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Comprehensive Immigration Reform And Values: The Ideology Of Ideals

by Robert Gittelson

Sometimes I sense that I am getting bogged down in minutia. Occasionally, the politics of distraction has left me, well….distracted. In writing about the ongoing dialogue, (or upcoming battle), over Comprehensive Immigration Reform, I tend to get caught up in the day-to-day hot button issues of the debate. In point of fact, most of the articles that I write, and for that matter read, tend to address the latest news cycle controversy, or speak out against something ridiculous that some ideologue has injected into the daily discourse on CIR. Therefore, I have decided to take a step back, and try to "see the forest for the trees." This article is going to take me back to my CIR roots, and reiterate the reasons why I felt compelled to act, and to get involved in this debate in the first place.

I want to get away from all of the hype, and distill this issue down to it's basic essence. We tend to get all caught up in the fringe ideologies that sidetrack this issue, and I want to take this back to the most fundamental genesis. This topic, at it's core, for me boils down to the elementary; ideals and values.

The other day, I attended the Bar-Mitzvah of one of my nephews. The Rabbi was very engaging, and at one point in the service he started a discussion about the Labor Day holiday. The discussion went on to the topic of American values, and he called on the congregation to start naming American values. As the people in the room started bringing up these different values, you could sense a theme developing; fairness, decency, inclusiveness, freedom.

When I think about the principals that our nation was founded upon, it brings my whole perspective on the ongoing battle over CIR into specific relief. This issue shouldn't be about restriction and nativism. It shouldn't be about political one-upsmanship and gotcha politics. It shouldn't be about white vs. brown, rich vs. poor, Democrats vs. Republicans, or English vs. Spanish. It most certainly shouldn't be about truth vs. lies, and I think that everyone should be able to unite around the concept that it shouldn't be about a duly elected, citizen, black, Democrat President vs. a southern, white, Republican back-bencher Representative.

At the end of the day, this issue is inevitably about us. What is important to us, and what are our collective values as a nation, and as a people? The very term "ideology" is representative of our "ideals." When people say to me, "I don't agree with CIR on ideological principals," what they are really saying is, "My ideals or values are not based on fairness, decency, inclusiveness and freedom." Worse yet, some may feel strongly that their ideals and values are inclusive of these principals, but yet they somehow justify to themselves that in this case, it is okay to go against their "principals," since these people are "others" and not "us." Some might say that the principal of "the rule of law" is an American value, and of course they would be correct. That too was mentioned by a member of the synagogue's congregation. However, to me, this brings up the issue of perspective. Laws do not have to divide us. Laws should be written, or in this case amended to justly, fairly, and authoritatively govern the reality on the ground. What CIR advocates are saying is not, "Let's put aside the rule of law in this case." I believe that what they are saying is, "Let's update and modify the laws to regulate and to acheive feasibility on the laws that will rule this issue as it is, and not how it was when the antiquated, outdated, and largely ineffective current laws were written." This is much more about re-establishing the rule of law, than ignoring it.

I am speaking out on this topic now, because I sense, or perhaps fear that the CIR bill that is now being written in Congress, is going to veer away from our fundamental values as a nation, and that it's authors are going to "appease" the ideologues, at the expense of our ideals. Certainly there exist political realities that are quantifiable and specific. However, we should not pander so far to the minority opinion, as to lose sight of the principals of the majority. The only thing worse than keeping the old flawed laws in place, is replacing those "bad" laws with "worse" laws.

For example, if in our new Healthcare Reform bill, Congress is being forced to pander or stray so far from our American principals as to make it illegal for undocumented residents to even be able to buy, at full cost, healthcare insurance, then how far will Congress be forced to pander or stray from our American ideals when they are forced to confront the much more controversial issue of CIR?

The elements of enforcement and punishment should not be the basis of the new CIR bill, but simply and exclusively the mechanisms of implementation. This reform should be about people, and doing the right thing. It should be about hopes and aspirations, fulfilling goals and achieving dreams. It should be about lifting people up, and fresh starts. About bringing our nation together, and building a better, smarter, and more prosperous future. This bill should be about the celebration of the American Dream, and not the begrudging recognition of minimal or marginal rights.

We must remember back to when empathy was considered a good thing. We shouldn't dismiss the can-do spirit of the oppressed that overcame long odds to reach our land of opportunity, especially when we welcomed them with open arms and lousy jobs, and benefitted from their work ethic and eagerness to be a new American.

Frankly, I think that it is disgusting that xenophobia has been able to inject itself into the ongoing healthcare debate. If there is one issue that should be completely immune from racial issues, it should be healthcare. Perhaps our upcoming national discussion of CIR should address the issue of racism, and more importantly the obvious racial divide that clearly does exist in our nation. It might not be good political strategy to force our nation to look in the mirror, to see if an element of bigotry is staring back at us. However, it is an opportunity for growth. If life experience has taught me anything, it's that serious problems never fix themselves by being ignored. This issue of racism in our country, and our world, will not go away if it is not confronted. This is not a topic to be whispered about in the ears of our friends. This is a topic to be addressed at full volume in town halls and in the national media.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform is a complex issue. However, we shouldn't let the complexity of this issue distract us from the humanity inherent in this issue. I've written many articles that detail the economic arguments to be made in favor of CIR. Similarly, I've written extensively on the reasoning behind a well thought through schedule of enforcement provisions necessary for an effective CIR. However, as a rule, I have intentionally sidestepped around the fundamental principals that comprise the moral arguments that in reality comprise the bedrock arguments that require us to pass a humane CIR. However, in light of the ugly politics of divisiveness and fear-mongering that threaten to squeeze the justness and decency entirely out of this legislation, I felt compelled to speak out, and to offer up this sobering diatribe. We cannot lose sight of our moral compass. CIR is ultimately going to be argued on the basis of numbers, statistics, formulas, and projections. However, propriety and our constitution demand that this issue be decided on the ideals as expressed by our founding fathers, (just to throw a bone to our "rule of law" obstructionists). To whit:

