Another Columbus Day has come and gone. And with it, the Republicans have lost yet another opportunity to reposition the party as welcoming to those who are born elsewhere but, for reasons of their own, want to come to the United States to live.
It is highly likely that were the Congress and President Barack Obama not in the midst of a standoff over the continued funding of the federal government everyone would be talking right now about immigration. The bill passed by the Senate earlier this year is, for all intents and purposes, dead in "the other body," but there have been rumors that the House has been quietly working on something. No one knows what that is, but House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has outlined a set of principles governing his approach to the issue that are reasonable and worthy of consideration.
The legislative debate and the cultural divide are, however, two different issues. Regardless of what the Congress attempts to do, the GOP would be smart to use the time available to it to explain that "What part of illegal don’t you understand?" is not a sane, rational policy. [See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]
America needs an immigration policy that is separate from the need to secure the border. The latter is a national security issue. The former touches at the heart of what the United States is and what it can become. This country was built and made great by immigrants, people who sought a better life for themselves and for their children. What was true in 1813 or 1913 is no less true today. Most of the people coming here do so because their upward advancement is blocked by a religious, economic, geographic, political, linguistic, ethnic or otherwise artificial barrier in their home country that they cannot overcome.
Columbus, everyone should remember, was an immigrant twice over. He went from Italy to Spain and then from Spain to the western hemisphere, an experience to which many in the United States can relate. Many families still tell stories about at least one ancestor who arrived on U.S. shores with little more than what they could carry in pursuit, as Jefferson put it, "of happiness."
Whether that happiness was defined as the freedom to worship according to the dictates of individual conscience or to find economic freedom, it is undeniable that immigrants have played and continue to play a major role in building the country.
Immigrants have been acknowledged for the individual accomplishments they have made to the course of American events. Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger, Joseph Pulitzer, Irving Berlin, Bob Hope and many others have been feted over and over for the contributions they made to the United States and, in some cases, the world. It is well worth noting that their achievements might not have been, indeed probably would not have been possible, had they not come to these shores.
From Columbus forward, immigrants have made the United States stronger, richer, healthier, and, most importantly, a better place. To honor them on Columbus Day keeps alive the idea of America as a "shining city on a hill" beckoning to all who seek a better life. It is certainly an appropriate time to reflect on what Congress is attempting to do as it takes up the reform of our immigration laws, making them more humane, more welcoming, and easier to navigate for those who want to come to America to work hard. As they prosper, so do we all.