Saturday, November 22, 2014

Obama's Immigration Reform

On November 20 President Obama made his important immigration speech. To their shame, the major networks refused to broadcast it - a mere 15-minute long address to the nation about a very important matter! A decade or so ago, when President George W. Bush gave a similar speech on the same topic, every major network carried it directly and it was viewed by 40 million Americans. And people still dare to say that the media have a liberal bias? My foot. It’s the opposite. The so-called “mainstream” media are fully participating in the non-stop sniping at this beleaguered president, inflicting a thousand cuts so as to bring him down.

The double standard applied to this president is gross: Reagan, Bush Senior and Bush Junior all proposed similar executive actions for illegal immigrants. But when THIS president does the same thing, all hell breaks loose.

Of course, Obama is 100% right. He will permit the “dreamers” to stay. He will stop tearing apart families. He will allow millions of decent and hard-working people to become part of the fabric of America. He will perpetuate, in essence, what America is all about. This is and always has been a nation of immigrants. In Emma Lazarus’ words: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

I am an immigrant. My personal saga is classic: I first came to America as a teenager for one year, on a Fulbright scholarship. I hopped onto an old World War II Liberty ship that carried a couple of thousand immigrants from Rotterdam to New York. Ten days later, we entered New York harbor. When we sailed by the Statue of Liberty, I knew that my new life had begun. When I got off the boat in Hoboken, I had a total of $50 in my pocket. My trajectory went from sleeping on a bench in New York’s Central Park to getting a PhD.

After a year, my student visa expired and I had to return to Europe. Being Hungarian-born, I had to wait five years before I could come back to America. Back then, there was an immigration quota for each country. The Hungarian quota was full for many years due to the flood of Hungarian refugees who fled to America after the 1956 uprising in that country.

I finally got my green card and came back to America when I was twenty-four. After that, I had to wait another five years before I became a citizen. So, a ten-year wait altogether.

People might say: Okay Kando, you played by the rules. Don’t you see a difference between legal and illegal immigration? How come you go along with Obama, who wants to protect ILLEGALS?

I’ll tell you why: because the Republican opposition to immigration reform has little to do with the distinction between legal and illegal. It has everything to do with a desire to keep out ALL immigrants as much as possible, period, especially immigrants of color. It is nativism and chauvinism. It is an effort to “keep America pure.” Obama’s approach is a common-sensical and compassionate compromise. It gives the “dreamers” a chance, it avoids breaking up families and kicking out people who were brought to America as toddlers. The fundamental issue is whether America will remain true to itself and continue to welcome immigrants, or become a closed and xenophobic society.

The other day at my health club, I had a conversation with one of the many Republicans there (many of whom are my friends): I said to him, somewhat in jest, just to rib him:

“If ebola spreads, it would be partially your guys’ fault. You always want to cut public spending, spending on science and medical research, cutting the budgets of the EPA, the NSF, the NIMH, the CDC. If it weren’t for all those cuts, we might already have a vaccine for ebola.”

His answer: “You know what the Latin word for ebola is? It’s ‘immigrant’.”

This repartee was sure revealing.

99% of Americans are either immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Without immigrants, there is no America. Without immigration, America does not receive the thousands and thousands of creative and scientific geniuses who have contributed to this country’s greatness, its arts, its film industry, its athletic prowess, its wealth, its power, its military might, and its victories in wars. Here is a small sample of 50 such immigrants:

Christiane Amanpour
Elizabeth Arden
John Astor
James Audubon
Irving Berlin
Charles Boyer
Yul Brynner
Michael Caine
Jose Canseco
Andrew Carnegie
Rod Carew
Jackie Chan
Maurice Chevalier
Claudette Colbert
Willem de Kooning
Albert Einstein
Enrico Fermi
Felix Frankfurter
Cary Grant
Monty Hall
John Paul Jones
Louis Jourdan
Henry Kissinger
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Juan Marichal
John Muir
Rupert Murdoch
Martina Navratilova
Maureen O’Hara
Hakeem Olajuwon
William Penn
Natalie Portman
Wolfgang Puck
Joseph Pulitzer
Anthony Quinn
Ayn Rand
Edward G. Robinson
Knute Rockne
Miklos Rozsa
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Sammy Sosa
Jerry Springer
Isaac Stern
Igor Stravinsky
Elizabeth Taylor
Edward Teller
Rudolph Valentino
Wernher von Braun
Bruce Willis
Neil Young

There are thousands more. I am in good company.

© Tom Kando 2014

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