Friday, March 12, 2010

100,000 Voices for Change

When the topic of illegal immigration comes up in mainstream media, it too often includes images of Mexicans crossing over the border into U.S. territory. Reality, however, presents a very different story of individual struggles from all around the world. In many cases, immigration, especially illegal immigration without proper paperwork, is not a matter of choice but of survival. Asylum and refugee cases, in particular, involve people who have been forced out of their homes and their country. Those who get through our borders often live in fear of deportation back to a country without hope.

On March 21, 2010, thousands of people from all across the nation will come together on the National Mall in Washington, DC to march for immigration reform. Organizers hope to have at least 100,000 marchers from diverse backgrounds so that their message of change will be heard loud and clear throughout the halls of Congress and the White House. Marchers are demanding comprehensive immigration reform, which includes a path to citizenship, worker’s rights, due process, family unification, and equal education and opportunities for immigrants.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), a partner of CAIR-Chicago, has been instrumental in putting together the March 21st event. Beginning with a training session last January that brought together advocates of immigration reform from all over the Chicagoland area, ICIRR has helped various communities coordinate buses that will help marchers get to Washington on the 21st.

Thousands of individuals have already pledged their support for the immigration march along with members of a variety of faith-based and secular organizations including World Relief, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, AFL-CIO, and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition. Members of Bridgeview’s Mosque Foundation are also organizing a bus to travel to Washington to have their voices counted among those looking for reform.

As the March 21st event gets closer, the immigration debate is steadily returning to the headlines. New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham have been working together to create a blueprint for bipartisan immigration reform. The blueprint includes tougher border security, a program to admit temporary immigrant workers, and a biometric Social Security card that would prevent illegal immigrants from getting jobs. Sadly, the bipartisan stalemate on healthcare legislation threatens to affect the Schumer/Graham proposal. Graham is quick to point out that Republicans will halt immigration reform for the year if President Obama passes health care legislation by a method known as reconciliation, which would only require a majority of 51 senators instead of the usual 60- effectively nullifying the Republican vote.

While the Schumer/Graham blueprint is a start toward real immigration reform, it leaves much to be desired and creates many more questions than it answers. Other existing pieces of legislation like the Dream Act, which would allow immigrant children access to higher education, and CIR ASAP, which addresses a variety of issues from visa backlogs to border enforcement, are vital to consider when proposing comprehensive immigration reform.

In a recent meeting with the President, leaders from national and grassroots immigrant advocacy organizations asked the President to present a framework for comprehensive immigration reform prior to March 21st. Although he agreed to “work actively” on getting bipartisan support and announcing an outline for an immigration bill before the march, he expressed serious concern that there would not be enough Republican support.

While some may argue that immigrants abuse “the system” and don’t deserve basic services such as healthcare, they fail to consider what they might do if faced with a similar situation. Given the perplexities and diversity within the immigrant population, it is important not to make assumptions or generalizations. America must treat all immigrants, illegal or not, with respect and compassion. It is only through reform that problems with the system can be eliminated so families are not caught between morality and legality. America was founded by immigrants and it will continue to grow because of them. It will be a shame if immigration reform fails this time around and millions of people remain in limbo because of political posturing.

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