George McGovern was well aware of the unique opportunity American democracy has afforded its citizens. This grand experiment in democratic governance was forged in Philadelphia in 1787 and finally ratified by all the states in 1788. The founding fathers took a risk unheard of at the time – it created a national government that gave the power of governance to people-a nation of immigrants. Men, women, and children from far away shores hazarded a journey to an unknown land in hopes of realizing their dreams in the nation founded on freedom, justice and liberty for all. This grand experiment as not been without trials and tribulations. Our history is darkened by the treatment of the only non immigrant persons – the Native Americans who experienced a deliberate genocide by the various agencies of government, The reprehensible institution of slavery that brought thousands of unwilling Africans here and into bondage. An indelible stain upon our Constitution. Unfounded wars and egregious acts of arrogance and greed by those who were chosen to be our leaders. However through it all, the good and the bad, the nation has persevered to become the strongest, most powerful and still the best hope for the world. A nation of immigrants. A true tapestry of ethnicity, culture, and diversity.
In his book, What It Means To Be A Democrat, McGovern eloquently states:
“most immigrants arrive with the desire to work hard, a dedication to our American ideals, a determination to succeed, and an eagerness to join this great experiment of ours. These are qualities that make our country unique. Our diversity has been our strength. But the vision of an open-armed welcome is a memory tempered by time. Ironically, and to our shame, a good many of us-assimilated immigrants and their children and grandchildren have historically opposed those who would have come after”.
This irony is no more apparent than what is happening today in our country. The current occupant of the White House, his Republican allies in Congress, the so called conservative radio talk shows, extreme right wing social media, and a whole host of more radical hate purveyors, have taken up the false narrative of immigration. Simply put it is nothing more than the politics of fear. Immigrants will take your jobs; immigrants impact healthcare, public education, and social services at the expense of American taxpayers; many immigrants are criminals who commit felony crimes. But the real culprits are those illegal, undocumented immigrants that are streaming across our borders!
The real story disputes these claims. Contrary to these false narratives, illegal immigrants cannot receive welfare payments, food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid or Medicare. Recipients of these services must provide proof of American citizenship to receive benefits. There are only two exceptions. No one, regardless of status, can be denied emergency medical services and a K-12 public education for their children. In reality, some 9 million of the 12 million undocumented immigrants actually pay Medicare, Social Security and personal federal and state income taxes! How can this be so? In order for an undocumented immigrant to get a stable job to support themselves and their families they are forced to obtain a false Social Security number. Employers seeking to take advantage of cheap labor employ these persons who ultimately never receive the benefits they have paid for. All of which begs the question why can’t Congress enact a comprehensive immigrant reform plan?
In the 1980’s, McGovern, though no longer in the Senate, long advocated for such a plan. Such a plan was actually introduced my McGovern’s old Republican friend in the Senate Alan Simpson of Wyoming. the Simpson-Mazzoli bill or the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act – IRCA, was signed into law by President Reagan. It was composed of three essential parts. The third part addressed the need to humanely deal with the issue of illegal immigrants. Most of what McGovern felt was necessary for real comprehensive reform was evident in the bill. A comprehensive immigration plan that would require illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows, pay a penalty, obtain legal work permits, and pass criminal background checks. After living in the country for a certain number of predetermined years and satisfying all the rules and regulations, these people could apply for citizenship. The essential provisions of this plan seemed reasonable, logical and beneficial to the nation. The possible exception and weakness was that to be eligible for this possibility for citizenship required that the undocumented worker had to have resided in the country prior to January 1, 1982. This would prove to be a problem going forward. It would be twenty years before Congress would attempt to take another look at comprehensive immigration reform. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 was introduced in the Senate in May of 2007. Despite a concerted effort by President Bush to pass the bill, it died in the Senate in late June of 2007. The prospects for positive immigration reform given the present political environment appear to be slim and none.
Let’s be honest here. The reason the issue of undocumented immigrants can’t be dealt with reasonably is simply because it would take away the false narrative of the issue. Secondly, when many Republicans and others on the far right including all those “conservative” commentators and radio talk show hosts rant about illegal immigration, what they are really talking about is Hispanic and Latino undocumented immigrants. What can possibly justify a ten or twelve foot wall stretching the length of our border with Mexico at a cost ultimately of several billion dollars to the taxpayers of this country? If you didn’t get the memo, despite President’s Trump’s tough guy rhetoric Mexico isn’t going to pay for the wall period! But again, the answer to the question is simple. The Hispanic and Latino population is the fastest growing ethnic demographic in our country. This strikes fear in the hearts of many of the white majority in certain parts of our country because ultimately those Hispanics and Latinos, who become citizens or who are citizen’s by virtue of being born in this country, are going to vote and inherit the power guaranteed by our Constitution.
McGovern believed that the continual, punitive, efforts against immigrants add nothing to the American experience. They only seek to advance a perverse agenda of bigotry, discrimination, and racial privilege which divides us and makes us weaker. As Democrats we can not stand ideally by and shake our heads. These efforts must be met with resistance, not only in the halls of Congress, but by concerned protesters in the streets of our towns and cities and most importantly at the ballot box. We are the people, we have the power and we will decide the future of this nation. Let your voice be heard!
Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.
Edmund Burke 1729-1797
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