How appropriate it is that on this 237th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence that the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World has reopened to the public. After all, the statue serves as America’s enduring symbol of that document’s bedrock ideals of freedom and liberty for all.
The colossal monument to Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, has been closed for nine months for a $60 million cleanup and restoration of Liberty and Ellis islands from the severe beating they took from Superstorm Sandy last fall. As of today, however, she’s back, standing tall and beckoning admirers from America and around the world.
Over its 127 years, the Statue of Liberty also has served as a welcoming beacon to immigrants responding to its populist inscription: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ...”
As we celebrate America’s birthday today, by necessity we also celebrate immigrants — from the disgruntled English colonists who sought refuge from the tyrannical policies of King George III in the 18th century to the victims of oppression around the world in the 21st century. Our Melting Pot nation, after all, is a country born and nurtured off the brains and brawn of immigrant settlers.
As such, it is also appropriate that on this day that America revisits its proud beginnings, the nation also revisits its principles on immigration. Just as Lady Liberty has been renewed, refurbished and modernized over the decades, so, too, should our nation’s policies on welcoming people from lands near and far.
Just last week, the U.S. Senate approved the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, the most comprehensive immigration-reform bill in American history. Senators wisely recognized that our current antiquated system has brought some 20 million undocumented illegal immigrants into our borders, which in turn has unleashed a tsunami of economic and social dilemmas.
The immigration reform bill seeks to fix the most egregious problems of the status quo. First, it tightens security at our border with Mexico, home to about 60 percent of today’s illegal aliens. It does so by doubling the size of the border patrol to 40,000 and by constructing a 700-mile high-tech security fence. It also provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers that requires them to pass national security and background criminal background checks; pay taxes and a penalty; go to the back of the line in processing; and learn the English language and the basics of American government.
We join President Obama in congratulating the Senate for its responsible action and in urging the U.S. House to adopt the measure before its summer recess next month. Polling from the Wall Street Journal/NBC News last month showed 80 percent of Americans favor the Senate-passed reforms.
In spite of its popularity, immigration reform still faces roadblocks in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. House Speaker John Boehner vows he will not advance a reform bill to the floor for consideration without a majority agreement by House Republicans, which, given the GOP’s opposition to the pathway-to-citizenship provisions, appears unlikely.
Reasoned Republican voices
We’d urge Boehner and others, however, to listen to the reasoned Republican voices of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Bush argues eloquently on practical grounds: “No Republican would vote for legislation that stifled economic growth, promoted illegal immigration, added to the welfare rolls, and failed to ensure a secure border. Yet they essentially will do just that if they fail to pass comprehensive immigration reform — and leave in place a system that does all of those things.”
Rubio argues eloquently on philosophical grounds: “Even with all our challenges, we remain the shining city on the hill. We are still the hope of the world. And in the end, that is why I support this reform. Yes, I believe in immigrants, but I believe in America even more.”
Boehner’s adherence to the “Hastert rule” gives a minority in the House the ability to block legislation that a bipartisan majority would eagerly pass — if brought to a vote. It’s a decidedly undemocratic devise worthy of derision any day, but especially today.
Clearly, America’s immigration law sorely needs updated to reflect today’s realities and challenges. Though it will take time to reap its rewards, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act represents a viable strategy toward restoring order to our mammoth immigration mess, while preserving the noble and quintessentially American message of Lady Liberty.