Nelson Mandela will undoubtedly be remembered for many things — bringing an end to the policy of racial hatred, violence and oppression called apartheid, becoming the first black president of South Africa, relinquishing the presidency when he could have easily won reelection, and planting the seeds of economic opportunity for all South Africans. Mr. Mandela accomplished the seemingly impossible through his integrity and unwavering commitment to his principles. To those who predicted a post-apartheid bloodbath of revenge against white South Africans, Mr. Mandela answered with reconciliation and compromise. Even world leaders who denounced his positions and tactics during the course of his lifetime have now joined in praise of the inspiration the world collectively draws from the life of this remarkable man.
Our country’s leaders were no exception and issued thoughtful statements regarding Mr. Mandela’s commitment to democracy and justice.
President Obama remarked, “We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice. “
Speaker of the House John Boehner praised Mr. Mandela as “an unrelenting voice for democracy” and noted that his “perseverance in fighting the apartheid system will continue to inspire future generations.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said, “The world has lost an exceptional leader who made the world a better place by illuminating in his own nation the shining light of freedom. From prisoner to president, Mr. Mandela demonstrated a lifelong commitment to justice and human rights, and his legacy should serve as an example for all of us.”
Hopefully these eloquent remarks are not merely words that will be quickly forgotten in the partisan gridlock that grips Washington.
Our political leaders should draw inspiration from Mr. Mandela’s mission of justice and join together to pass immigration reform.
And Congress and the President face a much easier task than did Mr. Mandela. Unlike in post-apartheid South Africa, which was torn apart after many years of extreme racial violence and oppression, in our country today we have broad consensus that our immigration system must be fixed. Americans from across the political spectrum – including conservatives, liberals, business interests, organized labor, religious organizations and grassroots groups – agree that we need to replace our broken immigration process with a new system that will fuel economic growth and promote our country’s traditional principles of family unity and justice.
But despite the widespread calls for legislation — even with the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate this summer — the momentum for change has been halted in the House of Representatives. In fact, the House leadership has not brought any legislation to the floor for a vote.
Our leaders need to take inspiration from Mr. Mandela’s life to work in partnership with adversaries to accomplish goals vital to both sides, and, more importantly, to the country as a whole. Our leaders in Washington need to set aside their political rancor and partisan differences and allow a vote on an immigration bill that reflects our collective values and meets the security and economic needs of our country.
And each of us, as immigration practitioners, also should look inward to take action based on the inspiration of the life of Mr. Mandela. As we remember the legacy one of history’s great moral leaders, let each of us reflect on what more we can do to make this world better —better for our clients, our AILA colleagues, our families, our communities, and even those we consider our adversaries.
Because, as Mr. Mandela said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Written by Marketa Lindt, Member, AILA Board of Governors