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Wanted: Profiles in courage on immigration reform

Posted by Brent Wilkes on 10/11/2013 @ 11:30 AM

This post was originally on The Hill's Congress blog and can be read here.

Read the blog directly on the Hill.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Profiles in Courage,” President Kennedy wrote about eight United States senators throughout history who stood for their principles even if it risked ending their political careers. Seeking to preserve the ideal of public service, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum presents annually the Profile in Courage Award to a current or former elected official who has shown political courage.

In the midst of this political crisis on Capitol Hill that has stalemated work on important issues like commonsense immigration reform, I wonder who may be deserving of this venerable award next spring.

We are all too familiar with the story of today’s Washington, D.C. Elected officials are afraid to act -- much less lead -- because they hear the dog whistle from small bands of extremists ordering them to retreat. Or, because party loyalty demands strict adherence to partisan tactics to win the next elections and control of Congress.

Even when public opinion polls show strong public support for immigration reform -- a complex issue that catapulted to the top of this year’s legislative “to-do” list with the backing of disparate political and community interests -- members of Congress seem too wired for combat to lay down their political and rhetorical weapons and fix the immigration system. Bipartisan cooperation on an issue that should benefit both parties -- not to mention our national economy and communities -- is debased as caving in to the opposition.

Certainly, the Senate made progress this year while the House stalled. The Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of 8” in the upper chamber bravely came together, argued, negotiated, and compromised until they agreed on a measure that deals with all aspects of immigration, including a proposed earned pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the country. An amended bill passed the Senate 68-32.

In the House, immigration reform has its true champions, but the lack of true leadership and political courage among the rank-and-file has slowed down the momentum. As we hear it, soon after the House’s own bipartisan “Gang of 8” became a “Gang of 7,” the top chiefs of the GOP-controlled House withdrew their support of the process.

Instead of a “comprehensive” overhaul, conservative opponents of immigration reform are advancing ugly measures that would place immigration enforcement in the hands of local police, against the best advice of law enforcement agencies across the U.S. They also would target our communities through racial profiling, deny basic human and civil rights, and ramp up detentions and deportations without seriously addressing how to legalize the 11 million people now in our country.

House Democrats, meanwhile, have suggested taking up the Senate’s bill that came out of Judiciary Committee before it was loaded down with a costly and unreasonable border security surge, and attach the border provisions approved unanimously by the House Homeland Security Committee.

That sounds reasonable, but we fear it, too, will get chewed up in the partisan wars already raging over the government shutdown and fiscal issues. The gamesmanship must end.

There are Democrats and Republicans who already agree on commonsense reforms, but they need the courage and encouragement to work together on this issue now, without worrying over whether they have neutralized a political talking point for the next election cycle. And there must be a vote on the House floor on immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

Millions of families in America are counting on this important legislation, as evidenced by the hundreds of marches and rallies held across the U.S. by immigration advocates, including the rally on the National Mall this week. DREAMers and their undocumented parents have courageously come out of the shadows to fight for this reform because they are Americans, except that they lack legal status.

Immigration reform requires several “profiles in courage.” We hope many in Congress step forward.

To let this year end without a desperately needed, commonsense overhaul of our immigration laws would be a shameful chapter in the history of this Congress.

Wilkes is national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Follow @thehill on Twitter.

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American Dreams on Summer Break

Posted by Jossie Flor Sapunar on 08/06/2013 @ 05:17 PM

This post was originally on The Hill's Congress blog and can be read here.

Written by: LULAC National President Margaret Moran and Executive Director Brent Wilkes.

As children across the country prepare to go back to the classroom, our nation’s leaders are on recess until September. While Congress is on summer break, the future of 5.5 million children is in limbo. One million unauthorized immigrants under the age of 18, and 4.5 million U.S. born children of undocumented parents, are anxiously awaiting immigration reform.

During this “vacation,” our community must rally to support the passing of the landmark bipartisan bill which will affect 11 million people residing in our country without proper documentation. They come from all corners of the world seeking the American Dream. And the American Dream cannot be achieved without them.

Undocumented immigrants are propelling our economy. They are putting in to our society without reaping the benefits. While the economic benefits of our immigrants should be common sense, an analysis released by the Congressional Budget Office made it crystal clear: Comprehensive immigration reform will provide the U.S economy with a trillion dollars in gains over the next two decades.

The analysis highlighted that immigration reform would also increase wages and tax revenue; and extend the longevity of social security. This should be simple for even the most resistant to understand: immigration reform is what our economy needs. Now.

Yet, anti-immigrant protesters manipulate the human conscience by proclaiming that undocumented people are why jobs and resources are scarce. At the LULAC 84th Annual National Convention, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack put the ducks in a row, explaining that without the undocumented immigrants working the fields, our agricultural system would collapse and the prices of our daily meals would skyrocket.

Today, we are living in a different United States from the days in which LULAC was founded 84 years ago with the commitment to improve the lives of our community and our country. We have elected a president of the United States of African-American origin and now have a Latina Chief Justice. The “majority” are now ethnic minorities.

Yet, we still face widespread racism, bigotry, and fear of immigrants and minorities. Possibly stirred by what we see on our television screen or at the movies, we have misconceptions of Latinos and of the immigrant community. We are a people of faith. We are committed to our family, and believe that hard work is its own reward. We are adamant to ensure a better future for our children. We are Republicans and we are Democrats, choosing our representatives based on issues, rather than parties. We form one of the most powerful voting blocks, as evidenced in the election of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

That is why the House of Representatives must listen to our voices, when they consider the next steps for immigration reform. And our community must let our representatives know that we will not sit back and let this bill fall through the cracks or be steamrolled.

For any immigrant, becoming an American citizen is a joyous day, full of pride and appreciation. Immigrants have bought into the ideal that our America is everyone’s America. Our country historically has opened its doors to “the tired and the poor.” This is part of what makes the United States so great. We are a land of immigrants, and we can’t close that door. But we can close our door on politicians who are not supporting the American Dream.

Moran is national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and Wilkes is LULAC's national executive director. LULAC is the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights volunteer-based organization that empowers Hispanic Americans and builds strong Latino communities. For more information, visit www.lulac.org.

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