A short time ago, President Barack Obama concluded a 25-minute speech in Las Vegas, Nevada, making the case for immigration reform. The "news" of the speech is that he is embracing efforts in the Senate to craft bipartisan legislation that would reform our immigration laws and provide a path to citizenship for the millions of people living in our country without legal status.
"At this moment, it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon," Obama said. But while he said that the efforts in the Senate were "encouraging," he also said that if those efforts failed to quickly result in legislative action he would send his own bill to Capitol Hill and begin pushing for that. Translation: If members of Congress want credit for working on immigration reform, they need to deliver results, and soon. Otherwise, the president will use the power of the bully pulpit to define the debate.
But while the news of the speech centered on the politics and process of immigration policy reform, the thing that made it powerful was its statement of values. "We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants—that's who we are in our bones," Obama said. "Immigration has always been something that inflames passions. That's not surprising. There are few things that are more important to us as as society than who gets to come here and call our country home. Who gets the privilege of becoming a citizen of the United States of America. That's a big deal."
Continue below the fold for more from President Obama's speech.
President Obama continued:
When we talk about that in the abstract, it is easy sometimes for the discussion to take on a feeling of us versus them. And when that happens, a lot of folks forget that most of us used to be them. We forget that. And it’s really important for us to remember history. Unless you’re one of the first Americans, a Native American, you came from some place else, somebody brought you.
You know, Ken Salazar he’s -- he’s of Mexican-American descent, but he points out that his family’s been living where he lives for 400 years, so he didn’t -- he didn’t immigrate anywhere. The Irish who left behind a land of famine; the Germans who fled persecution; the Scandinavians who arrived eager to pioneer out west; the Polish, the Russians, the Italians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the West Indians -- the huddled masses who came through Ellis Island on one coast and Angel Island on the other.
All those folks before they were us, they were them. And when each new wave of immigrants arrived, they faced resistance from those who were already here. They faced hardship. They faced racism. They faced ridicule. But over time, they went about their daily lives. They earned a living as they raised a family, as they built a community, as their kids went to school here. They did their part to build the nation. They were the Einsteins and the Carnegies, but they were also the millions of women and men whose names history may not remember, but whose actions helped make us who we are, who built this country hand by hand, brick by brick.
They all came here knowing that what makes somebody an American is not just blood or birth, but allegiance to our founding principles and the faith in the idea that anyone from anywhere can write the next great chapter of our story, and that’s still true today.
Set aside all the legalistic mumbo jumbo. Set aside all the talk about economics and wonky policy jabber. We must—and we will—do immigration reform because that's who we are. Our openness to the world is what makes America work. And the fact that millions of people desperately want to become citizens of our nation is something that should make every American proud.