The U.S. Senate returned to work left unfinished in 2007, passing an immigration bill that heads to the House where opposition is formidable. Looking past his colleagues to potential 2016 voters, Senator Marco Rubio pulled on heartstrings when he stated that "their" story--that of the immigrants in this country illegally--is his--and our--story.
Yes and no.
His parents immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba legally in the late 50s, as did my parents a decade later from Colombia. Those times were different. An economic expansion and labor shortage lapped up the relatively fewer immigrants who came, especially the professionals. That's how my uncle came to practice medicine in the historically underserved Rio Grande Valley in Texas. My parents were sponsored by the good Fulbright scholars who lived next door and became not just my godparents but padrinos to a whole family's good fortune afforded by being American--a Yale Ph.D., not one but two Silicon Valley successes, a niece's swim meet first place finish.
The immigration bill may very well die this summer in the House of Representatives leaving millions where they are now--stranded in a legal status purgatory. Limbo is their story, one a legal immigrant or an American citizen will never know. This is why this finite moment counts; the undocumented have the clearest ray of hope in decades to lead the normal lives the rest of us take for granted--to make an illegal left turn and not end up in a detention center about to cross the border into Deportationsville; to perhaps suffer workplace injustices and humiliations but not fear the Jefe calling La Migra to not pay for completed work.
These immigrants don't "live in the shadows"--that advocacy community talking point that became journalistic trope. They are not invisible. We see them every day--tending to our homes and kids, performing shift work in restaurants, riding the metro, worshipping in church. They live amongst us and in my case, right next door.
In personal motive and social contribution, these immigrants are us, whether here pursuing an engineering graduate degree or washing dishes in a steamy small corner of a dirty kitchen.
Yet not accounting for them in some orderly, legal fashion has created a de facto second class status similar to the one that was dismantled and banished with the bloodshed that was the Civil War and the attempts to fulfill the promise of equality which we can trace from Reconstruction, through the Civil Rights era, to the present. We allowed these immigrants' difference to be codified in the form of draconian immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama, as well as dehumanizing language such as "illegals" and "anchor babies."
We have the opportunity to right this wrong because of the so-called DREAMers, those young students and military service members who were brought to this country illegally. In the face of paralyzing dead ends, they stood up in the summer of 2011 to President Obama and his administration for setting deportation records without pushing for reform or using his executive authority to give families respite which I write about in "Anatomy of an Immigration Debate: Presidential Carne Asada at NCLR."
Still, their ganas may not be enough to power the bill past its opponents in the House. That's where everyday people come in--citizens, legal immigrants, and the undocumented--who say:
We are the same.
I will not allow second class people in America.
Lawmakers will listen. So are donors.
Passage of the immigration bill in the House of Representatives will require constituents to stand with the immigrants and Americans of today, the constituents of tomorrow.