Time for another reform

Ian Sams

On March 21, the day of the House of Representatives’ historic vote on health care reform, around 200,000 people descended on Capitol Hill to make a point. They weren’t there to spit on congressmen or shout racial slurs. They organized to show their passion to promote an issue, not to tear down the government.

This wasn’t a Tea Party rally, nor was it some mass outpouring of opposition to the health care bill. No, it was a diverse gathering of almost a quarter of a million people to support comprehensive immigration reform.

You may be wondering, like I was, why you haven’t heard of this rally — a rally one speaker called “the biggest mobilization on any issue since Barack Obama was inaugurated president.” It received little to no national media coverage. Its leaders weren’t interviewed or profiled. Photos from the event didn’t grace the pages of The New York Times or claim the home page of Politico.

Instead, last weekend, we heard of tea partiers calling Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a “nigger” and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., a “faggot.” Fox News showed the signs that read: “If Brown can’t stop health care, a Browning can” and “Get rid of Congress, they’re ruining our country.” A rally of 1,000 tea partiers – rather than one 200 times its size – got top billing last weekend.

Maybe it was the relevance of the moment or the media’s obsession with who shouts the loudest or who uses the dirtiest tactics, but the complete ignorance of the immigration rally by just about everyone leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Folks from both ends of the political spectrum, from the NAACP to Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), are calling on the president to take up immigration reform and uphold his promise to tackle the issue in 2010. Because of the long, drawn-out debate over health care reform, the president has undeniably had to push things onto both back burners.

Immigration reform should not be one of those second-tier issues.

A study conducted by Dr. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda for the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center finds that an estimated $1.5 trillion in Gross Domestic Product could be injected into the U.S. economy over the next ten years as a result of immigration reform. It also estimates that, over the first three years after reform, newly legalized immigrant workers would generate consumer spending that could support upwards of 900,000 jobs in the U.S. In addition, much-needed tax revenues would increase by nearly $5 billion.

Immigration reform could even the playing field for many minimum wage jobs and inject new life into consumer spending. In a time when businesses desperately need new customers and our federal government needs increased revenues to draw down the deficit, newly legalized immigrants could provide some support.

Here’s what I expect: The president and Democrats in Congress will make a push toward the end of this year to reform our country’s failed immigration laws and procedures. Republicans, as they did with health care reform, will find wedge issues to thrust into the spotlight to rile up the masses against the reform proposals. Nativist tea partiers will get louder and more intense about their opposition to immigration reform and will undeniably spew forth more heated rhetoric attacking Democrats and immigrants.

And the hundreds of thousands of people who rally together to support reform will be drowned out.

For some reason it’s become the norm in our political discourse to fight and name-call and assassinate character. It’s somehow okay to suggest that violence is acceptable and that threats or intimidation are encouraged. I have no doubt that a debate over another “hot button issue” will spawn even more outrage.

But it’s time that someone takes up the charge on immigration reform. It’s time to hear some common sense solutions to how we can legalize workers and let them positively benefit society. It’s time we have a controlled debate, despite the loud, angry voices. And most importantly, it’s time our president and congressional leaders, as they did on health care, continue the work of solving our most pressing and most challenging problems.

Ian Sams is a junior majoring in political science. His column runs weekly on Monday.