President Barack Obama spoke at Facebook Headquarters in Palo Alto this past week. He was making a swing through the west, raising a ton of money for his upcoming campaign. My husband told me that he spoke about immigration reform, so naturally I looked up his remarks. He said,
"We have not gotten immigration reform done. It's something I care deeply about.
I can't solve this problem by myself. We need immigrants who are educated, who
develop needed skills for the workplace, who open businesses and help create jobs."
He also repeated his support of The Dream Act that would legalize undocumented students who
"think of themselves as Americans".
I have no reason to think the President doesn't mean what he says, but here's the thing (as Meredith Grey always says on Grey's Anatomy); we need clear, concrete policy and leadership. I was in an exercise class recently, and the instructor was tentative and indecisive throughout the whole class. She was cheerful and smiling as we all fumbled along trying to follow our "leader"; and she really MEANT to give us a good class. I had trouble paying attention because I kept thinking how much better the situation would be if we had a strong decisive teacher. President Obama IS a gifted orator and leader. I believe he could rally the people of America to radical change and inclusion. He needs to clearly explain what it could mean to us as Americans if we pass The Dream Act...and what it could mean if we don't. ( for example, "Passing of The Dream Act could mean that we will have more educated, included young people in our midst...not passing it could mean that we will have a group of disenfranchised angry young people in our midst.") He needs to meet with the many Latino men and women who are undocumented all over the United States who HAVE opened their own businesses and have many people relying on them for the jobs that their businesses have created. He needs to tell these peoples stories, and remind Americans that we are fundamentally a nation built by the rich diversity of immigrants. He needs to give the people an individual face and human dignity. He needs to move beyond "caring deeply" to taking action. And finally, he needs to open a frank discussion about the fact that the meat and produce and construction industries of America are all heavily (in some cases almost exclusively) staffed with undocumented (read: illegal) workers...whom this country cannot do without. It is an ongoing dirty secret...quite removed from the rarified air of the Palo Alto Facebook Headquarters, and a $38,000 a plate dinner at a dot.com CEO's home in San Francisco. Interestingly, the slogan for the 2012 campaign is "Are You In?". In the case of a lot of undocumented people, the answer is "Yes...now what?"