The reopening of the Statue of Liberty last week on July 4 reminds us of how destructive Hurricane Sandy was in 2012 — the second deadliest storm in United States history created $65 billion in damage.
The statue today symbolizes American immigration policy as the U.S. Senate recently passed a comprehensive immigration bill. Not without controversy, the issue now moves to the House of Representatives for either consideration of the Senate bill or passage of a completely separate House measure. Regardless, immigration is a vitally important national issue likely to impact the 2014 and 2016 elections.
Immigration is the movement of people to a non-native land. American immigration has a rich history. Starting in 1607, immigrants from Great Britain established the first colony with the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia. In 1620, Pilgrims (who were immigrants, too) landed in what is now Massachusetts, and colonists later settled along the North American continent’s eastern seaboard in earnest. Thirteen colonies later became the first 13 states of our new country. Our population was 3.9 million in 1790, mostly immigrants from other countries and continents, with Great Britain contributing more than half. The immigrant population exploded after 1830 with Europeans, the largest portion being German, Polish, Irish, French and British immigrants.
From 1882 to 1954, Ellis Island was the busiest immigration entry point in the United States. Formerly a federal arsenal, it processed millions of immigrants. The first outstanding sight of U.S. soil that immigrants saw was the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France in 1886 representing the friendship established between the two countries during the Revolutionary War.
“Liberty Enlightening the World” is the statue’s official title. Libertas, ancient Rome’s goddess of freedom from slavery, oppression and tyranny, is captured in the statue’s face. Moving forward, Lady Liberty’s left foot tramples broken shackles at her feet, symbolizing America’s wish to be free. The seven spikes in her crown epitomize the seven seas and seven continents. Her torch signifies enlightenment. The tablet in her hand represents knowledge and shows in Roman numerals the date of the United States Declaration of Independence — July 4, 1776.
Immigration policy has been a topic of Congressional action for at least the last 200 years. Starting in 1790, major immigration laws were later passed in 1924, 1952, 1965 and 1986. On June 24, 2013, the Senate passed comprehensive immigration legislation by a vote of 67-27 after lengthy debate and public consideration. Fifteen Republicans voted with Democrats to pass the measure. The Senate bill grants legal status to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and undocumented workers in the U.S., granting them a difficult 13-year path to citizenship. The measure’s security costs are $46 billion.
Part of the debate over passage centered on whether the bill grants amnesty to immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally and whether adequate attention has been paid to border security, particularly in states bordering Mexico, the country with the most undocumented workers affected. It also touched on the issue of highly skilled foreign workers, whom high-tech companies desire to employ. The nation’s leading bipartisan technology trade association, TechNet, consists of numerous high-tech companies that desire for foreign-born technology experts to stay here and work for technology companies, in an effort to achieve and maintain a U.S. global edge in technology development.
As the immigration issue moves to the House, Speaker John Boehner has signaled that the House will likely not take up the Senate measure for passage, but will consider a new immigration bill in order to then be in a position to have a conference committee with the Senate to resolve differences between the two measures. Any conference committee bill would require passage by both houses and would not be subject to amendment.
Because Republicans hold the House majority, pressure will be on them to bring a bill to a vote, recognizing that their election fate could be at stake in 2014, depending on what they pass. The Latino vote is a powerful political constituency in the United States worthy of thoughtful consideration by House members.
Congress’ approval rating languishes at 16 percent. While there are numerous reasons not to support any immigration reform bill, the wiser course for Republicans is to offer leadership on this issue and devise a measure that focuses on strengthening border security and tracking those who enter America and want to stay here — as Americans.
For our nation of immigrants, it’s incumbent on Congress to adopt a policy that encourages legal entry and proudly fosters nationalism.