|A. J. Russell Stereoview #539. "Chinese at Laying Last Rail UPRR"|
Today, President Obama will deliver an address in El Paso on the importance of immigration reform. Today is also the anniversary of the completion in 1869 of the Transcontinental Railrod, the joining together of the eastern and western halves of the U.S. "in undivided union," as PBS put it. The Transcontinental Railroad was built largely with Chinese and Irish immigrants.
"Our country should have raised monuments to their achievements. We should have rewarded them with instant citizenship for their efforts," wrote John S. Richbourg in "Yin and Yang of Immigration Law." Instead, less than a quarter century after immigrant hands brought the continent together, Congress passed, and President Chester A. Arthur signed, the Chinese Exclusion Act in May 1882.
One might guess that President Obama's speech today will lament the echoes of the Chinese Exclusion Act that keep people from legally enjoying this wonderful country despite their hard work here. It is less likely that he will lament the lack of monuments for those who have worked and studied here for years. The federal government chases most of them out, even the ones with visas, so the best we might expect from Obama in terms of "monuments" is simply more visas under the current model. There is certainly no "instant citizenship" in exchange for hard work or contributions made to the U.S. on American soil, but perhaps the Commander in Chief will make the case, as his predecessor did, for some legalization in exchange for a good record (as I have said before, hopefully that would be in the form of a system, like bankruptcy, and not just a one-off).
Immigration reform is a lot like the Transcontinental Railroad: it takes a long time getting there, and a lot of people working toward some middle point, for the country to be joined in "undivided union" on this issue. After so much inaction on this issue, most Americans are already there, in the middle, ready and willing to embrace a solution that is part enforcement (on the one side) and part legalization (on the other).
All we need is for someone to drive that last spike into the ground and make the new way possible.