Immigrants enrich our national fabric

President Obama’s simple eloquence as a speechmaker is nowhere more evident than when he speaks on immigration. In November he could not have been clearer: “We are and always will be a nation of immigrants.”

As he gears up for his State of the Union speech, it’s likely that topic will be one of many challenges he addresses.

Obama is not suggesting a full amnesty for everyone who has entered the United States illegally. Instead, his plan is that people who can prove they have been here five years, or have children born here, be encouraged to come out of “the shadows” and be provided a smooth path to citizenship. This would involve criminal background checks and eventually have them paying the same taxes as their neighbors.

Fairness is at the heart of Obama’s efforts. “Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law?

“Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?

Regrettably, his comments come against a background of voices being raised against his very reasonable efforts to reform what he and many others have labeled our “broken” system of immigration.

It is sickening to see Republican extremists in Congress bristle in opposition when they have demanded action for so long without getting anything accomplished.

More than 10 million people live in America illegally. Obama suggests a way to embrace them.

“Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary it to our character.”

At the heart of the debate is the work world. Undocumented workers help keep America’s economy going.

Obama noted the unfairness that business owners who offer good wages and benefits encounter when their competitors exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less.

“All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America,” he said. “And undocumented immigrants, who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities, see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.”

The president believes reform efforts must combine expediency, efficiency and compassion. “Tracking down, rounding up and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans.”

His multiple-part strategy involves:

• Accepting the reality that the U.S. has more than 10 million undocumented residents who are contributing to several sectors of the economy and should not be persecuted;

• Reshaping an easier path for immigrants who entered illegally to seek legal status and helping them adjust to living in the United States;

• Acknowledging that our southern border with Mexico is a dangerous zone that needs efficient policing.

A key element woven into these latest reforms is compassion for families. Birthright citizenship is more than a tradition in the United States — it is the law. All children born in the United States are American citizens. Separating them from their parents, who may be undocumented, is unjust and inhumane.

It is time for the moderates in Congress to speak up. We are tired of the shrill voices playing the race card or the fear card. Immigrants enrich our melting pot society.

Of course if we need historical guidance on the topic there’s a certain beautiful statue in New York Harbor. A plaque underneath the lady with the torch reads:

“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-tost to me,

“I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Poet Emma Lazarus sure had a way with words.

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