CHICAGO (NNPA) -- In the wake of divisive and ill-conceived actions by states, President Obama delivered a much needed policy statement on immigration reform. It is my hope that it will bring light to dark places and place this important debate on a clear, objective footing, beyond the ideological rhetoric and partisan politics of the day.
The President's address on comprehensive immigration reform is a high moment of vision, in the tradition of Roosevelt's fireside chats--passionate, compassionate, clear, comprehensive and challenging. It challenged those who want rational change, challenged the undocumented, challenged corporate employers, challenged the frightened and the frustrated to lift their vision above our fear and pain.
President Obama laid out a pathway to citizenship, not just for the southern boarder, but for Canada, Haitians, Cubans and those on student visas. He outlined a pathway to dignity based on fairness and stability--a pathway based on redemption, not punishment. He put the moral burden on the blessed of us to help the rest of us.
America's past and future must drive us forward by hope and not backwards by fear. Comprehensive immigration reform is a test of our character; a test that measures the best in us. America must pass this test and make Lady Liberty smile and keep the flame burning.
Clearly, the system is broken, but also central to the future of a democratic United States, and our relations with Mexico and nations around the globe. Are we the United States of America, the land of immigrants who came, and come, to live in a society with a yearning to breath free?
The President answered with strength and optimism, "We celebrate the spirit of possibility -- an ethic that says if you're willing to put your shoulder to the wheel and apply your God-given talents, if you believe in yourself and you play by the rules, then there is a place for you in the United States of America--no matter where you come from and no matter what you look like."
In these times of economic recession, immigrants should not be made scapegoats and targeted for harassment and discrimination. They serve in our armed forces and fight America's wars abroad with honor. Immigrants care for our children. They pick our fruit and vegetables that make their way to our dining tables. They clean our hotel rooms and serve us at restaurants. They are doctors, lawyers, nurses, software designers and engineers.
One fact is indisputable. Immigrants are an integral and inseparable part of America's economic fabric. Immigrants are not criminals and should not be criminalized.
Consider this: the technology industry has lobbied vigorously for hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers to "legally" come to the U.S. (the H-1b program) to work in Silicon Valley and tech companies throughout the nation.
Why shouldn't Congress pass legislation – and why shouldn't America embrace – policies to enable immigrant workers to come to the U.S. and work legally in America's hotel, restaurant and agricultural industries.
There must be an even playing field for Immigrants – whether in the high tech companies of Silicon Valley or in the farms and fields of California's Central Valley. There must be one set of rules that apply to all.
Comprehensive immigration reform is needed now more than ever before. The federal government must quickly move to enact legislation, and stem the trend of individual states setting misguided immigration policies that should be under the purview of the federal government. There is no time to waste.
I commend the direction of our President, who said today, "That's the promise of America. That is the spirit that all of you are renewing here today."
Rev. Jackson is president and CEO of The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Rainbow/PUSH is a progressive organization protecting, defending and expanding civil rights to improve economic and educational opportunity. The organization is headquartered at 930 E. 50th St. in Chicago. For more information about the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, please visit www.rainbowpush.org or call 773-373-3366.