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On May 25, 2006 I wrote a piece that attempted to offer the Democratic Party advice on how to handle the immigration issue. I titled it “Democratic Advisor: Immigration.” You can read it by following this link. .

In that piece I argued that the reason for our immigration situation was faulty law. Immigration through out the entire history of the United States has always been motivated by a desire for a better life. The idea that we only let people who have no need to come to the United State because they are financially well off is at odds with the fundamental reality of why immigration happens. Look to the inscription on the Statue of Liberty to understand how European immigration was viewed a century ago.

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Compare that to the immigration policy as it has stood for almost 60 years, which at times has become ridiculously stringent, practically forcing huge numbers of people without means to choose to enter the United States by illegal means.

Please read on. The most compelling parts of this essay are beyond the fold.

In contrast those, during the period of greatest migration to the United States, who came with nothing and were largely welcomed, at least by the immigration policies of the day. The narrative of most immigrant households is almost universally the same for families coming before the 1950s as apposed to the immigration stories coming after the 1950s that have added chapters of struggles with immigration agencies and employer abuse. One well-known example of the immigration story that predates 1950 is the well-told story of the famous Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo’s parents.
"When my mother and father came [to America]," he told American Heritage Magazine in 1990, "they could not speak the language. They had no skills. They had one thing, a willingness to give labor. But it had to be at the lowest level. My father was literally, a ditch digger in New Jersey, literally."
Personalized stories like the one above are so easily accepted and looked upon in general by established Americans with great fondness. They spark the telling of their own particular family’s story of the move to America and their struggles in the early years nearly always punctuated with something to the effect of, “they came here with nothing.”

My family’s story isn’t as dramatic as the stories of immigrants coming from Latin America. It is a special story since my family’s immigrant story is one of pre-1950s immigration and also one of post 1950s immigration. But it is a story of the uniqueness of Spanish and Latin American immigration. My family first arrived in the United States having come from Cuba in the late 1800s. My grandfather, unlike Mario Cuomo’s parents was a man of specific talent in the cigar business and was transferred to the US by his company to the Tampa, Florida area to act as a factory foreman in a newly established factory, as so the story in our family goes. He didn’t arrive here with nothing. The reasons for the tobacco producing company to move its operations to the US were two fold. From family history Grandfather was transferred because of worker unrest in Cuba, which I verified by doing a quick study of the time, but it was also necessitated because of a high tariff wall put in place by the United States government, which caused Cuban hand made cigars to become prohibitively expensive in the US and destroyed the cigar business in Cuba, hence the worker unrest. The loophole in the law was that tobacco leaf could be exported to the US without the tariff affecting it and cigars could be made competitively in the United States. This made Key West and Tampa into major cigar making centers, and Tampa becoming know as the cigar making capital of the world. My father was born in Tampa in the United States near the end of that period.

In our family’s history there isn’t a story about grandpa’s actual trip to the US. There are stories of his life in Cuba and then there are stories of his life and ventures in Tampa. This leads me to believe there wasn’t any drama or trauma in getting over here in that time period.

There is the story of the demise of my Grandfather’s hand rolled cigar business and his return in failure to his birthplace, a small village on the Atlantic coast of Spain called Cee. The family, because of their association to the United States escaped from Spain at the outset of the Spanish civil war when they perceived themselves to be in real danger. The stories surrounding their return, post 1950, again, were not centered on fighting immigration services, but more on scary situations dealing with different political factions they faced as they made their way back to America.

It was when my Dad, living in Michigan, went to Spain and married a Spanish woman, my Mom, and started the process of becoming a family that the new reality of dealing with the Federal government on immigration came full force on my Dad. This wasn’t spoken about in my family. I discovered what had happened as a teenager while moving file cabinets around in the basement of our home to create a workout space for myself. I came across the letters my Dad had sent to immigration. My mother, the legal wife of my American born and American citizen father, pregnant with my sister, was being denied entry into the United States. There were lots of issues that were brought to bear to deny my mother entry, but, underneath it all, I could hear in the letters through the frustration the real reason. My Dad was fighting that particular ugliness that raises its ugly head of the way people of Spanish origin were and are treated and perceived by those Americans who have such prejudices.

