By Peter Galuszka
Long-simmering immigration issues are starting to bubble over now that the U.S. Supreme Court has given a partial victory in opposing Arizona’s racist law. The ruling follows a bold action by President Barack Obama to allow law-abiding young people who happen to be undocumented aliens to stay in this country.
The court ruling rejected most of Arizona’s law except for allowing police to check the citizenship of anyone they arrest and suspect may be in the U.S. illegally. Obama’s action to allow some illegal aliens 30 years old and younger to remain in the U.S. is a humane and clever end run around the reactionary GOP-controlled House of Representatives.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney said he backs strict immigration enforcement and thinks states should be able to take matters into their own hands if the federal government fails to do so. Yet Romney has soft-pedaled immigration generally and is courting U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Floridian born to Cuban immigrant parents as his possible running mate. If that happens, Romney is shorting Gov. Robert F. McDonnell to try to get the Latino vote.
The news shows just how far immigration has morphed as an issue. Virginia has been a battleground, notably with hard-right politician Corey Stewart’s anti- immigrant law in Prince William County which foreshadowed similar racist rules in Arizona and Alabama. Stewart, thankfully, is sputtering into history as the virulent anti-immigrant attitudes that colored the conservative movement two years ago are fading.
Also in Virginia, consider the story, front-paged in The Washington Post a few weeks ago that showcased the plight of young immigrants who arrived in this country at a very young age and have prospered since.
One is Heydi Mejia, an 18-year-old living in Chesterfield County who was brought to this country illegally when she was four years old. Mejia graduated with awards from Meadowbrook High School this month as a member of the National Honor Society. Her home had been raided a few months before by immigration officials who had arranged to have her deported to Guatemala a few days after she got her diploma. She got a year’s reprieve after the Post’s story. A few days later, Obama decreed that law-abiding illegals 30 years and younger who came to this country through no fault of their own may stay.
This is the kind of compassionate justice this country needs to heal the hatreds stoked by the anti-immigration types. The issue spans both parties. George W. Bush, for example, came up with a decent, long range immigration proposal that ended up being shot down. Later, his party started pandering to white reactionaries by provoking actions against undocumented workers that were in many ways imaginary. Company bosses in places like Arizona soon found they no longer could get workers, especially for the hard and dirty jobs.
In Virginia, one unfortunate view comes from George W. Grayson, a former delegate and William & Mary professor. Addressing Obama’s move he wrote in a Richmond newspaper that granting clemency to young illegals somehow hurts the “real” Americans who have trouble finding work. Conveniently, he forgets that young foreigners often do the jobs that “America’s” youth don’t want. For evidence, go to the Outer Banks this summer and listen to how many grocery cashiers and waitresses have accents from Russia, Poland or Ukraine.
One of Grayson’s more idiotic points is that we shouldn’t help Mexicans because they come from a resource-rich and corrupt nation. By that logic, the vast majority of America’s people should not be here.
The good news is that the mood on immigration is changing. Eventually we should get the kind of comprehensive reform that helps our economy and cements our position as a humane and just country.