One immigration moment from President Joe Biden’s first speech before Congress stands out–when he said “Let’s end our exhausting war over immigration,’ and added, “Let’s argue over it, let’s debate it, but let’s act.”
And that is the key phrase: let’s act.
Because we have heard speech after speech filled with beautiful and emblematic words extolling the honor, virtues, and enormous and undeniable contributions immigrants make to this nation, but all that is left up in the air when it comes to putting that inspiring discourse into practice when it’s time to vote on policy.
Beyond words, what’s important are the actions this administration takes from here on out to push for immigration reform that has been in the works for almost four decades. There have already been various generations of immigrants who have known not only to hope for, but fight for a real change in their immigration situation, at the same time that they channel their lives and those of their families into work, education of their children, and their fiscal contributions, with a stoicism that raises applause in every one of their stories.
When a president gives a speech, different pressure groups always hope that he mentions their topic of interest because that supposedly shows it is a priority for the administration. But that is not always the case. A president can dedicate paragraphs to a topic to appease pressure groups but, at the end of the day, it could all result in nothing.
So it is important to not give up on the effort to point out that now is the right moment to do something transformative on immigration, for ethical reasons and political survival. The migratory essence of the United States demands that, without there being another margin that deviates from or, failing that, distorts it.
In the case of Biden and immigration, perhaps one group hoped that he would promise to achieve immigration reform at any cost, even without bipartisan support and through the so-called reconciliation process, which allows the Senate to approve measures with a simple majority of 51 votes. This is almost always reserved for budgetary measures, but in the face of a Republican caucus whose only goal is to obstruct and delay, the reconciliation process is music to the ears for many, although others think it could be a double-edged sword, given changes of power in Congress.
At any rate, the new administration and its immigration advisors must look for better ways to resolve political obstacles and advance in this and many other ways, as part of its public mission, if it really wants to lay the foundation for a new era in the country’s history.
Biden was more sparse in his speech and one could conclude that he said what he had to say: he asked for support for his immigration reform plan that would legalize 11 million people, but at the same time he focused on, among other groups: Dreamers, TPS beneficiaries, and farmworkers. Moreover, he challenged Republicans that if they don’t like what he proposes, they should present their own ideas to find a consensus.
At least Biden took that defiant step with courage–not in a confrontational manner, but with a message that, even now, things could be resolved in another way.
It’s not surprising that the mention of legalizing Dreamers is what received the most applause. Not the mention of the 11 million, although the reality is that the regularization of undocumented people is supported by a majority of U.S. citizens, in addition to humanitarian reasons, for practical and economic reasons. Even then both issues, within this speech, acquired a significance that goes beyond rhetoric, and therefore also acquired a level of commitment beyond promises. And that, ethically speaking, matters more. A lot more.
And those two powerful reasons, on top of the fact that it is an issue that directly impacts millions of individuals and mixed-status families, which includes voters who have always supported Democrats, should guide the efforts for this new administration to achieve what others have not been able to do. To not give up before the fight.
And that is the opportunity, the challenge, and the legacy.
That’s why for us, words and the message they send are important. But even more important are the brave actions that are taken so that these words become real measures that benefit millions of individuals and, therefore, the country.
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