Mario Ramos: Immigration Advocacy
Mario Ramos: Immigration law must evolve fairly
By MARIO RAMOS
Paul Melander, quoted Sunday on the Equal Time page of The Tennessean, should be congratulated for acknowledging some of the ''hues of gray'' associated with immigration debates . However, in the end, he still defends outdated and harmful current immigration policies — simply because they are the ones on the book.
Immigration laws are not static, absolute codes of morality. Rather, they are an ever-evolving set of civil regulations that must respond to changing economic and social realities and which should reflect our proud national immigrant heritage.
The Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride campaign is a national clamor alerting our elected officials that current immigration laws are out of step with economic realities and the basic principles of equality, justice, and dignity on which our country was found.
The blame for the ever-expanding underclass of undocumented workers in this country lies not with the individuals who come to feed their families and contribute to this economy. It lies instead with outdated and unenforceable immigration laws. Melander naively suggests that were the undocumented immigrants currently living and working in our communities have ''waited their turn in line,'' they would have been able to come to work here via legal mechanisms.
Current laws render it virtually impossible for most immigrant workers to enter the United States by legal means and for families to reunite within humane time periods. The spouse or child of a Mexican-born U.S. legal permanent resident typically waits approximately eight years before he or she can join his or her family member in the United States.
Melander's concern for U.S. workers harmed by undocumented immigration is commendable, however, he might do well to notice that the primary sponsor of the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride campaign is the AFL-CIO, which adopted a historic resolution three years ago asserting that labor stands proudly on the side of all immigrant workers.
Labor leaders understand that the real problem for all U.S. workers lies not with immigrants themselves or even with current immigration law enforcement. All workers' rights in this country are undermined by a broken system of immigration laws which are used by unscrupulous employers to intimidate and divide workers and to pay substandard wages.
A coalition of over 20 sponsoring and endorsing local organizations has worked hard over the past several months to plan for today's Nashville stop of the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride, a national campaign aiming to focus public attention on the need for immigration policy reform. Out of the dozens of cities receiving Immigrant Worker buses this week, Nashville stakes a special claim to this historic process.
The Rev. Jim Lawson, a legendary civil rights activist who served as a mentor and leader to the students who spearheaded the historic Nashville sit-in movement in 1960, is one of the architects of the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride campaign. Rev. Lawson will be in Nashville for tomorrow's events, including a 6 p.m. march across the Shelby bridge and rally at the Hall of Fame park.
He draws parallels between the current situation of undocumented immigrants — who work hard, pay taxes, contribute to their communities, but live as a silent underclass in this country — to that faced by African-Americans under segregation.
In the end, the fundamental principles of full citizenship, democracy, and dignity — the same ones which underlay the 1960s civil rights movement — motivate this historic mobilization. In Nashville, the immigrant, African-American, labor and religious groups working to plan today's events have been proud to build upon and honor our city's proud legacy of civil rights activism as we anticipate the reception of the Immigrant Worker Freedom Riders here.Mario Ramos is a Nashville attorney.
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