When President Obama was speaking last night, I was thinking, “Dammit, this is what Democrats are supposed to do!” We’re supposed to bring some measure of mercy to people who otherwise would be without it, who otherwise would be at the mercy of the merciless. We’re supposed to lead this country into a more hopeful future. And, for all the foolish talk about how weak a leader he is, President Obama was a powerful leader last night. He looked right into the eyes of the American people and asked:
Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?
Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works together to keep them together?
Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us? Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs here, create businesses here, create industries right here in America?
That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration. We need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.
Hope over fear, help over hate. That’s what the Democratic Party should be about, and its leader should be about leading the country to embrace those values. President Obama, after waiting so long for Republicans to act, finally just shoved the cowards out of the way.
The President told the story of Astrid Silva, a beneficiary of his earlier order deferring deportation action for those undocumented young people—”DREAMers”—who were brought to the country as children. Silva became an immigration activist who demanded a more comprehensive fix to what “everybody knows,” as the President noted last night, is a “broken immigration system.” About her he said,
Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old. Her only possessions were a cross, her doll, and the frilly dress she had on. When she started school, she didn’t speak any English. She caught up to other kids by reading newspapers and watching PBS, and she became a good student. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mom cleaned other people’s homes. They wouldn’t let Astrid apply to a technology magnet school, not because they didn’t love her, but because they were afraid the paperwork would out her as an undocumented immigrant –- so she applied behind their back and got in. Still, she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported. It was around that time she decided to begin advocating for herself and others like her, and today, Astrid Silva is a college student working on her third degree.
Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid, or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?
Most of the people who oppose this president—the people who want his political scalp, who want to sue him or impeach him or worse—are not fighting against Obama so much as they are fighting against the changing face of America that Obama, so dramatically, represents. Many of the millions of people who will be helped by his executive actions look like Astrid Silva and not like Rush Limbaugh. And you are kidding yourself if you don’t think that makes a difference. If those undocumented immigrants were mostly white, immigration reform would have happened a long time ago.
The questions that journalists should ask every single Republican in Congress who opposes Obama’s action are these: Why do you want to load up buses with hard-working people who adore America and send them away? Why do you want to break up families through deportation while simultaneously championing “family values”? And if not Obama’s way, then what way?