Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) gave a magnificent speech on immigrants and the meaning of America a few minutes ago. If you tear up and are moved, you understand why immigration reform is so critical. And if you sneer, roll your eyes and disparage his words, then there is nothing any bill or pundit will do to change your mind. Yours, in that case, is a different vision of America than mine.
After recounting the incredible details of his parents’ struggles and immigration he said:
This is not just my story. This is our story. It reminds us that we are “E Pluribus Unum.” “Out Of Many, One.”
No one should dispute that, like every sovereign nation, we have a right to control who comes in. But unlike other countries, we are not afraid of people coming in from other places. Instead, inspired by our Judeo-Christian principles we Americans have seen the stranger, and invited them in.
And our nation has been blessed for it, in ways that remind us of the ancient words:”God divided the sea and led them through and made the waters stand up like a wall. By day he led them with a cloud; by night, with a light of fire….”
Our history is filled with evidence that God’s hand is upon our land. Who among us would dispute that we are a blessed people? In the harbor of our most famous city, there is a statue of a woman holding a lamp. At the base of that statue is a poem which says [quotes poem at base of Statue of Liberty]. . . . For over two hundred years now, they have come. In search of liberty and freedom, for sure. But often simply looking for jobs to feed their kids and the chance of a better life.
From Ireland and Poland, from Germany and France. From Mexico and Cuba, they have come. They have come because in the land of their birth, their dreams were bigger than their opportunities.
Here they brought their language and their customs. Their religions and their music. And somehow, made them ours as well. From a collection of people from everywhere, we became one people. The most exceptional nation in human history.
This is a big vision of a big country, ever growing and constantly renewed by each generation of immigrants who add to — not subtract from — America. He continued:
And even with all our challenges, we remain the shining city on the hill. We are still the hope of the world. And even with all our challenges, we remain the shining city on the hill. We are still the hope of the world. Go to our factories and fields. Go to our kitchens and construction sites. Go to the cafeteria of this very Capitol. There, you will find that the miracle of America still lives. For here, in America, those who once had no hope will give their children the life they once wanted for themselves. Here, in America, generations of unfulfilled dreams will finally come to pass. I support this reform. Not just because I believe in immigrants, but because I believe in America even more.
Compare that to the cramped, angry words of opponents of immigration reform who are intent on keeping people out for fear that what is theirs will be taken from them.
In the eyes of Rubio and other Republicans who favor immigration reform, immigrants fuel our economy, add vibrancy to our society and are the essence of America. (Interestingly, there is more and more data to support this, including studies that we need low-skilled immigrants because of our declining birth rates). The other sees immigrants as a burden, a scourge, a source of disunity and a drag on the economy.
In the eyes of immigration reformers, the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” makes things better — not perfect — through a whole variety of provisions (low-skilled workers, high-skilled workers, border security). Opponents find imperfections so monstrous that they prefer the current de facto amnesty system they’ve railed against for years.
Republicans who favor immigration and believe the GOP is doomed if it cannot improve its share of nonwhite voters, the fastest-growing portion of the electorate. The opponents threaten to sit home and accuse proponents of immigration reform of “bribing” the Hispanic electorate (Sen. Ted Cruz’s words), as if lowering taxes or giving out farm subsidies is on some higher moral plane.
I’m betting that ultimately a majority of the House and Senate want to live in the America Rubio described. But I’m an optimist at heart.