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Remember Our Past and Do Right by Immigrants

By: Joseph A. Sena, Jr.
Published in The Journal News, Op-Ed, June, 2007

I thought that I saw a tear roll down the face of the Statue of Liberty when I read your recent article that the U.S. Senate is unable to reach a compromise on a comprehensive bill to overhaul U.S. immigration laws. What is wrong with our Congress?

The problem seems to be a sense in many congressmen that the U.S. neither needs nor wants more immigrants. Somehow, many Americans and congressmen seem to think that in the terrorist age, alienage is equated with terrorism. This thought is patently ridiculous and manifestly dangerous. How could it be wrong to welcome the best scientists, artists, businessmen and leaders who enrich our country and keep us on the cutting edge of progress and make us competitive throughout the world? How could it be wrong to unify families by facilitating the immigration of family members from overseas to the U.S.? How could it be wrong to allow lawful entry to the U.S. of sorely needed agricultural workers, laborers, hotel and restaurant workers, sewing machine operators, construction workers, maintenance workers and other people desperately needed by U.S. industry?

Many argue that immigrants are essential to perform the work that Americans do not want to do, that immigrants fill gaps in the work force, that immigrants add to the dynamism and diversity of U.S. civilization, that immigrants have subsidized the U.S. standard of living and led to the expansion of the U.S economy, and that immigrants have kept down consumer prices in certain areas. All of those are true. However, the most powerful reason for welcoming immigrants of various stripes is that we are a nation of immigrants, a nation of nations, and immigration is part of our soul, our foundation, our history and our reason for existence.

Welcoming immigrants is who we are as a people. Moreover, we are fundamentally a Judeo-Christian people who believe that extraordinary things come from ordinary people who are allowed to flourish in a democratic setting. We believe in forgiveness, atonement and repentance. Where are those values to be found in the congressman who preach the doctrine of exclusion, arrest and deportation? Do they think that the needs of the economy will disappear if we place our heads in the sand like an ostrich? One can almost hear from the cascade of history the resounding words: Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Are there no concentration camps to solve the problem?

The ugly head of xenophobia has appeared throughout American history; witness "No Irish need apply," "The Know Nothing Party," "The Chinese Exclusion Act," Sacco and Vanzetti, the World War II Japanese-American internment and other events. In the end, however, the core traditional American values of generosity and Judeo-Christian values have triumphed.

Is American still the last best hope of civilization? As has happened so often before, we are forgetting our history and we are committing the same sins as our ancestors. Let us hope that Congress will rise to the level of statesmanship, and will pass a comprehensive immigration bill worthy of our country, our values and our civilization.