Marching for America

Alan Jenkins

Last Sunday, as the health care bill was being debated, 200,000 Americans gathered on the National Mall to urge action on another national priority: fixing our broken immigration system.

Speakers included civil rights leaders like Ben Jealous of the NAACP, faith leaders like Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, and labor leaders like Andy Stern of SEIU. The dais was filled with leaders from the House and Senate. And the event drew everyday people—families, workers, congregants, and community leaders—from around the country.

They came together to call for workable solutions that uphold our nation’s values and move us forward together. They seek commonsense reform creating a process for undocumented immigrants who register with the government, pay taxes, pass a criminal background check, and learn English to become legal residents and, eventually, citizens. The vast majority of Americans, across the political spectrum, support that agenda.

And they came because immigration reform is the right thing to do, for America and everyone in it. Our country is founded on the idea that we all hold basic human rights, and that it’s wrong for any group to be exploited or mistreated. Our current system facilitates the exploitation of workers and the denial of due process. It must be fixed to prohibit mistreatment of immigrants or anyone else, whether it’s hate crimes, racial profiling, or exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

As the speeches made clear, fixing our broken immigration system also goes to the anger that so many Americans feel toward corporate greed. One reason that the system is broken is that unscrupulous big businesses like cheap labor that they can control. We need a system that protects workers from exploitation and allows us to all rise together. What we don’t need is those with an eye only on greed and profit dictating how the immigration system should work.

The marchers’ efforts have already born some fruit. Ahead of the march, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) outlined a much-needed framework for comprehensive immigration reform legislation. While not perfect, the framework includes crucial elements. And its bipartisan sponsorship is a welcome departure from the partisan rancor on display in the health care debate.

With health care largely out of the way, it’s time to turn to immigration reform. Doing so should not compete with job creation and fixing the economy, but support it. It should lift wages, increase tax revenues, and move us forward as one nation.

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