In my own life I have experienced this all too ugly side of America and, as many of you know who have read my other postings on the Daily Kos, I am a stealth Hispanic, my mother’s genetic origins as so many Spanish, Galicians are, is Celtic, and I was born with pail white skin, blond hair, in essence a Ginger or Ginger like. Yes, after looking at Ricky Ricardo or Antonio Banderas as the examples of what Cubans or Spaniards look like, putting Cuban/Spaniard and Ginger together in one person is enough to do anyone’s brain harm. So don’t think about it too much. I am what I am. However, being stealth has allowed me to see things that if I looked more like the stereotype of what I am supposed to be I would have never been privy to. Once revealed to immigrant friends and a bond fully established the reality of our broken immigration system would come to me though their stories. The modern story of immigration often matched with the stories of the struggles of my father with mother and immigration.

One of my friends, who is a naturalized American citizen from Kenya struggled for over a decade to get his son to the United States. Immigration denied him his family. He was forced to work very hard and save up large portions of his salary so that he could visit his family and see his son in Africa. He was not a rich man and this was an enormous hardship to bear just to maintain some paternal contact to his son’s life. I was there when he, completely disheartened by the cruelty of the process, gave up on trying to get his son to live with him in the United States. He said that it was no use anymore. His son was a man now and the immigration rules that he had been working under no longer applied. His son’s applications to come to the United States as an adult were denied as well. I felt a high degree of shame for our country. The story that I was told was a story of injustice of the highest order being perpetrated on an individual, who, if he were judged by the strength of his character, his industriousness, his loyalty to the United States should have never happened. But, to those who pull the bureaucratic levers in immigration it mattered much more his country of origin, probably the color of his skin and probably his willingness to take on jobs that simply didn’t pay him a great deal, something he felt he had to do in order to have the flexibility to travel to Africa to see his son for longer than a couple of weeks.

At this point I have told you stories exposing the cruel and unjust application of immigration law as I have learned it from my own family’s experience and from having been told of other’s experiences. This posting, through these stories, is about how to think about the coming immigration reform and the incorrect mindset and application of the law the way it is written and implemented today.  Seven years ago I discussed in narrow political terms what the Democrats needed to do in order to win over Hispanics to the party, and for the last election it seems to have won over a great majority of Hispanics to voting for Obama and Democrats. However, it is a much more broad statement for reform that we want. Hispanics like me not only want justice for my tia Maria, but justice for my friend Karanja, a US citizen originally from Kenya. We know that what benefits us benefits all new era immigrants, and so do they.

Look at the way that Asians voted in the last election. They make up a small percentage of Americans and their contribution to President Obama’s win was deemed unimportant by the main steam media. However, you can’t deny the importance of the symbolism, the feeling, the reality that they, a group that according to the mouthpiece of the Republican Party masquerading as a news organization, were to vote overwhelmingly for Republicans, overwhelmingly they didn’t. They voted for the President by a greater percentage than did Hispanics. It speaks volumes about the character of the American immigrant community. They know that prejudice is a double-edged sword.  Used today to cut Hispanics down could be used tomorrow on them.

Americans of all walks of life want for their government to be the good guys, to fight for truth, justice and the American way. We don’t expect Supermen, but we do expect for our government to fight for it. Somewhere in the definition of the “American way” is the story of the immigrant, whether he or she is labeled illegal through unjust laws or that he or she came poor, lice infested and hungry through Ellis Island under the watchful eyes of Lady Liberty more than half century ago.

In my piece of advice to the Democratic Party written nearly seven years ago I pointed out five things to work on. I am summarizing them below:

1. Enforce the boarders and visa violators.
2. Increase the numbers allowed to immigrate to the US legally and much greater numbers of poor applicants.
3. Allow immigrants to come to the United States legally to do that employment that illegal immigrants currently do with the proviso that wage laws must be adhered to.
4. For those immigrants that are coming to the United States to become American Citizens that their process should be faster.
5. Allow immigrants who entered the country when the immigration laws did not adequately address the true nature of immigration to change their status to legal by paying a fine and assessing a penalty of one year towards a more permanent status.
These are fine as a beginning, but I want Democrats to take it farther. This isn’t an idea, but an ideal. Democrats have to speak about this in terms of its true nature. Immigration and the treatment of people are civil rights issues. Second class citizenship is unacceptable. The dignity of the individual doesn’t allow for it. It is fundamentally un-American. The Democrats have to move to the lead on immigration reform and secure for all people as in the Declaration of Independents those rights forwarded to all Americans. If these are inalienable rights, then no human being is exempt from the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is the Democrats duty, being the party of the people, to champion immigration reform and bend it towards justice. Bending it with true grit if necessary.

Originally posted to reckonrecon on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 02:34 PM PST.

Also republished by LatinoKos.

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