By: Ally Bolour, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee
Two seemingly unrelated events happened recently that reaffirmed my belief in legal immigration.
First, I attended a panel discussion on Secure Communities co-sponsored by the American Immigration Council and my alma mater, Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, during which there was a pointed yet civil exchange between LA County Sheriff Baca and Chris Newman, Legal Programs Director at National Day Laborer Organizing Network on the net value of Secure Communities. The positions taken on either side did not surprise me. What grabbed my attention was the passion with which Chris Newman presented his arguments. He immediately put the Sheriff on the defensive over some remarks he had made a few weeks back on whether undocumented workers had civil rights. To his credit, not only did the Sheriff backtrack on the civil rights issue, but he also used the occasion to express his frustration with our broken immigration laws. In that moment, I saw this older career politician and law enforcement officer at a loss for words trying to defend a program that is simply indefensible. I also saw Chris Newman – this WASP’ish looking young guy – so eloquently express his vision for America and how he didn’t want to see the Arizonafication of this country. He talked about how young kids in Arizona fear the Sheriff there and law enforcement in general. Chris reasoned that the fear was a direct result of failed immigration policies and over the top rhetoric and outright lies of government officials like Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona. He invited the audience to watch the Reagan/Bush Debate of 1980 on immigration to see firsthand how much the debate has shifted during the past 30 years.
Second, my little nephew, Sam – now 25 – told me about his new job as an engineer contracted by the State of California. He was excited about his job duties and also his salary, which needless to say is more than what I make as an immigration attorney. I am so proud of him – and proud of this country which made his rise possible. Sam is a graduate of UC Berkeley and is now attending a USC graduate program. Yes, he is a natural born citizen, but many of his friends are not. I would much rather see his friends – documented or not – be able to contribute to our society in the same positive way as Sam is, rather than being marginalized and dehumanized. At the end of the day, Sam will pay into the State coffers and his friends on the fringes will be more attenuated. We need to provide an avenue for these students to contribute to our economy and to give back to the society that raised and educated them to benefit all Americans.
Later, I dutifully searched for the 1980 debate between Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. While watching the clip on YouTube, I was overwhelmed by memories of that year, when I was still in high school and my biggest frustration was with my physics teacher whom I was convinced hated me. Immigration was not on my radar.
During the debate, one of the questions posed to Messrs Reagan and Bush was eerily similar to the one posed to Gov. Rick Perry in Orlando earlier in September. The issue has not changed. I was surprised however when I heard the responses. Equally as amazing was that there was no shock and horror from the audience for the position the two men took. Here are the excerpts from the 1980 debate:
Do you think the children of illegal aliens should be allowed to attend Texas public schools for free or do you think their parents should pay for their education?
George H. W. Bush: “I’d like to see something done about the illegal alien problem that would be so sensitive and so understanding about labor needs and human needs where that problem wouldn’t come up….but today if those people are here, I would reluctantly say that they should get whatever society is willing to give to their neighbors…but the problem has to be solved. Because as we’ve made as illegal, sometimes the labor that I’d like to see as legal, we’ve created two things: we’ve created this society of decent honorable family loving people who are in violation of the law and secondly we’re exasperating our relations with Mexico. The edge of your question is much more fundamental than whether they can attend Houston schools. If they’re living here, I don’t want to see a whole set of 6 and 8 year old kids being made – totally uneducated and made to feel that they’re living outside the law – that’s fundamental. These are good people…strong people … part of my family.”
Ronald Reagan: “I think that the time has come for the U.S. and our neighbors, particularly with our neighbor to the south, to have a better understanding and a better relation that we’ve ever had. I think we haven’t been sensitive enough to our size and our power. They have a problem of about 40-50% unemployment. Now this cannot continue without the possibility of rising trouble below the border where we could end up having a hostile and strange neighbor on our border. Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then while they’re working, and earning here, then they pay taxes here and when they want to go back, they can go back…and open the border both ways by understanding their problem.”
After listening to the two debates and then reflecting on Sam’s friends, I am reinvigorated and ready to continue the fight for reform. You see, this is personal for me. I was part of that young immigrant generation that those Republican presidential candidates were trying to protect. Their responses directly affected my life in the same way that today’s immigration debate is affecting millions of lives. Call me a conservative if you must – but I want the same opportunities for all the young people out there today, documented or otherwise, because we’re all in this pot together!