By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, National Council of La Raza
This past Saturday I was humbled to stand in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial and speak before thousands of people who had traveled from all over our great nation to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. It was a profound privilege to have the chance to honor those who had come before us, who had worked so hard and sacrificed so much. These are the courageous men and women who paved the way for a new American covenant half a century ago, one in which the promise of the American Dream was not limited to a few but made a reality for all of us, regardless of who we are or where we come from.
But this rally was also an opportunity to talk about who we were marching for 50 years later and what we still have left to do to open that dream’s door to a new generation of aspiring Americans. I was so moved that many speakers expressed support for the 11 million undocumented in this country and for enacting comprehensive immigration reform. Whether they quoted scripture, as the Rev. Al Sharpton did, or echoed the timeless words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. like his son, Martin Luther King III, all of these calls were rooted in the same spirit: immigration reform is the moral thing to do.
Those of us on the front lines of the immigration debate often speak of the political reasons to support reform, such as the increasingly powerful bloc of Latino voters for whom reform is a key issue, or immigration reform’s economic benefits that include the impact on entitlement programs and job creation. All of these reasons are valid and compelling, but Saturday’s march was notable in reminding us that there is also a moral imperative to reform our immigration system.
Hearing the stories from Rev. Sharpton and others about the denigration that people suffered in 1963 and the fear they lived in every day of their lives was a stark reminder that civil society is not always civil and human beings are not always humane. For many in 2013, the story is similar: desperate lives lived in the shadows vulnerable to abuse, harassment, and exploitation; families ripped apart and families living in constant fear of being ripped apart; young people who have no home other than the United States but may one day be sent back to a country they do not know.
We have a broken immigration system that has failed them and has failed us as a country. I hope Congress will heed the calls this weekend that true justice includes enacting comprehensive immigration reform. I hope that our policymakers will understand—as they did 50 years ago when Congress finally took action on the Civil Rights Act of 1964—why they must pass the necessary laws to right this grievous wrong.