and reform our immigration policies.

On this Cinco de Mayo as we celebrate the victory of a battle against oppressors, let’s remember the everlasting wealth we – as a nation of immigrants – have given to one another in creating the greatest unified entity in history. No one has ever bettered Emma Lazarus’ 1883 “The New Colossus” in stating what we all feel in our hearts as fellow immigrants fortunate to live in this great country:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I can only add: that golden door must always remain open, the lamp ever burning – with the flame of vigilance as well as the beacon of haven. How we welcome those yearning to breathe free – wisely, soundly: will determine our future as a great nation.

Happy Cinco de Mayo – a great day we can all celebrate as Americans.

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