"We the People of the United States, (notice the word "people", as opposed to "citizens"), in Order to form a more perfect Union, ( as opposed to an imperfect union where 12,000,00 - 20,000,000 residents are living here without rights), establish Justice, (by improving the laws that govern our immigration code and proceedures to make them enforceable), insure domestic Tranquility, (by bringing undocumented residents out of their shadow society, and into the fabric of the American brotherhood of man), provide for the common defence, (by allowing these able bodied men and women the option of enlisting in our armed forces, thereby strengthing our national defence), promote the general Welfare, (by enabling these undocumented people to work legally, pay their taxes and file returns, be counted in the census, and thrive within our legal society), and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, (the posterity of the undocumented is realistically our shared posterity, and as such they are deserving of the blessings of liberty - based on our ideals of fairness, decency, inclusiveness, and freedom), do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

In the course of my travels around the globe, it never ceases to amaze me to re-discover time and again just how valuable American residency or citizenship is held to be by rest of the world. This is especially true in third world countries, where hopelessness abounds, and the only chance for a better life lies in the promise of the "new world." I also might mention that of the hundreds of people that have literally begged me, in the course of doing business in these countries, to help them to be able to move to the United States, they always seek the promise of our economic system, or the freedom of our democratic government. Not once, in all of these conversations, has anyone ever said to me, "I want to go to America because it is conservative."

People around the world still respect the United States as a powerful yet compassionate nation. In general terms, they see us as using our military power to exert our will on the rest of the world, and while they often resent that about us, they often grudgingly offer their acknowledgement that we are a good country to be allies with. On the other hand, they believe that if they could only immigrate to the United States, they would be happier and more prosperous. In fact, they are certain of it.

It saddens me to know that our rancorous national discourse on immigrants over the past several years, in conjunction with some horrific economic policy decisions over the past decade, has served to devalue the worth of residency in the United States in the eyes of the world. Literally hundreds of thousands of people gathered to hear then Presidential candidate Obama, when he made speeches around the world. They didn't look to him with promise for a better world because of his conservatism, or nativist ideologies. They went to hear him speak, because of his message of unity, common purpose, and change. Similarly, we, as a nation, duly elected him - by a significant majority - for exactly those same reasons.

While I cannot say for certain that I am completely on board with the President's healthcare legislation, (because I really need to see what the final bill looks like - and I oppose the undo and harsh restrictions on the undocumented), I am so very proud of the way in which he is fighting so hard to push for change. The man is so dynamic and hard working, so energetic and optimistic, that I can't help but root for him to succeed. I believe that the country should get behind the President, if for no other reason than because he is fighting so hard for all of us - Democrat, Republican, Independent - to progress. In the end, he might have to tell the conservative Republicans to take a hike, if they continue to obstruct for obstruction's sake.

As to the real Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation that the President would like to see passed, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels, because frankly our laurels are looking a little wilted right now. The world is looking to us for leadership, and we cannot lead through words alone. The time for words alone is over. The Republican leadership has shown us in no uncertain terms that speaking to them is tantamount to speaking to a brick wall. They seem to be stuck on the antiquated and false notion that two wrongs make a right. They contend that since our undocumented population didn't follow all the rules on entry, (even though many Republicans admit that we are equally to blame for welcoming them with open arms), that we should deport the 12,000,000 or so of them, even though they are so valuable to our economy, and have established roots in our communities. What some may call conservatism; others might call hypocrisy, (or worse).

We must regain the moral high ground through the example of our deeds. The time is now to tear down the partisan brick wall, and move our country in a better direction - one that is devoid of the false ideologies of exclusion and scape-goating. If the minority Republican Party continues to resist the majority Democrat's efforts to tear down that wall, then the majority leaders must march right through the wall. Extending the olive branch of bipartisanship does not mean caving in on American principals, or backing down on the ideals that we hold to be not only self-evident, but of important and great intrinsic value to us as a people.

We must lead by the power of our example. I am speaking now to remind our leadership on both sides of the aisle, but particularly to the majority Democrats, that we cannot settle for a watered down bill that is only "half a loaf." The country and the world are looking to our nation to move forward with real change to our immigration laws. How we settle the issue of our undocumented residents will speak volumes as to our humanity and ethics. We want to express the boldness of our leadership through, fairness, decency, inclusiveness and freedom. We must have enough faith in the courage of our convictions to show the world that to govern with empathy shows strength. Anything less than courageous, forthright and immediate action on Comprehensive Immigration Reform diminishes our stature, and demeans the value of our leadership.

About The Author

Robert Gittelson has been a garment manufacturer in the Los Angeles area for over twenty-five years. His wife, Patricia Gittelson, is an immigration attorney with offices in Van Nuys and Oxnard, California. Robert also works closely with Patricia on the administrative side of her immigration practice. Throughout his career, Mr. Gittelson has developed practical, first-hand experience in dealing with the immigration issues that are challenging our country today.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.