The Legend of Wooley Swamp

What ever happened to nuance? Jabberwocky is being spewed up by the left and right as they try to drag us into their Wonderlands. This blog charts a path out of this swamp of simple truths and false certainties. And from time to time, it'll be a place for more light-hearted musings.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Immigration Reform on the Hill and Beyond part I

This week has seen a flurry of activity by activists, pundits, politicians, legislators and media in the immigration field. And most importantly – for they are part of the fabric and are rarely asked – the voices of the immigrants themselves have been heard. It has been mostly heartening and highly overwhelming trying to follow this. As promised, here’s an attempt to highlight a few developments. In addition, either today or tomorrow, immigration reform will hit the Senate floor, from where I hope to report.

White House Shuffle

Today, President Bush heads to Mexico where he will have a chance to discuss immigration, especially the guest worker programs, with his Mexican counterpart, President Fox. This marks an opportunity for the two to repair damage done since the aftermath of the September 11th attacks buried any hope of then pending immigration reform.

Bush has been pushing for the kind of immigration reform that puts him in the middle of his own Republican party, which is bitterly split between fear-mongers and reasonable folks. And on Monday the President got this immigration week off to an auspicious and highly symbolic start by attending a naturalization ceremony.

The venue was the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), an interesting – and fairly controversial - organization in its own right. But this aside, the event amply shone the spotlight on the role of immigration in the U.S., both today and historically. Without ignoring security concerns etc., it was a way to remind the nay-sayers on the left and right that immigration was, is and will be positive for all involved.

(c) REUTERS/Larry Downing

So in my book, presiding over a U.S. Citizenship ceremony at DAR of all places, was an excellent move. It’s always about politics, especially for a troubled administration, but that doesn’t make it wrong. As Bush said:

“For some of you, this day comes after a long and difficult journey. For all of you, this is a defining moment in your lives. America is now more than your home; America is your country. It is inspiring to see people of many different ages, many different countries raise their hands and swear an oath to become citizens of the United States of America. Those of us who have been citizens for many years have responsibilities, as well. Helping new citizens assimilate is a mission that unites Americans by choice and by birth….At its core, immigration is a sign of a confident and successful nation. It says something about our country that people around the world are willing to leave their homes and leave their families and risk everything to come to America….The immigration debate should be conducted in a civil and dignified way. No one should play on people's fears, or try to pit neighbors against each other. No one should pretend that immigrants are threats to American identity, because immigrants have shaped America's identity.”

With his pen in hand, ready to sign something coming out of Congress, he continues to advocate reform, waiting, waiting….

And meanwhile over on the Hill

It took most of Monday, but in the face of rather dire prospects, the Senate Judiciary Committee managed to put together a real immigration reform bill – this as opposed to the one proposed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. Under the guidance of Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, marks and amendments were hung out to twist and turn in the wind, shop was talked and emotions were put on display. At around 6:30 pm, a vote was taken and the bill passed 12-6, i.e. with four Republicans votes. There were reports of rare applause.
I cannot imagine that many readers of the Swamp are planning to watch this mammoth session, but for those who are interested, click here (morning session) and here (afternoon session with dramatic conclusion). Two highlight: 2 hours 1 minute 25 seconds and then 2 hours 44 minutes 25 seconds, both the afternoon session.

All I want to say here is that the caliber of the debate was impressive. For once the immigration issue was handled with nuance. The kind of nuance that is entirely absent in the House of Representatives Bill 4437, which was adopted in December. For more on that, check out Migra Matters’ excellent reporting.

In the Committee room, the most eloquent voices were those of Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona – on the more restrictive side. And then on the more progressive side, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts – whose concern for immigration is genuine and whose brother the late President Kennedy put an end to the pre-1965 discriminatory immigration laws – and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. It was the latter who uttered words that I will never forget. He reminded us of a simple reality that all too often gets lost in the shrill debate:

“…The 11 million undocumented people are also workers....we couldn’t get by as a nation without those workers and those people. And the question is sending them ‘home’. I would just throw this out for some consideration…what do you mean by ‘home’? ....for some they’ve been here so long that they can’t imagine that where they live is not home. And that’s the real debate here. Where is home and where do you want home to be?….some don’t know where to go, their home is where they’ve raised their children, their home is where they’ve lived their married lives. And we have allowed, rightly or wrongly, for that home to be established.” (my transcription, his emphasis)

Amen. Realize the positive and assume some responsibility. Watching his entire statement (the second highlight alluded to above) is very worthwhile, especially given his lovely Southern drawl and the fact that this was ‘stream of consciousness’ rambling. The Senator had just returned from China and his biological clock was out of whack. Then he went on to call the bluff of those hucksters screaming “Amnesty!”, the concept bandied about by those who oppose bringing undocumented, exploited workers out of the shadows.

According to the senior senator from South Carolina, the only real amnesty sought was of the political kind some seem keen to secure. He was referring to those politicians that are trying to have their cake and eat it too, “wanting the ability to talk about this and not make anybody mad. Well, I’m afraid that’s just not going to happen.” Exactly, show some leadership, folks!

And over on the House side, the HR 4437 restrictionists who stir up fear – and then exploit this by claiming to be listening to their constituents – are having second thoughts. House Majority Leader John Boehner is reconsidering his love for the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. It seems all it took was a visit to the border to hear how unworkable the idea is. Now, you would have thought that this kind of field trip would have useful before the vote last December.

As this analysis piece in the Washington Post shows, the road ahead is long and full of potholes. And in the next entry, I will offer some critical comments on the bill that emerged out of the committee as well as highlight the role of the immigrants in this whole debate. Their showing at rallies – and thus being absent from workplaces – has been sobering for those with their heads in the sand.

(to be continued…)


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Blogger Duke1676 said...

great post.

I linked to it over at Migra Matters... excellent work :)

2:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you know that the Rep. who wrote the Bill (Sensebrenner) put in an Ammendment to the Bill that would have removed the "Felony Clause" from it? The DEMOCRATS shot it down with 191 Democrats voting NO (allowing the Felony Clause to remain). The same Democrats who now use that section of the Bill to show how "unfair" and "racist" it is.
Your being played for a fool.
Here is a link to the Bill. Click on "Amendments" and its number 656 (19 of 32).

12:51 AM  

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